ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Atlantic Hockey Association promotional office could not have planned this better. One weekend left in the regular season and the two teams tied for first place faced off at the Ritter Arena in Rochester for a two-game series. On top of that, the first battle consisted of a wild second period. RIT survived the action packed game, 6-4. The win guarantees at least a share of the AHA regular season title for RIT.
“Two very good teams,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “A hard fought game. Guys competed very hard. Some weird bounces. Some good plays.”
“They got three special teams goals; we got two special team goals,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “That was the difference. Then, we give up a goal in the last minute of a period. You can’t do that. That’s a golden rule.”
It took a while for two of the most prolific offenses in the country to get unwound, but when they did, it was a fireworks show.
After trading goals in the first period, they exploded in the second for a combined seven goals. When RIT roared to a 4-1 lead, Air Force came soaring back to tie it, only to have the Tigers take the lead with 3.5 seconds left. The third period tightened up, and the only goal was an insurance tally for RIT.
Air Force took advantage of their first power play by maintaining possession after the penalty expired, eventually converting due to the pressure. Off the faceoff to the right of Jared DeMichiel, the puck was sent towards the net. A big rebound was left, and Paul Weisgarber was there to pounce on it for the initial 1-0 lead at 14:32.
The second goal of the period occurred due to the second penalty in the period. This time, RIT had the power play and converted before the penalty was up. The goal was the result of superb passing down low. Andrew Favot from the right of the net sent it across to a wide open Matt Crowell, who by now had an open net to shoot at. He didn’t disappoint at 16:22.
The second period explosion started at 2:30 when RIT’s potent penalty kill struck again. It started with Brennan Sarazin stealing the puck at the blue line, dancing around a defender, and passing it across to Anton Kharin. Kharin had an open net to shoot at, but instead managed to hit the post. The puck bounced out, hit Sarazin on the backside, and bounced in. Despite those bounces, the goal was awarded to Kharin.
“The short-handed goal again was really big for us,” Wilson said.
RIT took a two-goal lead on their second power play. Cameron Burt won the faceoff, and Brenner took the immediate shot, beating Andrew Volkening on the short side at 5:07.
Kharin did get the fourth goal while the teams were skating four-aside at 7:25 with a slap shot from the right boards.
“Everytime you make a mistake, they’ll make you pay,” Serratore said.
The Falcons immediately started to come back with a power play goal 52 seconds later. Jacques Lamoureux had a difficult angle but was still able to tuck it inside the far post.
A bit over five minutes later, Air Force cut the lead to one. A hard shot from the redline bounced off the backboards to the front, and Matt Fairchild was there to knock it in. RIT felt it should have been an icing call.
Another five minutes went by, and suddenly the game was tied. Lamoureux notched his second score with the added benefit of a delayed call. Thus, with a six-on-four advantage, RIT was unable to hold off the Falcons.
Just when the teams thought it was safe to enter the locker room, RIT retook the lead with 3.5 seconds left. Favot picked up a rebound, skated around Volkening, and backhanded it in for the 5-4 lead. Air Force had let up five goals in a game only once this season, and RIT reached that mark after two periods.
“A huge goal,” Wilson said. “We came back, and we were solid in the third. I thought we were in more control of ourselves.”
RIT regained a two-goal lead at 9:26 of the final period. Burt pick-pocketed a defender and passed it into the slot for Sarazin. Sarazin took advantage of an out of position Volkening and easily deposited it into the open net. RIT became the first team to score six goals against Air Force this season.
The two teams play for the final game of the season tomorrow night. If Air Force wins, they share the regular season championship, but Air Force would get the number one seed for the playoffs due to the tie-breaker.
“Tomorrow, justice will be served,” Serratore said. “If RIT wins, they would have beaten us 3-1, and they deserve to be the undisputed champions. If we win, then we would have split the four games between us, and thus we should share the championship.”
“We don’t want to share it,” Wilson said. “But I tell you what, when you are that far behind, and then you go 16-1-1 to get ourselves in this position, I can’t ask for anything more. So, if we’re co-champions, that’s fine with me.”