RIT bounces into driver’s seat

Three weeks ago, RIT rolled into Plattsburgh for a two-game series as the top-ranked team in the country with a perfect 14-0-0 record.

Plattsburgh, on the other hand, was battling through a tough first half where it lost to Middlebury, Amherst and Norwich. The Cardinals also lacked a signature win.

However, over the course of 48 hours, everything was flipped upside down when Plattsburgh took three of four points with a tie the first night and then a 3-1 win on Saturday. The three-point weekend not only revived Plattsburgh’s chances in the ECAC West, but also dealt a serious blow to RIT’s hopes.

“We knew Plattsburgh was good and I don’t think their record coming into that weekend was really indicative of how good they were,” said RIT coach Scott McDonald. “We got off to a slow start, but picked it up about halfway through on the first night. Both teams got good goaltending that both offenses just couldn’t solve.”

The two teams ended up tying 1-1, but on Saturday, Plattsburgh scored early and then never looked back on its way to a crucial 3-1 win and dealt RIT its first loss of the 2011-12 campaign.

“The second day, Plattsburgh got a couple early on us and we couldn’t really recover from there,” McDonald said. “They were a typical big and physical Plattsburgh team. We were definitely disappointed with the results, but we don’t have anyone to blame but ourselves.”

Since then, RIT has gotten back on track with five straight wins over Hamilton, Oswego twice, and Buffalo State twice. The Tigers also regained the No. 1 ranking two weeks ago once Norwich lost 2-0 to Amherst.

“After Christmas, our schedule typically picks up with a lot of physical games,” McDonald said. “It’s been the same typical routine this year. We had a couple grind it out games at Oswego last weekend. They always seem to play us tight every year.”

Although RIT has been winning, the Tigers have been battling through injuries lately that have sidelined Celeste Brown and Kolbee McCrea for a few games.

“We’re getting back on the winning track right now, even though we’ve had some injuries to some key players,” McDonald said. “Every point is so important in this league. We just have to take care of our business and win games.”

At the beginning of the season McDonald said the team made it a goal to try and win the ECAC West regular season title again so RIT could host the conference tournament. However, with the Plattsburgh weekend results, he knows his team has a lot of work to do in order to achieve that goal.

“The goal for us coming into the season was to win the regular season title again and then go from there,” McDonald said. “Right now, we’ve got some work to do if we want to accomplish that goal.”

The fortunate aspect though for RIT is it still controls its own destiny. If RIT sweeps all four points from Elmira this weekend, RIT would put itself in position to win the regular season crown, pending two wins against Cortland to close out the season the following weekend.

“It took until the last weekend last year to clinch against Elmira,” McDonald said. “If you give up more than four points in this league, it’s going to be tough to finish in first place. Elmira and us each hold our destiny in our own hands. All we have to do is go out there and take care of business.”

McDonald said getting off to a good start this weekend will be key against a resurgent Elmira team that is ranked No. 4 in the latest USCHO.com poll.

“We can’t continue to get off to a slow start like we did against Plattsburgh,” McDonald said. “We’ve just got to play our game and not let them dictate the pace and flow of the game.  We’re coming into this weekend with a playoff mentality, and we have to play two full games and get all four points this weekend if we want to win the league.

Elmira can put itself in the driver’s seat with at least a split of this weekend’s games. The Soaring Eagles would hold the tiebreaker with Plattsburgh if they won their remaining games, due to Plattsburgh tying Neumann earlier this season. If both teams were to win out after this weekend and Elmira got at least a split, Elmira would have 16 wins to Plattsburgh’s 15.