ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Tyler Mazzei scored at 1:10 in overtime to give RIT its third Atlantic Hockey regular season championship, beating Air Force, 3-2, on the only even strength goal of the contest.
“I think we have two of the best defensive teams in the league,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “The only even-strength goal was in overtime, so 3-2, 4-3, 2-1, it’s going to be a one-goal game when we’re playing Air Force. This was a typical Air Force-RIT game.”
“The margin of error is pretty thin if you only score two goals,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “We’re in a playoff mode right now. We played a good playoff-type road game.”
Mazzei picked up the puck coming off the back boards and fired it high at Andrew Volkening, bouncing it off his shoulder and into the net, sending the home crowd into a frenzy.
Though Sacred Heart remains alive for a tie for the regular season title with a 3-1 win over Holy Cross, RIT clinches the number one seed in the conference playoffs.
Whenever RIT (19-11-1, 19-4-1) and Air Force (12-13-6, 12-7-6) meet on the ice, the fans are always guaranteed an entertaining game. There is also usually something on the line. Tonight was no exception, as the sellout crowd got their money’s worth.
After a scoreless first period with seven shots a side, the teams traded power-play goals for a 2-2 tie after two.
It all started at 7:34 by RIT on a power play. Cameron Burt shot from the left faceoff circle. Volkening got a piece of it, but the puck slipped behind him. As it approached the line, Volkening reached back to pull it out. The red light went on, RIT thought it crossed the line, Air Force did not. After the officials discussed it and talked to the goal judge, they awarded the Tigers with the goal.
“That goal was very questionable,” Serratore said. “Very questionable.”
It didn’t last long. RIT immediately took two consecutive penalties which Air Force converted into a five-on-three power-play goal at 9:26. Jared DeMichiel made the initial save, but Kyle De Laurell tipped in the rebound.
“And then we score on the five-on-three, and I consider that to be even stevens, so let’s get back to playing the game,” Serratore said.
RIT retook the lead at 12:04 on a fast paced, quick-passing power play, culminating in a Dan Ringwald one-timer from the right slot area, as Volkening could not keep pace with the fast moving play.
Air Force knotted the game on the last power play of the period and the game. Scott Mathis tipped it in down low from the initial shot sent in from Scott Kozlak.
As the third period played out, RIT started to dominate play, something neither team was able to do for any extended period of time. The Tigers outshot the Falcons, 12-6, in that period.
“We played well for two periods,” Wilson said. “I felt we played desperate in the third period. We created a lot of opportunities.”
Despite some great chances, Volkening kept denying the Tigers. DeMichiel also made some key saves to keep the game tied.
The save of the period and perhaps the game came with 28.9 seconds left in regulation when DeMichiel made a lightning quick glove save on a redirect right in front of him. DeMichiel wound up with 24 saves for the win while his counterpart stopped 29.
This was Air Force’s fourth overtime game in its last six.
These two teams do it again Saturday night.
“We have to continue to get better,” Wilson said. “We have to be firing on all cylinders. Tomorrow night we are going to try not to be co-champions, but champions.”