ROCHESTER, N.Y. — RIT and Niagara opened Atlantic Hockey conference play with a key battle between two perennial contenders and Western New York rivals. Since both schools have been in Division I, Niagara has controlled this series, 6-0-2, and overall has gone 8-0-3 in their last 11 match ups.
The streak continued … in a goose egg, sister-kissing manner. RIT and Niagara skated to a scoreless tie after 65 minutes of play, despite a total of 13 power plays. It was the first scoreless tie in RIT’s history on any level.
RIT’s Shane Madolora made 32 saves, while Niagara’s Cody Campbell stopped all 30 shots he faced.
“Hate to use a cliche, but that was a playoff hockey game from start to finish,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “Two very even teams. They had a lot of Grade A chances, and so did we. We fought really hard in a tough building to play, in their home opener. So, it’s a good point on the road for us.”
“I thought it was a good hockey game,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “Normally you get into a 7-6 game this time of year where everything is choppy and messy. Having Niagara and a conference game this early in the year, I thought made us focus.”
The first period was scoreless, with decent chances for both squads, including a few power play opportunities. Niagara had the best chance almost six minutes in while short-handed. Doug Clifford skated the puck down the left side, beating the last defender. He had Isaac Kohls on the other side for a two-on-none and deftly passed it to him. However, he telegraphed the pass so well, Madolora quickly moved across the net, stuffing the shot against the post.
Two RIT defensemen left the game in the first with injuries and did not return, forcing the Tigers to play with four defenders the rest of the way.
The second period also went by without the red light flashing. Again, both teams had their chances, both teams had power plays, but both goalies continued to come up big. Clark MacLean gave the Purple Eagles their best chance with about two minutes left when his redirection from the slot just went wide.
Just before the second buzzer sounded, Chris Haltigin’s shot for RIT off the faceoff just missed eluding Campbell. Earlier in the period, also on the power play, Adam Hartley just missed the upper corner.
Keeping with the game’s tradition, the third period saw opportunities and more power plays, but no goals. On one Niagara power play, Patrick Divjak found himself all alone in front of the net, but flubbed the play, seemingly handcuffing himself.
In the waning minutes, RIT had a number of chances in front of the net, but could not find a way to beat Campbell.
Eight shots were fired off in the extra five minutes, but to no avail.
Burkholder now has a 6-0-3 record against his alma mater.
“Obviously, it’s an unbelievable feeling coming back here,” he said. “We’ve created such a rivalry in such a short period of time. Now that we’re in a league together and there’s league points on the line, it just adds to it.”
RIT missed out on eight power plays.
“We probably should have shot the puck more,” Wilson said. “Overall, for the first game of the year, I was happy where we’re at.”
“Unfortunately, we got too much work on it [penalty killing] today,” Burkholder said. “We had a lot of guys blocking shots.”
Since this was RIT’s first game of the season, and Niagara was shutout by Michigan in their first game, both teams have yet to score a goal in the 2011-12 season.
“We graduated the two leading scorers in the country,” Burkholder said “I like our team offensively. We had a ton of Grade A’s. He [Madolora] didn’t budge.”
The two teams don’t play each other again until the last two games of the regular season.
RIT’s next contest is Oct. 15 in their annual Brick City Homecoming and Family Weekend game at the downtown Blue Cross Arena against St. Lawrence. It was a sellout last year, setting an all time Rochester college hockey attendance record. Currently, 75 percent of the tickets have been sold this year.
Niagara travels to Air Force for a single game on Friday.