COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — If a team is called for 14 penalties in a game and 12 result in short-handed opportunities, it better hope its penalty killers are up to the task, or it might be in for a long night.
Luckily for the Rochester Institute of Technology, their penalty killers were more than ready as the Tigers (9-7-3, 7-4-3 AHA) beat the Air Force Academy Fighting Falcons (10-6-4, 8-5-3 AHA) 4-3 in overtime Saturday night at Cadet Ice Arena.
After killing off the last minute of an Air Force power play, Matt Smith scored 1:48 into the fourth frame to give his Tigers the victory and the split on the weekend.
“Brent Alexin, number 14, went down the wing and kind of shoveled the puck in the corner and made a nice play to [Sean Murphy],” said Smith. “Then what happened is he just passed it out in front and I was going to take a backhand, but I decided to do a spin-o-rama shot and, kind of lucky, it went off the post and in.”
“The determination and just thinking with it and believing in ourselves was big, especially after losing last night 5-2,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson.
While Air Force had the first few chances in the game, RIT struck first. Matt Crowell skated in on a breakaway, shot wide and Andrew Favot picked up the puck behind the goal line and threw it on net, banking it off Falcons’ netminder Andrew Volkening (15 saves) and in.
Three minutes later, with Brett Nylander in the box for tripping, the Tigers took a 2-0 lead off a tic-tac-toe passing play. Al Mazur at the point passed across to Dan Ringwald, who made a cross-ice pass to Smith, who one-timed it past Volkening.
The Falcons cut the lead to one with eight minutes remaining in the first with the teams skating four-on-four. Eric Ehn skated the puck behind the Tigers’ net and passed it up to Brad Sellers at the point, whose shot was tipped past RIT goaltender Louis Menard (26 saves) by freshman Derrick Burnett for his first career goal.
In the second period, there were 13 total penalties called and Air Force was the main beneficiary, getting six power play opportunities. Despite outshooting the Tigers 12-3 in the frame, however, the Falcons were only able to get one tally and the Tigers added one of their own.
Burnett tied it up with his second goal of the night about halfway through the second, one-timing a Greg Flynn pass past Menard.
“I got stuck with a new line today and [it] seemed to work out pretty well,” said Burnett. “Blake Page had me use a little baby powder on my hands before the game, soften up the hands.”
About five minutes later however, the Tigers took back their lead. Simon Lambert won an offensive zone face-off back to Mazur, who passed it to Ringwald, received it back and fired a slap shot past Volkening.
The Falcons had four more power play opportunities in the third period and tied the game at three on the second one 3:21 into the frame. Mike Phillipich blasted a shot high glove side past Menard on passes from Flynn and Ehn.
Despite having an extra man for the last bit of the third and first part of overtime, however, the Falcons (2-for-12 on the power play) couldn’t cap the comeback.
“Our penalty killing was the key and unfortunately we used almost just four guys killing penalties,” said Wilson. “I got concerned that they were going to be too tired at the end of the period.”
However, Wilsons crew got it done, unlike Falcons’ coach Frank Serratores squad.
“When we get teams in that situation, when it gets to be crunch time, you either develop a tendency to get it done or you don’t, and we haven’t gotten it done, especially in our building,” said Serratore. “If I sound frustrated and mad, I am. I’m tired of giving away points in our building, and I take responsibility for it.
“I don’t want to make it sound like the season’s over, because it’s far from over, but right now our season to this point at home has been a season of missed opportunities.”
“We came out with the ‘W’ today and it was huge for our conference stats,” said Smith.
The Tigers return home next weekend to face conference foe Sacred Heart in a two game set, while the Falcons will host No. 3 University of Denver and travel to No. 4 Colorado College in a non-conference weekend.