GENEVA, N.Y. — For the first time in school history, Hobart earned a spot in the ECAC West championship. However, the Statesmen weren’t satisfied just to play in the game. They fought, and scrapped, and battled, and defeated RIT 3-1 to earn the title.
“It was a really hard-fought contest up and down the ice,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “We worked our tail off.”
Early in the first period, the referee set a very high tolerance for physical play. The players from both teams quickly realized that, and it was “anything goes” as the whistles were put away early in this contest.
Both teams came out flying off the opening faceoff. RIT pinned Hobart in its end for the first minute or so, and then the Statesmen returned the favor in the Tigers end for the second minute. Play quickly devolved into a series of end to end rushes, with bodies flying everywhere.
The emotional high finally wore off late in the first. A series of icings and offsides slowed what had been an exceptionally fast paced game, and the teams settled in for the long haul.
RIT had the better scoring chances early in the first period, while Hobart put on a push in the second half. The Statesmen’s best scoring chance came at the 15:45 mark when a shot from down low left the puck spinning like a top just outside of the RIT goal line.
The Tiger netminder was sprawled on the ice on the far side of the crease, and players from both teams dove towards the puck. The first player to reach it was a Tiger defender and he pushed the puck harmlessly into the corner to end the opportunity for Hobart.
Neither team gained much of an advantage in the first period, and it ended scoreless.
“After the first period, I told my guys that if they want a new rink, they would need to blow the roof off of this one,” said Hobart coach Mark Taylor. “We needed to keep it simple and stick to the game plan.”
The second period saw RIT take over territorially. It was all Tigers, all the time as RIT poured shot after shot on net. Hobart took four straight penalties as they scrambled to keep RIT from scoring, which only gave the potent Tiger power play more chances.
The Tigers got a chance 3:48 into the period when they threw the puck into the Statesmen zone. Lavelle raced out to get to the puck first, but misplayed it near the left faceoff dot. RIT scrambled to steer the puck around him, but the play was whistled dead when Hobart’s Jesse Desper knocked the net off its moorings.
The Tigers got several more chances during the ensuing power play, from the delay of game call on Desper, but couldn’t score.
“All season, my defense has been bailing me out at key times,” said Lavelle. “It just all came together tonight. By far, this is the best time of my hockey career. The crowd was unbelievable. It gives you a little extra adrenaline when they get going like they were.”
Lavelle came up with big save after save during the period, scrambling over and over to prevent a goal.
“[Lavelle] was a wall tonight and just played great,” said Wilson. “We easily could have had three or four more goals out there, but we didn’t because of their goaltending.”
The RIT pressure finally paid dividends at the 12:06 mark when Bryan Payant skated into the Hobart zone, leading a 2-on-1 rush. He pulled up short at the left faceoff dot, shed the Statesmen defender marking him, and rifled the puck high past Lavelle to give RIT the 1-0 lead.
Less than a minute later, Hobart took advantage of an RIT mistake to climb back into the contest. An RIT defender deep in the Tiger zone sent an errant breakout pass right into the slot. The only players there were for Hobart, and Conor Bradley pounced on the puck and wristed it over Eliopoulos for the goal at 13:03.
That Tiger mistake gave Hobart an emotional boost, and it really quickened their step. And then Statesmen took the lead in the waning seconds of the period with a power play goal. Edward Poirier carried the puck across the Tiger slot, and was able to get a wrist shot on net. The rebound bounced out into the middle of the slot, and Tyler Dufor swatted it into the back of the net.
“I came off the bench and was playing the point on the power play,” said Dufor. “Ed [Poirier] did a great job of going to the net. The puck came on to my stick. I took a golf swing at it and was able to put it in.”
Dufor had sat out the past seven weeks due to an injury, but made an immediate impact in his first game back in on the ice.
After being back on their heels for much of the second period, scrambling to keep RIT off the scoreboard, the Statesmen found themselves leading 2-1 with very opportunistic play.
RIT opened up its style of play in the third period as they tried to come from behind. However, Hobart smelled the chum in the water and outplayed the Tigers throughout long portions of the opening half of the period.
“We wanted to keep attacking in the third period,” said Taylor. “You can’t back off against a team as good as RIT.”
RIT had a great chance to tie the game with a power play around the 12-minute mark. Off a scramble in front of the Hobart net, the puck was lying on the goal line. But the first player to get to it was a Statesman and he swatted it out of the zone.
Wilson called his timeout with 2:16 remaining, and tried to rally his players for one last push to tie the contest. The Tigers pulled their goalie with a minute remaining. Hobart had two shots at an empty net but couldn’t bury it to seal the win. The third try was finally the charm, when William Brame intercepted the puck at center ice and slid it into the empty net for the 3-1 win.