UTICA, N.Y. — A two-man power-play advantage can be a double-edged sword. If the team with the advantage scores, it can be a big boost. However, in a close game, if the defending team manages to kill off the penalties, it can gain a huge momentum swing.
While Utica and RIT were tied 2-2 early in the second period, the Pioneers were whistled for two straight penalties. Despite good chances, RIT was unable to score during the resulting power play and the second period was all Utica after that.
“Any time you have a 5-on-3 in a close hockey game, momentum swings,” said Utica coach Gary Heenan. “If they score, they go. If you kill it off, then you go. It was a big kill.
The Pioneers scored three straight goals to build a 5-2 lead during the remainder of the second period, and that was all Utica needed to win this key ECAC West contest 6-2.
RIT came out of the locker room with a jump in the second period, and two quick penalties on Utica gave the Tigers even more momentum. But Utica was able to kill off 52 seconds of being down two skaters, and the remaining minute down one skater without RIT scoring. The Tigers got off six shots during the power plays, but the closest they came to scoring was dinging a shot off the post.
Killing off the penalties was a huge boost to Utica and the momentum was firmly on their side for the remainder of the period. The Pioneers regained the lead with a power play goal at 7:36. Jimmy Sokol ripped a blast from the top of the slot, near the blue line, immediately after a faceoff for the goal.
Utica goaltender Adam Dekker was outstanding during the second period, and was called on twice during a three minute period to hold on to the lead while the score was 3-2 Utica. Dekker turned aside a lone breakaway chance and a 2-on-1 breakaway by RIT to maintain the lead.
“We killed off two huge 5-on-3′s of over a minute during this game,” said Heenan. “If you look at a turning point, that was it. Dekker made some huge saves, and that is a difference that we have never had before. Our guys see him fighting, and realize that they have to also.”
This spurred on the Pioneers and they rode the wave. Sokol scored his second goal of the game at 12:47, and Ron Mexico jumped on a misplay by RIT goaltender George Eliopoulos to pad Utica’s lead to 5-2 by the end of the second period.
“To win the second convincingly, and then win the third even, that was a complete game for us,” said Heenan. “We have been struggling offensively, but with the weapons that we have, we shouldn’t be.”
The first period was a wide open affair right from the first faceoff of the game. RIT tallied on the first power play of the game to take the early lead.
After chipping the puck deep in to the Utica zone, the Pioneers attempted to clear the puck. But Darren Doherty was able to keep the puck in the zone at the point. He pushed the puck over to his defensive mate Marc Hyman who was at the top of the slot. Hyman walked towards the net, and wristed the puck past Dekker for the score at 3:48 to give RIT the 1-0 lead.
RIT then was whistled for three straight penalties, and paid the price as Utica scored on two of the resulting power plays to take the lead. The first Pioneer goal came at 7:57 when Joe Watson put a shot on net from the top of the left faceoff circle. Eliopoulos stopped the shot with his stick along the ice but traffic in front of the net made him misplay it and the puck trickled through his legs and over the goal line.
Utica’s second power play goal came just three seconds after going on their very next power play. Nick Lynch won the faceoff deep in the RIT zone after the penalty call. He pushed the puck back to Scott Leygraff at the point, who blasted the puck over Eliopoulos’ right shoulder for the goal at 8:33.
The scoring continued unabated when RIT scored less than three minutes later to tie the game 2-2. Matt Smith dug the puck out of the corner deep in the Utica zone, and found J.R. Holmes at the top of the slot. In almost an identical shot as RIT’s first goal, Holmes wristed the puck past Dekker for the score at 11:06. This was the first even strength goal of the game for either team.
Play settled down a little in the latter half of the first period. The strong Utica forecheck was successful at pinning RIT in their own zone, but the Pioneers were unable to convert this in to any real scoring opportunities. Utica out shot RIT 11-7 in the first period, but the score remained tied 2-2.
The Pioneers extended their lead right off the opening faceoff in the third period when Ryan Dolan tallied just thirty one seconds in to the period.
“It was nice to play sixty minutes,” said Heenan. “It was nice to do well on our power play. It was nice to kill their power play. Everything was going right. This is the right time of year to be doing that.”
Utica killed off another 58 seconds of RIT 5-on-3 power play midway through the third period to maintain its 6-2 lead. The Tigers were unable to mount as much pressure during this advantage, compared to the same situation in the second period.
RIT tried to press during the remainder of the game, but Utica packed it in defensively and were able to prevent the Tigers from drawing the score any closer.