ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The standings on top of Atlantic Hockey remained the same thanks to a 2-2 tie between RIT and Mercyhurst in a see-saw game.
Defenseman Nick Jones scored both goals for Mercyhurst in a span of 2:53 early in the third period, while Jeff Smith tied the game with 2:03 left in regulation. RIT took the initial lead late in the second period.
“It was a really good game,” Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said. “I wasn’t very happy with the way we played yesterday. Our team knew we didn’t play very well yesterday. The challenge was to go out and play better today and we clearly did.”
Mercyhurst did just that. The Lakers equaled their shots on goal from the night before (22) three-quarters of the way through the second period.
“They played a much better game,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “I think if we could have played the first five minutes [of the third period] over again and got the second goal and maybe that would have led to a third and fourth and it would have looked like we handled them pretty easily. It’s funny how that works. I thought we didn’t play with as much jump.”
Gotkin decided to start Jordan Tibbett in net. Tibbett had only started one previous game this year, and played in just two others, including last night in relief. Tibbett played a strong game, making 37 saves, including three in overtime.
“We’ve been trying to get a look at other guys,” Gotkin said. “Max Strang has played great for us. We think Jordan Tibbett is a good goaltender. We continue to think about ways to get goalies ice time. We talked long and hard last week about putting him in on Saturday against Holy Cross and decided not to. We wanted to this week to get Jordan in a game. The gut feeling was to put Tibbett in and he played great today.”
Tibbett kept the Tigers off the scoreboard until 18:24 of the second period. RIT took advantage of a huge rebound which Tibbett sent out after a pad save. The puck slid out to the high slot area with no one nearby. Chris Haltigin skated towards the puck at full speed, wound and fired a one-time slapshot which blew by Tibbett’s stick side just inside the post.
Mercyhurst came out for the third period and immediately knotted the game up. Nardo Nagtzaam from the left side centered it to Jones, who redirected the puck just under the crossbar 44 seconds into the final period.
Three minutes later, Jones did it again to give the Lakers a 2-1 lead. This time, Daniel Bahntge centered the puck from behind the net and Jones redirected past Shane Madolora.
“He is a really good offensive defenseman,” Gotkin said of Jones. “He sees the ice well. He’s got a really good shot. He generates lots of points for us from that blue line.”
This was the first time in the six conference games played in 2012 where RIT let up more than one goal.
RIT tied the game with 2:03 left in the third. Cameron Burt forced a turnover behind the net. The puck bounced to the front where Jeff Smith turned and stuffed a shot between the legs of Tibbett.
“It was a pretty important goal to tie it there,” Wilson said. “I know the last two minutes of the third period is going to be a really important two minutes. I just think our league is going to be that tight.”
Madolora made 34 saves for RIT.
The tie enabled RIT to keep its one-point lead over Mercyhurst for first place, a spot the Tigers earned with their victory over the Lakers last night
RIT (12-4-3, 15-8-3) travels by air as far as you can in Atlantic Hockey, playing a pair at Air Force next weekend.
Mercyhurst (11-4-4, 14-10-4) plays a home-and-home series against Niagara, starting in Erie, Pa.