ROCHESTER, N.Y. — In a closely fought contest, RIT defeated Utica, 2-1, to remain undefeated in ECAC West play. This was a game of momentum. Utica thoroughly controlled play in the first period, although the score was tied 1-1 at the end of it. RIT took control of the second period, scoring the eventual game winner midway through it. The third period saw even play by both teams. Despite a late push by Utica, the Tigers held on for the victory.
From the opening faceoff of the game, Utica came out with a jump and completely controlled play. The Pioneers won all of the foot races to the loose pucks.
The only thing that kept RIT in the game during the opening half of the period was stellar goaltending by George Eliopoulos. Utica’s first big chance to get on the scoreboard came 2:26 in to the game with a 2-on-1 breakaway. Freshman Jared Allison sent a quick wrist shot on net that Eliopoulos grabbed with a big glove save.
“The first ten minutes was all us,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “We knew they had young defensemen and wanted to take the play to them and pressure them. [RIT's] goaltender hung in there early. We really peppered him.”
Eliopoulos again flashed his quick glove while Utica was on a 5-on-3 power play at 8:50 when he snagged a slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle.
But his best save of the period came just under two minutes later when Utica was again on a power play. Randy Bauer took a big slapshot from the point towards the net. As the puck wound through traffic, Allison again got his stick in the way to redirect the puck towards the far corner of the net. However, Eliopoulos reacted with his left pad to block the almost sure goal.
The Pioneers finally cracked Eliopoulos at the 11:12 mark with a goal on another 2-on-1 breakaway. Justin Schachtler carried the puck in to the Tiger zone down the right side of the slot and put a hard wrister in to the back of the far side of the net.
Utica’s lead was short-lived however when RIT scored just 23 seconds later directly off a faceoff deep in the Pioneer zone. Darren Doherty won the faceoff directly back to Marc Hyman along the boards. Hyman took a big swing and sent a rocket past Dekker for the goal on only RIT’s second shot of the game.
The spat of goals woke up the Tigers, and play was more even for the remainder of the period. RIT was finally able to sustain some semblance of pressure in the Pioneers zone, although the period ended in a 1-1 tie.
“I’m pretty excited how we are playing team defense,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “We are a different team back there. Once we figure out who can move the puck up ice on the power play, that will improve also.”
Utica almost retook the lead just over two minutes in to the second period. Ryan Webb took a slapshot from just inside the blue line the rocketed in and out of the top of the Tiger net. The goal light flashed on briefly, and the referee signaled a goal from the blueline as he trailed the play. However, an assistant referee on the far side of the ice quickly skated to the referee for a conference. They chatted for a few moments, and also talked to the goal judge, and the apparent goal was waved off.
RIT had much more jump in the second period and carried play from about the eight minute mark forward. The pressure finally paid off for the Tigers when they took the lead at 10:24. Jason Chafe slid the puck through neutral ice and found freshman Simon Lamber at the Pioneers blue line, and behind the Utica defenders. Lambert rushed the Pioneers net unmarked, skated to the far side of the net and slid the puck past Dekker to give RIT a 2-1 lead.
“We had two breakdowns on faceoffs,” said Heenan. “In a matter of five seconds combined, we had two goals against us.”
Dekker was called on late in the period to keep the score within reach for Utica. While skating 4-on-4, Tiger defender Marc Hyman had snuck down low towards the net. He took a feed from the corner, one timed it towards the net, but Dekker slid across to smother the puck and keep the score close.
Unlike the first two periods, the third was more even. RIT played strong defense trying to hold on to their slim lead. While Utica kept up the pressure trying to tie the contest.
Utica had a first rate chance to tie the game late when RIT’s J.R. Holmes took a hooking penalty with 57 seconds remaining to prevent a breakaway. Heenan pulled his goaltender, but Utica was unable to score on the resulting 6-on-4 advantage.