ROCHESTER, N.Y. — RIT opened a 5-0 lead after two periods and cruised to a 6-1 win over Sacred Heart to claim its first Atlantic Hockey championship and first trip to the Division I NCAA tournament.
Sophomore forward Cameron Burt had a hand in five of the Tigers’ six goals and had seven points this weekend. He was named the tournament’s most valuable player.
“We learned this season not to take anything for granted,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson, whose team has won three of the last four AHA regular season titles. “We had to learn our lesson with some losses [in the playoffs].”
Burt scored RIT’s first goal 2:16 into the game, shortly after Sacred Heart’s Dave Barube received a major penalty and game misconduct for boarding. Burt went hard to the net and put in his own rebound after Pioneers goaltender Seven Legatto made the initial save.
“I give the credit to the seniors on this team that have set the example,” said Burt, who assisted on four of the next five RIT goals.
The Pioneers got a power play late in the first period, but RIT’s Mark Cornacchia got his third shorthanded goal of the season to make it 2-0 at 19:41. RIT’s Chris Saracino stole the puck and broke up the left side, putting a shot on Legatto, who made a diving save, but Cornacchia put home the rebound.
“I thought that was the turning point of the game,” said Wilson. “If they score on the power play, it’s one-all going into the second. But we go up 2-0 and put the pressure on them.”
It was all Tigers from there, as RIT got three more goals in the second period to put the game away. At 1:08, Sean Murphy scored on a rebound from a shot by Burt. Midway though the second, Jeff Smith got his second goal of the season, beating Legatto from the slot with a wrist shot. Tyler Brenner scored at 19:04 off a feed from Burt, making the third period a formality.
“I’m proud of my team for playing hard down 5-0 in the third,” said Sacred Heart coach C.J. Marottolo. “We didn’t give up and respected the game. Our hat’s off to RIT. They will be a dangerous team in the NCAA tournament. The better team won tonight.”
Freshman Eric Delong broke up RIT goaltender Jared DeMichiel’s shutout bid 3:48 into the final period, and Murphy got his second of the game to close out the scoring with 2:04 to go.
DeMichiel’s best save of the game came in the first minute when he got a glove on a shot from in close by Dave Jarman.
“It was just like last night,” said DeMichiel, who had to make an early save in a 4-0 win over Canisius. “I left a bad rebound. I said to myself, ‘I better make this save, because it’s my fault.’
“I know [the save] energized my team. When you make an early save, it personally got my confidence up and my team’s confidence up.”
DeMichiel stopped 52 of 53 shots on the weekend.
“It was great team defense,” he said. “We played so well in the defensive zone … in all three zones.”
RIT has a Division II (1983) and Division III (1985) NCAA title and is making its first NCAA appearance at the Division I level. The Tigers (26-11-1) extended their winning streak to a Division I-best 10 games.
“We worked so hard, starting over the summer,” said RIT captain Dan Ringwald. “Losing [past two seasons] taught us how to win. We have the AHA championship but we want a little more.”