GENESEO, N.Y. — The friendship, and rivalry, between Geneseo head coach Brian Hills and RIT head coach Wayne Wilson dates back over 20 years, to when they were teammates at Bowling Green. Since then, the two coaches and their families have become close friends, even vacationing together each year.
However, when their opposing teams take the ice annually to renew the Battle of 390 rivalry, the competitive juices flow. Two years ago, after RIT defeated Geneseo in a hard-fought 9-5 contest at the Ice Knights rink, the children of both coaches picked up a game of shinny while the postgame festivities were winding down.
Just after Wilson finished speaking on RIT radio’s post game show, his son Stuart made a nice move with the puck around Brian’s son Trevor. Being the proud father, Wilson smiled and said “See, a Wilson will never lose to a Hills.”
Hills and his Geneseo team almost proved Wilson wrong Saturday, but came up just short. RIT scored a power-play goal with under a minute remaining to sneak out of Geneseo with a 4-3 victory.
In the third period, the Tigers had built the lead to 3-1 with a goal in the opening minutes for the third straight period. Brent Macovi finished off a 2-on-1 breakaway by chipping the puck over Geneseo goaltender Brett Walker’s shoulder at 2:32.
Soon after, RIT found itself in penalty trouble and Geneseo was quick to take advantage of the opportunity.
“Our biggest Achilles heel tonight was our penalties,” said Wilson. “That gave Geneseo a lot of momentum. That kind of wore us out at the end.”
Michel Bond scored a power-play goal while on the doorstep of the Tigers net at 4:23 to chip away at the lead. And Mike MacDonald tied the game 3-3 just over two minutes later while Geneseo was on a 5-on-3 power play.
Weak refereeing in the later half of the third period almost ruined what had been an exciting, close fought game. But the two teams battled through the frustrations.
It appeared like the game was headed towards overtime tied 3-3, but a late penalty gave RIT one last chance that they took advantage of. RIT setup on the power play and worked the puck around the perimeter. Defenseman Marc Hyman ripped a slapshot down the slot that deflected off the body of Tiger Matt Smith in front of the net and eluded Walker at 19:06.
Geneseo pulled its goaltender with twenty six seconds remaining, but to no avail. RIT won the game 4-3.
“It was an unbelievable hockey game,” said Hills. “We certainly gave it our best shot. RIT is one of the best teams around.”
In the first period, Geneseo came out playing the body hard, finishing any check that was within reach of them. But RIT did a better job with puck control and passing. Just 5:52 intothe contest, the Tigers’ skills paid off and they took a 1-0 lead.
“Finishing checks is the way we want to come out in games,” said Hills. “We play hard and want to finish checks. We have built our team around speed and skill.”
Geneseo, while on the power play, had difficulty getting the first breakout pass to connect to get the puck moving up ice. Ice Knights defenseman Nick Onody tried a cross ice pass at his own blue line, but it didn’t work out. Tiger Brad Harris intercepted it, and skated towards the net unmarked. He sent a quick wrist shot to the high right corner of the net, past Geneseo goaltender Brett Walker, to score the shorthanded goal at 3:52
The Ice Knights almost scored at the 12:20 mark, when they had the Tigers running around in their own zone. A hard wrist show from the point almost eluded RIT netminder George Eliopoulos, but he got a piece of the puck to knock it down. However, it slowly trickled along the ice, coming to rest just short of the near post.
Eliopoulos lost sight of it, and a mad scramble ensued. RIT’s Matt Harris was finally able to make contact with the puck, sending it off his skate harmlessly behind the net.
Geneseo peppered the RIT net with shots and scoring chances during the later half of the period while on the power play, but couldn’t bury its chances. Despite Geneseo outshooting RIT by a 20-10 margin, the Tigers ended the period with a 1-0 lead.
Unlike the first period, the second stanza saw RIT applying a torrent of pressure on Geneseo right from the opening faceoff. For the second period in a row, the Tigers tallied an early goal.
As RIT streaked intothe Geneseo zone on a 3-on-2 break, Tristan Fairbarn passed to linemate Darren Doherty. Doherty wristed the puck through Walker’s 5-hole at 4:01 to build RIT’s lead to 2-0.
But play evened out as the period wore on as Geneseo clawed back intothe contest. At 14:16, Mitch Stevens steered in a wrap-around goal for Geneseo, and it was a whole new contest.
The Ice Knights almost tied the game just a minute later when Matt Caren sent a strong slapshot towards the net. But the puck caromed off the far post into the corner. RIT held on to its 2-1 lead as the buzzer sounded ending the second period.