ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The RIT-Niagara non-conference series has developed into a nice rivalry, guaranteeing sellout crowds. Lately, Niagara has dominated the series, going 5-0-2 in their last seven meetings. They made it 6-0-2 Saturday, as Niagara defeated RIT, 3-2, ending the Tigers ten-game unbeaten streak. The turning point of the game came with an RIT major penalty early in the third.
“For us to answer in the third, that was the biggest 20 of the year,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said.
After each team scored just one goal in the first two periods, the teams exploded for three goals in the first 5:54 of the final period, which decided the game.
First, Niagara took the lead, 2-1, at 1:39. Bryan Haczyk’s shot from the right side was stopped by Jared DeMichiel, but the rebound went out to the opposite side. Paul Zanette was there to shoot it into the unguarded portion of the net as DeMichiel tried to dive across the goalmouth to stop it.
The teams then traded goals within 19 seconds during a five-minute penalty against RIT. Brent Alexin was given a major and game misconduct for kneeing. However, the Tigers took advantage of it first with a short-handed tally at 5:35.
Stevan Matic raced into the Niagara zone down the left side with a teammate to his right on a two-on-one. Matic kept the puck, winding up and firing a rocket into the opposite side of the goal.
Niagara quickly answered, as they applied heavy pressure in front of the RIT net. After DeMichiel made numerous difficult saves, Egor Mironov finally put it past DeMichiel for a 3-2 lead.
“That was a huge goal,” Burkholder said. “Nice play by Egor. To respond after the shorty, there were times in the season we would have packed it in.”
“I was really happy,” RIT coach Wilson said. “We really didn’t give them anything. They just turned and threw it out in front. We just played short-handed too long in the third to mount something. We got tired.”
Niagara took the initial lead at 5:36 of the first. C.J. Chartrain’s shot from the right point got slowed on the way to the net. This caused DeMichiel to be out of sync and thus out of balance when the puck got to him, and he was unable to play it. Zanette picked up the loose puck, dragged it around a now out of position DeMichiel, and easily deposited it into the open net.
The first period did not see much five-on-five hockey, as seven minors were called with just a brief overlap for two of them. Thus, only slightly more than six minutes were played at full strength.
RIT tied the game midway through the contest. Scott Knowles won a battle behind the Niagara net and then found Alexin at the top of the crease. Knowles made a quick pass to Alexin, who just as quickly released a one-timer blast that easily blew by Chris Noonan.
Throughout the second period, the Tigers, whether on the power play or not, were doing an excellent job getting the puck down low, creating havoc for Noonan and his defensemen. However, RIT only managed the one goal, despite outshooting the Purple Eagles in that period, 12-6.
“I thought they really took it to us in the second,” Burkholder said. “They are a great momentum team at home. They are really good at the cycle. They played really well.”
“I thought in the second period we beat them, but I think we were trying to get too cute inside the blue line,” Wilson said.
RIT had a late third period power play and then later pulled their goalie, but could not get the tying goal, despite some frantic action in front of Noonan, who came up with the big saves.
Noonan wound up with 30 saves while DeMichiel stopped 21 shots.
This will be the last time these teams will meet in a non-conference situation. Next year, Niagara joins Atlantic Hockey. Thus, this series can become an even bigger rivalry, as they will get to know each other a lot more in games that will mean a lot more.
“I think it’s great,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be good for the fans. It’s going to be good for Western New York.”
RIT (9-6-1) is off until the first two days of the January, when they play a pair of games at Minnesota State.
Niagara (3-10-2) also travels out west the first weekend of 2010, competing in the Shillelagh Tournament in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. They go up against North Dakota in the first game.