MINNEAPOLIS — The RIT Tigers upset No. 12 Minnesota 4-3 on the strength of two goals by Matt Smith and solid goaltending by Louis Menard.
Smith scored his second goal of the game and the game-winner, breaking a 3-3 tie at 9:00 of the third.
The Tigers were prowling in the Gophers’ zone on the play, out-hustling the Gophers to every loose puck. The goal eventually came on a redirection of a shot by Dan Ringwald from the point. Smith had cheated from behind the net and just got a piece of the puck.
Menard then played with ice in his veins and held off the Gophers’ attack, including standing tall during a five-on-three penalty kill, stuffing Blake Wheeler seconds after the second penalty had expired.
“Any one of those shots [on the five-on-three] could have been tipped and went in,” remarked Tigers’ coach Wayne Wilson. “We had the goalie make some saves and got some bounces.”
The win was possibly the biggest win in the three year Division I history of the Tigers. It was RIT’s first game against a WCHA foe, against a storied program in their home building.
“We always seem to get up for big games,” remarked Smith on the team’s play.
As big a win as this was for the Tigers, the Gophers found themselves in the same pattern of loss that has plague them this season.
“It looked like a lot of third periods this year,” remarked Gophers’ coach Don Lucia.
In the third period this year, the opposition has owned the Gophers on the scoreboard. Combine their third period woes, an anemic power play, throw in four guys at juniors, one of whom is not returning, and you have a team ripe for upset.
Lucia insisted that his players did not overlook RIT.
“Its an insult to them to say we overlooked them. In college hockey, there has been a huge compression from the top to the bottom. They have 25 players with junior experience that know how to play the game.”
The game started slow, as both teams tried to find their skates after a 20-day holiday layoff.
The Gophers Blake Wheeler opened scoring at 12:08 on a play set up by defenseman Derek Peltier. Peltier stole the puck in the neutral zone and drove the right lane on a three-on-two rush. He dropped the puck back up the middle to Ben Gordon, who found Wheeler on the left side for the one-timer.
Minnesota had a territorial advantage on the Tigers and attempted twice as many shots (20 to 10), but only managed to land 10 on net in the first.
The fireworks went off in the second.
RIT started the display, tying the game at 3:00 of the second on a tip by Mike Janda on a shot from the point by Justin Hofstetter.
Louis Menard then made two point-blank saves on Minnesota defenseman RJ Anderson, the first on a two-on-one, the second a one-time blast from 10 feet out which he gloved.
Less than 10 seconds later and just 63 seconds after the Janda goal, RIT took the lead when Minnesota native Sean Murphy wristed a shot diving towards the puck through the five-hole of Jeff Frazee.
At 6:10, Anderson finally found a way to beat Menard. He took a seeing eye shot from 50 feet out that found its way through a crowd and into the lower left corner of the net.
At 13:32, Frazee was caught napping when he did not cover the post on an unassisted wraparound by Matt Smith on a puck that squirted out of a scrum behind the net onto his tip. Smith beat Frazee to the pipe, putting RIT up 3-2.
Jay Barriball answered for the Gophers at 16:27 on a partially screened wrister from 60 feet that beat Menard over the blocker. Barriball’s goal capped the five-goal second period and knotted the game at three.
The RIT players didn’t celebrate on ice after the win. They are a confident team, but face a major test tomorrow in the championship game versus Boston College at 4:05 PM CST.
Lucia’s teams have found themselves vulnerable the last three times they played Atlantic teams in a tournament. They barely survived Air Force last year and lost to Holy Cross two years ago in NCAA Tournament play.
Minnesota needs to find a way to pull themselves together to face Air Force in Sunday’s consolation game, which will be played at 7:05 PM CST.