ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Air Force Falcons (5-2) trailed the RIT Tigers (2-4) for most of the contest, but a goal scored by Brett Nylander midway through the third period sent the game into overtime, and Scott Kozlak scored to give the Falcons the 2-1 win.
Kozlak one-timed a pass from Owen Kelly past RIT goaltender Louis Menard 1:40 into the extra stanza for the game winning goal.
“This team has showed a tremendous amount of character so far this season,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “If you want to be a champion, there are two attributes that you have to have: you have to be able to come from behind and have the ability to win on the road, and we did both tonight.”
The game was played in front of an abnormally subdued RIT crowd of 2,039. The RIT campus is mourning the loss of two students who died in a house fire early this morning, and the RIT hockey team is also mourning the death of longtime fan and hockey supporter Dan Barrows on Thursday.
The Air Force Falcons got off to a quick start territorially as the first period began, outshooting RIT 4-3 during the first seven minutes, but the Tigers were able to take advantage of a lucky bounce to open the scoring.
Matt Smith was working the puck in the Falcons corner when he threw it across the slot. As the puck reached the near corner of the crease, Air Forces Jeff Hajner tried to redirect the pass towards the back boards but instead chipped it into his own net to give RIT an early 1-0 lead at 1:40.
The RIT power play unit got an extended workout for over four minutes starting at 7:35 due to a series of three Falcon penalties. The Tigers ended up with 1:45 of five-on-three advantage over the course of two of the three power plays, pouring six shots on goal, but Air Force goaltender Andrew Volkening held firm and the score remained 1-0.
“We got a fluke goal, but then missed an opportunity on the five-on-threes,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “We were too rushed. Air Force is a very good team and are very well coached.”
The Falcons got three power play chances of their own late in the period, but didn’t manage to land any shots on goal as the RIT defense kept the Air Force shots away from the net.
The second period was much more evenly played, as both teams seemed to take a bit of a breather after the faster-paced first period.
Air Force had the best chance to score during the period, with under three minutes remaining, when Brent Olson hit the after burners, split the Tiger defenders at center ice and streaked into the RIT zone unmarked. He tried to slide the puck into the corner of the net, but Menard stacked the pads to prevent the score.
Air Force outshot RIT 10-9 during the second period, but the Tigers continued to hold on to a slim 1-0 lead as the period ended.
The pace of play picked up in the third period. Air Forces Owen Kelly almost tied the game at the 4:08 mark when he had a great scoring chance from in close, but Menard flashed his quick glove and robbed Kelly.
The Falcons’ pressure finally paid off midway through the period. Taking advantage of RIT’s inability to clear its zone, Nylander swatted in a rebound from Derrick Burnett at 9:56 to tie the game 1-1, setting the stage for Kozlak’s heroics.