ROCHESTER, N.Y. — In the first game for RIT since the announcement that the hockey team is moving to Division I, the Tigers faced perhaps their toughest opponent of the season — the U.S. National Under-18 Team. The Tigers were up to the task of showing why they are a program ready for the move up by defeating Team USA, 7-4, in a game where skating five-on-five was a rare sight.
“I thought it was one of our most complete games from start to finish,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “We made some mistakes, but they didn’t lead to another and another and another.”
The point of emphasis reared its ugly head again at the Ritter Arena. Thirteen penalties were called in the first period alone, 33 for the whole game, many with the dreaded “obstruction” preface to them, giving the hinges on the penalty-box doors a workout.
RIT didn’t seem to mind as they enjoyed having one of their players in the box just as much as having a Team USA player in the sin bin. The Tigers scored two shorthanded goals along with three power-play tallies.
A plethora of penalties early on by RIT gave the Under-18 team numerous opportunities to get the first goal. George Eliopoulos made some strong saves and the defense helped clear the puck out of dangerous locations. However, the Tigers were still lucky to escape a number of times as they often lost sight of the puck, but the U.S. team couldn’t convert those opportunities, either shooting it wide or not getting to it in time.
The penalties continued and eventually RIT got burned. Jason Bailey found himself on the left point with the puck and fired away. It changed direction on the way in, Eliopoulos was partially screened, and the puck entered the net inside the far post.
After the goal, it was Team USA’s turn to commit penalty after penalty. RIT took advantage of it. Brad Harris, receiving a pass from Darren Dohert, knocked the puck into a relatively unguarded net from down low with Billy Blase out of position.
RIT got another special teams goal, but this time while they were shorthanded. At the start of the penalty, it was RIT that appeared to have the power play as they controlled the puck, passing it around the edge of the Under-18ers’ zone. They moved it down low where Brian Payant shot it in after Blase had trouble handling the initial shot from Brent Macovi.
RIT took that 2-1 lead into intermission.
Team USA wasted no time getting the equalizer 28 seconds into the second period. A quick end-to-end rush by Jack Skille ended when he dropped it back to the trailer, Andreas Vlassopolous, who shot it inside the near post.
“You have to respect their speed, their stick strength — they move the puck well,” Wilson said.
The path to the penalty box continued to be like rush hour in the second period. The U.S. team took a 3-2 lead when both teams were skating a man down. Kyle Lawson on the right side up high received a quick pass from Bailey, then proceeded to one-time a shot. It deflected on its way in, fooling Eliopoulos.
RIT got their second shorthanded goal on the night thanks to some intense forechecking which pinned Team USA behind their net. Payant worked the puck loose, passing it in front to Rob Tarantino. Tarantino, just outside the crease, converted the quick shot.
“Our penalty killing has been strong,” Wilson said. “We have two forechecking systems. When one didn’t work, we went right to the other one.”
The Tigers regained the lead on the power play, but not before the U.S. team just missed getting a shorthanded goal when Danny Fardig missed on a clean breakaway. Eliopoulos got a piece of the shot, sending it wide.
Back down the other end, RIT worked their power play to perfection with quick, crisp passing. The result was Matt Smith getting the puck at the left faceoff dot with plenty of time to shoot. He fired it over Blase’s glove. Once again, RIT took a one-goal lead into intermission.
The teams traded quick goals early in the third period. At the 2:19 mark, RIT got the first two-goal lead of the game when Doherty fired a rebound into the unguarded portion of the net. Team USA answered just 19 seconds later when Chad Morin’s quick shot beat Eliopoulos over the glove.
RIT reclaimed the two-goal lead when a lazy shot from the center of the blue line changed direction on the way in, handcuffing Jeff Frazee, who replaced Blase at the start of the third period. The goal was awarded to Brandon Mulholland.
Brad Harris finished off the game with an empty net goal.
RIT upped their record against the U.S. National Under-18 Team to 3-5-1 as this was their first victory against this national team since the 2001-02 season.
These two teams faceoff again Saturday night, same time and place, but the home fans may see a slightly different game.
“It will be an interesting rematch tomorrow,” Wilson said. “[David] Wrisley is going to start [in goal]. We’re going to give other guys a chance to compete. I came into this weekend wanting to play everyone and evaluate them.”