ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Taylor McReynolds scored 2:57 into overtime to lift Rochester Institute of Technology to a 2-1 win over Niagara in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals.
McReynolds, who had two goals all season and 10 career goals going into this postseason, has three goals so far in the playoffs. He also assisted on RIT’s first goal of the contest.
“I can’t explain it,” said McReynolds.”It’s playoffs. Guys gotta step out of their roles a little bit. Guys that block shots need to score goals and guys that score the goals have to block shots if you’re going to win.”
“I think at this time of the year you’re not going to see pretty goals,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “Everything’s contested. [McReynolds] has been a workhorse for us and he’s burying his chances right now.”
The teams were scoreless though two periods as RIT’s Shane Madolora and Niagara’s Chris Noonan traded saves.
“Going into every game against Niagara, we knew it was going to be a goalie battle,” said Madolora. “I knew I had to be focused all the time and not make any mistakes.”
RIT outshot the Purple Eagles 39-18 though those first two periods, with Niagara slowly gaining confidence.
“I think that times we looked like a team that hasn’t experienced Blue Cross Arena and looked a little tentative,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “I think they clearly won the first period, but after they scored, I think we played our best hockey.”
That first RIT goal came 3:25 into the third period when McReynolds was able to swat a clearing attempt out of the air and feed freshman Matt Garbowsky, who beat Noonan glove side.
“We got a lot of rubber on [Noonan] and that was the first one to go in,” said Garbowsky. “It happened to go where I wanted to put it. We were just trying to put as many pucks on net as possible.”
RIT would cling to that lead until the 14:40 mark when Niagara’s Chris Lochner walked out from behind the net and fired a shot that deflected off an RIT skate and into the far side of the net, quieting the crowd of 3,287.
“It was a big goal but we needed one more,” said Lochner. “It hit their defenseman and went into the far corner of the net. Not the prettiest goal, but it was what we needed.”
That would send the game to overtime, the third between the teams this season. Unlike the other two that ended even in regulation, McReynolds ended things early. His shot from the right side hit Noonan in the shoulder and bounced behind him into the net.
“It was off a quick turnover in our end,” said McReynolds. ‘”Ecky’ [Trevor Eckenswiller] led the rush. I shot it and bounced over the goalie’s shoulder.”
“It was just one of those goals that ended up behind me,” said Noonan. “With the season we’ve had, it’s not good to lose on that. I feel bad for the guys. We’ve done too much this year to lose like that.”
“We knew it as going to be this kind of a game,” added Burkholder. “We’ve really enjoyed this rivalry especially since they went D-I, but even back when we were both in the ECAC West.”
The rivalry has been one-sided, with the Purple Eagles holding a 7-0-4 edge on RIT since the Tigers moved up to Division I.
“It’s bizarre that we could have that kind of record,” said Burkholder. “We’d trade those first 11 for this one back.”
The Tigers advance for a rematch with No. 1 seed Air Force, which defeated RIT 1-0 in last year’s title game.
“The pressure’s off us, they won the league,” said Wilson. “Everything’s a bonus now for us. We’re going to try our hardest. We’re excited about the matchup. As athletes, you have to beat the top teams if you want to be a top team.”
Video: RIT coach Wayne Wilson:
Video: Niagara’s Dave Burkholder, Chris Noonan: