ELMIRA, N.Y. — Saturday’s game was another classic in the heated Elmira-RIT rivalry, much like the previous 65 meetings.
Elmira jumped out to a 2-0 lead before RIT came storming back. However, Elmira kept battling until finally succumbing to a 5-4 Tiger victory.
“I thought our 5-on-5 play was very good,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “I liked how our guys battled back.”
With both teams losing the night before, the fans were unsure what to expect coming into this bitter league-rivalry game. Elmira came out of the locker room with more emotion, and immediately took the play to the Tigers.
A set play off a faceoff earned Elmira its first goal. Pierre Rivard won the faceoff just to the left of RIT netminder George Eliopoulos back to his left. Andrew Morris, standing at the left point, collected the draw, and blasted the puck top-shelf past Eliopoulos just :58 seconds into the contest to stake Elmira to an early 1-0 lead.
Elmira continued to carry play, however neither team was able to establish much of a territorial advantage through mid-period. The Soaring Eagles’ second score came off an identical play to their first.
Again, it was Rivard winning a faceoff to the left of Eliopoulos. This time it was Chris Mann at the left point, and he rifled a shot high past Eliopoulos for the goal at the 12:12 mark.
“I wish I could say that we worked on those plays as a team,” said Elmira coach Tim Ceglarski. “Chris [Mann] works on dragging the puck off the boards every day in practice, and it paid off tonight.”
With two first-period goals, off identical set plays, it appeared that Elmira had solved it scoring woahs and was off to the races. However, as the first period wound down, RIT clawed back into the contest.
A strong forecheck by Tiger Jason Chafe pinned the puck in the Elmira zone. He was able to pass over to linemate Tristan Fairbarn, creeping down the slot unmarked, and Fairbarn chipped it over Soaring Eagle goaltender Greg Fargo to give RIT life at 16:40.
Less than two minutes later, RIT tied the game 2-2, scoring on its first power play of the evening. A Tiger shot pulled Fargo to the left side of this net, but the puck bounced out the right side. Before Fargo could get back in position, Tiger Mike Tarantino settled the puck and swatted it into the net for the goal 18:26 into the period.
“The first twelve minutes, we carried play,” said Ceglarski. “Then a couple of fluke goals turned the game.”
After a wild first period, the game was knotted 2-2 as the two teams skated towards the locker room to regroup.
The scoring pace quickened in the second period as the two teams combined for five goals. RIT took its first lead of the contest 1:34 into the period. Brad Harris intercepted a clearing pass up the slot, and then Darren Doherty carried the puck down the far boards into the corner. Doherty flipped the puck towards the front of the net, and it deflected off the back of Fargo and into give RIT a 3-2 lead.
“It has been a struggle for coach Saul and I to get these guys up for any games this year,” said Ceglarski. “We came out ready to play tonight, but we had a ten-minute lapse. The chemistry of this team is a little bit different than last year, but the core is still the same. And yet we still struggle playing a full 60 minutes of hockey.”
Play moved quickly up and down the ice after the RIT goal. Both netminders were called on to make brilliant saves on odd-man rushes to prevent goals around the four-minute mark. Then Elmira struck to tie the game 3-3.
Craig MacDonald led the Soaring Eagle rush into the Tiger zone. Eliopoulos made the save on his wrist shot, but Justin Siebold cleaned up the rebound and wristed it into the back of the net for the goal at the 6:33 mark.
Just when it looked like Elmira had stemmed the onslaught, RIT struck again right after the Soaring Eagle goal. The Tigers pressed into the Elmira zone, and a tic-tac-toe play down the slot finished off by Brent Macovi regained the lead for RIT 4-3 just 14 seconds after Elmira’s tieing goal.
The Tigers built to a 5-3 advantage less than four minutes later. A Ryan Fairbarn shot from the point was blocked by an Elmira defender, but the puck went right on to the stick of Harris, and he backhanded past Fargo for the goal at the 10:14 mark.
As is common in this longstanding series, the two-goal lead didn’t hold up for long. Elmira tallied a power-play goal late in the second period to narrow the Tiger lead to 5-4. A scramble erupted just to the left Elipoulos, but he was unable to corral the puck.
Siebold found it amongst the bodies, however, and he carried it back behind the Tiger net and wrapped it into the far side for the Elmira goal at the 18:46 mark.
After the onslaught of the first two periods, the third saw the offenses dry up. RIT played strongly in the neutral zone, and that limited Elmira to only three shots in the third period, styming its efforts to tie the game.
“We never got running around in our end in the third period,” said Wilson. “That is something we have had trouble at at times this season.”
The Soaring Eagles pulled their goalie with just over a minute remaining, but they only managed one shot on net before the buzzer sounded to end the game.