ROCHESTER, N.Y. — It was the Matt Zeman show in the first period of Tuesday’s game between Fredonia and RIT. Zeman tallied two shorthanded goals, and assisted on another, for the Blue Devils in the opening stanza. RIT tried to battle back, but came up short. Fredonia added an empty-net goal late and won 5-3.
“The difference tonight was the special teams, with us giving up two shorthanded goals,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “[Fredonia] was opportunistic, they worked hard, and their big players played big.”
Even strength play in the first period was a defensive affair as the teams felt for a weakness. Both teams were willing to let their opponent carry the puck through the neutral zone, but as soon as they entered the zone the clamps were put down. This limited the scoring opportunities until a string of penalties let the special teams go to work.
Then, play opened up. Fredonia scored on the second power play of the game, its first. Blue Devil leading scorer Matt Zeman was buzzing around the perimeter of the Tiger zone, carrying the puck seemingly at will. Finally, he spotted linemate Jim Gilbride parked at the top of the goal crease.
Zeman wound the puck through a crowd of legs, and Gilbride redirected the puck in to the net for the goal at 7:27.
Shortly afterward, Fredonia was called for a pair of penalties on the same play as they tried to stall an RIT jailbreak down the ice. On the resultant two-man advantage, RIT setup shop in the Fredonia zone. The Tigers were finally able to score when Darren Doherty took a shot from the top of the slot that deflected off a defensemen and in to the goal at 10:17 to tie the game 1-1.
Michael Tucciarone was awarded a secondary assist on the goal, his 100th point as a Tiger. He is the 45th Tiger to reach the 100 point mark.
The goal released one Fredonia player from the penalty box, so RIT remained on the power play. The Tigers were pressuring again, when a loose puck squirted in to the middle slot. All three Tigers that were near the blue line jumped towards the puck, but it was a Fredonia defender that won the race.
He poked the puck to Zeman, who was off to the races down ice unmarked. Zeman got RIT goaltender George Eliopoulos to commit early, and steered the puck past him for the shorthanded goal at 10:50 to regain Fredonia’s lead at 2-1.
Zeman and the Fredonia penalty killers weren’t done. Late in the period, RIT was again on the power play and moving the puck in the Fredonia zone. Doherty, at the point, attempted a blind, behind the back pass. But Zeman jumped up to intercept the puck and he was off to the races again. And Zeman scored his second shorthanded goal of the period at 17:56 to stake the Blue Devils to a 3-1 lead.
RIT continued its lackadaisical play in the second period. The most glaring example occurred mid-period, when a sloppy and slow line change by RIT sprung Fredonia up ice with a 4-on-1 advantage. Fortunately, Eliopoulos was there to bailout his teammates and came up with a smothering save at the side of the net.
But the good news for RIT is that they were able to play two complete power plays early in the period without allowing Fredonia to score a short handed goal. At least it was a moral victory for the Tigers.
The Tigers almost scored what appeared to be a shorthanded goal of its own 13:30 in to the period. Brian Payant put a quick wrist shot that looked to sneak in and out of the far corner of the net. However, neither the referee nor the goal judge reacted and play continued.
Just a few seconds later, while skating 4-on-4, Fredonia tallied again to build its lead to 4-1. After a strong rush up ice, Joe Muli poke the puck past Eliopoulos for the goal.
The Tigers saw a glimmer of hope late in the second period. Darrell Draper carried the puck behind the Fredonia net, and found Rob Tarantino on front of the net. Draper passed to Tarantino who one-timed the puck past Fredonia goaltender Rick Cazares to make the score 4-2 at 19:44.
Just five minutes in to the third period, RIT made the game a little closer. Matt Harris send a hard shot down the slot through a crowd that deflected off of Brent Macovi’s stick and past Cazares low. The goal at 5:05 narrowed the RIT deficit to 4-3.
“We didn’t play desperate until the third period when we scored the goal,” said Wilson.
Both teams started pressing to win the game, but were also trying to be careful not to make that critical mistake to give the other team the game. An RIT penalty at 10:21 resulted in several top scoring opportunities for Fredonia, but they were unable to score and put the game away.
RIT pulled Eliopoulos for the remaining minute of the contest, but were unable score despite strong pressure. Joe Muli tallied an empty net goal with 13 seconds remaining to seal the 5-3 victory.