ROCHESTER, N.Y. — RIT blew a 2-0 lead but scored a power-play goal with just over a minute left in regulation to salvage a 3-3 tie against non-conference foe Niagara University. The tie gives Niagara a 2-0-1 record against RIT since both teams fielded Division I programs, and extends Niagara’s unbeaten streak to eight (5-0-3). The overtime was RIT’s eighth this year, a school record.
“Obviously, location wise, it’s a great game for us, and I assume a great game for them,” said Niagara Associate Coach Jerry Forton. “This is two years in a row we’ve been in their building and it’s been sold out. Both teams played very hard tonight, but it was all between the whistles, and that’s great for college hockey. They’re a team we need to play every year.”
“I think whenever you tie it late it feels better about the fact that the team scored late on you,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “It’s good to do that because we may need to do that down the stretch.”
The first goal of the game was a classic case of quickly changing fortunes. Niagara’s Egor Mironov sped around RIT’s defenders, enabling him to go in alone on Jared DeMichiel. As Mironov was prepared to take a shot, DeMichiel lunged out to poke check the puck away.
RIT then raced down to the other end. Simon Lambert completed the play with a wraparound goal, with the second assist was given to DeMichiel. Instead of potentially trailing 1-0, RIT had the initial lead.
RIT nearly took the lead in the early minutes when a shot took a wierd bounce off the boards behind the Niagara net. Juliano Pagliero started behind his net to play it, but the puck bounced out in front. However, Brent Alexin was unable to shoot at the unguarded net quickly enough, and Pagliero recovered in time.
After RIT scored, Dan Ringwald had a breakaway down the left side, but, a Niagara defender kept him from cutting to the middle, allowing Pagliero to come out and easily cut down the angle.
RIT took a 2-0 lead early in the second on their first power play opportunity. The Tigers did an excellent job passing the puck around the edges. The puck ended up on Matt Smith’s stick down low to the left of the goal. He wristed a high shot that went just underneath the crossbar, knocking the water bottle into the air.
The Tigers nearly made it 3-0 late in the middle period when Matt Crowell, after a give-and-go two-on-one, was alone against Pagliero. However, Crowell ran out of room and wasn’t able to get off the shot he wanted.
Shortly afterwards, Niagara cut the lead in half thanks to a fluke goal. Ted Cook passed through the middle. The only thing it hit was an RIT skate, which deflected it into the net.
Just 1:12 later, Niagara tied the game when Derek Foam’s shot from the right point through a crowd was deflected by Bryan Haczyk past DeMichiel.
“We needed to get more pucks on net and to the net,” Forton said of Niagara’s comeback. “We were giving up way too many opportunities in the first period to shoot the puck. Once we got that first goal, it seemed to give us some momentum.”
That almost didn’t last very long. After a Niagara breakaway that DeMichiel stopped, RIT immediately came back with a breakaway of their own. Matt Smith had plenty of time and fired a shot glove side, but Pagliero reached out to make a great catch.
Both teams attacked in the third period looking for the game winner. This meant there were a lot of counterattacks. However, the various opportunities were either wasted with shots that barely went wide or thwarted by goaltenders making solid saves, leaving both coaching staffs happy with their netminders.
“A tough game for him to play,” Wilson said of DeMichiel. “A lot of pressure on him. He played really well. I thought he played solid, and I thought he did a good job tonight. That’s what we were looking for. He looked a lot more relaxed this time around than he did the last couple of times.”
DeMichiel was forced to start because RIT is still feeling the ramifications of last week’s brawl with a number of players still suspended, including co-captain Ricky Walton and starting goalie Louis Menard.
“I think once we got down 2-0, he was exceptional,” Forton said of Pagliero. “He made some big saves. He let us stay in the game, allowing us to come back.”
As the scoring intensity increased, so did the physical intensity, as players started throwing their bodies at each other with a pace unseen earlier in the game.
Niagara finally broke the tie at 12:23. Mironov received a lead pass from David Ross and sent a soft shot to the net, but DeMichiel appeared to not be set. He got a piece of it, but it still found its way into the net.
Seconds later, RIT got a power play, but they were unable to convert, partly due to strong saves by Pagliero.
The Tigers then got a late power play, and this time they did tie the game with 1:04 left in regulation. RIT pulled DeMichiel for the extra skater, making it six-on-four. It paid off, as RIT controlled the puck from the faceoff. From the top of the right faceoff circle, Matt Smith fired a one-timer from Ringwald’s pass that bounced off of Brennan Sarazin’s butt and past Pagliero.
“He’s [Smith] shot pucks that went into the net and came back … I wish I could shoot pucks as hard as his come out of the net,” Wilson said. “I think our power play of late has really picked it up.”
Both teams had some excellent opportunities in overtime. The best for RIT came with about a minute-and-a-half left when Matt Smith whiffed on a one-timer with a two-on-one and the goalie out of position.
Niagara’s best chance came with 30 seconds left when Matt Curuana couldn’t find a way to put the puck in from the top of the crease.
Both teams return to league play next weekend. Niagara (16-8-4) travels to Alabama-Huntsville for a pair while RIT (14-11-5) heads west for a pair at Mercyhurst.
“We just want to keep playing better,” Wilson said. “To us right now it’s just taking it game by game. I think if we are playing well going into the playoffs, anything can happen. Once you get to Blue Cross Arena, I wouldn’t bet against any team. We want to win. There’s no question, but we have to be playing well.”