ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Saturday night, RIT had its sights set on clinching the Atlantic Hockey regular-season title in its first full year of Division I play, and in its last home game of the season in front of a capacity crowd.
But Mercyhurst spoiled the party for RIT, as the Lakers defeated the Tigers, 3-2.
“We wanted to win [the title] at home,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “Not just for us, but for our fans, too, especially since we had the opportunity to.”
With Sacred Heart defeating Holy Cross, 4-1, RIT’s lead is now three points with two games left in the season for both teams.
Mercyhurst jumped out to a 3-1 lead, and unlike the night before, had no intention of allowing RIT another come-from-behind victory, though RIT gave its best shot.
“I thought they defended better,” Wilson said. “They were much better in their own zone than they were last night.”
The talk of the game was not any of the goals that counted, but rather two goals that were called off.
In the most controversial call of the game, and probably the year, the puck clearly crossed the line, but the refs waved the goal off five minutes into the second. Brad Harris raced into the zone while shorthanded, firing at Mike Ella’s five-hole.
Ella got a piece of it, and thought he had possession. However, the puck squeezed through his legs, and slowly, s-l-o-w-l-y, trickled towards the goal line. As the crowd urged the puck on, it eventually crossed the line before coming to a stop.
Much to the dismay of the crowd and the RIT players, the ref waved the goal off, claiming he lost sight of it and blew the whistle.
“No question he blew the whistle,” Wilson conceded. “My only gripe was he didn’t ask the linesman if the puck was over before or after.”
Midway through the third period, RIT’s Darrell Draper fired a shot that appeared to go under the crossbar and then quickly bounce out. The red light went on, and RIT started celebrating. However, the ref waved no goal.
After an icing, the ref again emphatically declared no goal in a discussion with the RIT coaching staff. Only afterwards, did the ref then finally confer with the goal judge. After a long discussion with the goal judge, the ref again repeated the no-goal signal.
“I just wanted the ref to talk to the goal judge since the light went on this time,” Wilson said. “I didn’t know if went in.”
Mercyhurst struck first at 3:51. A quick transition allowed Ryan Toomey to break into the zone on the right side. When he got to the faceoff circle, he let go a hard slapper, high to the opposite corner. It went by the waving glove of Guimond.
The first power play of the game allowed RIT to tie it up. Brennan Sarazin skated the puck in deep and around the net. After circling the net, Sarazin quickly passed it in front where Brent Patry, in deep from his defensive position, backhanded it in at 8:49.
Though RIT came out playing a tighter-checking game than the night before, both teams still had room to skate. With that room came good opportunities, of which Mercyhurst had the majority. RIT defenders did a good job clogging up the middle and lifting sticks while Guimond stopped what did get through to him The Tigers’ excellent opportunities were thwarted by strong saves by Ella.
Instead of RIT taking a 2-1 lead after the first no-goal, Mercyhurst took a 2-1 lead five minutes later at 10:52 on the power play. Soon after a Mercyhurst penalty expired, the RIT defense appeared to lose track of the number of players on the ice. Ben Cottreau found Nick Vandenbeld wide-open in the slot area, and Vendenbeld did not waste the opportunity, easily shooting it into the unguarded area of the net.
Matt Pierce extended the lead to 3-1 at 15:30 on a shot from the blueline through a screen that Guimond did not see. The goalie reacted late as the puck sailed into the upper corner, stick-side.
It didn’t take long for RIT to begin its comeback attempt. On a four-on-three power play, the Tigers converted 28 seconds into the third period. Simon Lambert tipped a slapshot from the point by Matt Smith, sending it high over the shoulder of Ella, who had no chance at stopping it.
Mercyhurst didn’t back off, and was willing to take it to the RIT net. However, strong defense, the goaltender, and a little luck prevented the Lakers from extending the lead. Meanwhile, on the other end, RIT kept Mercyhurst honest, but Ella was able to withstand the RIT attempts.
“They didn’t fold the tent and not come out tonight,” Wilson said.
Mercyhurst (8-19-5, 8-15-3) has one game left in the regular season, a home contest against Canisius.
RIT (20-10-2, 19-6-1) travels to Bentley for its last two games of the season. The magic number for the Tigers is two points.