ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The Mercyhurst Lakers and RIT Tigers needed overtime to settle the Atlantic Hockey semifinals before Chris Risi scored less than three minutes into the extra session for Mercyhurst to send them to the Atlantic Hockey Finals with a 5-4 win.
“It was a hard fought game with two very explosive teams that are able to score goals,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “The power plays were on display tonight, with all the goals both teams scored.”
Mercyhurst struck just 37 seconds in. Neil Graham skated out from behind the net with RIT goaltender Jared DeMichiel looking the other way. Graham slipped the puck through his legs before the junior goaltender could see the puck had come out the other side of the net.
RIT got on the board with a power-play goal at 14:00. Cameron Burt first sent a shot from the right faceoff circle that hit the crest of Mercyhurst goaltender Ryan Zapolski before he froze the puck. Burt then tried from the left point and his high shot beat Zapolski for the goal.
RIT almost had their second of the night when a shot from the top of the left circle got through and slipped through Zapolski, but it rolled through the crease towards the right corner before an RIT player could get to the loose puck.
The Tigers converted on a five-on-three power play at 4:56 in the second period when a save by Zapolski rebounded to the left faceoff dot. It eventually came around to Alan Mazur at the right high slot and his one-timer beat the goaltender with traffic in front.
RIT struck again at 6:19 just after the second power play had expired. Chris Haltigin sent a feed across to Anton Kharin in the right circle and his one-timer found the back of the net before Zapolski could get across his crease.
Mercyhurst answered 38 seconds later with a power-play goal of their own. Scott Pitt, at the right point, took a pass from Brandon Coccimiglio on the left side and his slap shot hit inside the top of the net.
The Lakers evened the score with their second power-play goal of the night at 17:02 of the second period. Coccimiglio received a pass from Matt Pierce and sent the puck into the open side of the net
Mercyhurst again opened the period with a quick goal just 31 seconds into the third frame. Pitt skated in on the right wing, cut across to the net, and slipped the puck through DeMichiel.
RIT found the equalizer with just 59.4 seconds remaining in regulation. Burt put the puck in near the right post after a wraparound attempt by RIT. Two RIT forwards surrounded the crease just as the goaltender had come off the ice for the Tigers.
“It’s a backbreaker when you give up the tying goal with 59 seconds left, but we stayed focused and found a way to win,” Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said. “It was a great college hockey game. It had everything, goals, hits, saves. We feel fortunate that we get another chance to play tomorrow.”
The overtime session started with a Mercyhurst golden opportunity just twelve seconds in. Cody Collins took a pass at the right side of the net, but DeMichiel knocked it out of danger. Steve Cameron then had a breakaway up the center of the zone but DeMichiel came up with a glove save.
“We got out to great start in the overtime with a couple of great chances,” Scott Pitt said. “Everyone could feel it on the bench. We were all buzzing. It was just a matter of time.”
Risi became the overtime hero for the Lakers at 2:19 of the extra session. The forward skated into the zone and cut across to his left before his shot from the left circle deflected and hit just inside the post to end the game.
Mercyhurst went three-for-five on the power play while RIT converted two goals on six attempts with the extra man.
DeMichiel recorded 31 saves in net for the Tigers while Zapolski stopped 36 for the Lakers.
Air Force will meet Mercyhurst tomorrow night at Blue Cross Arena at 7:05 p.m to crown the Atlantic Hockey champion. The Falcons have won the last two AHA Finals while tomorrow night’s game will be Mercyhurst’s third appearance in the Final game in the last six years.