Despite having the two most prolific offenses in Atlantic Hockey, the Holy Cross Crusaders (7-7-1) and the RIT Tigers (5-5-2) played a tight defensive game Friday at RIT’s Ritter Arena, slowed considerably by a steady stream of players headed to the penalty box.
RIT freshman Anton Kharin deflected in a power-play goal with less than four minutes remaining in the game to give the Tigers a 2-1 victory.
“The penalties kind of shifted the momentum back and forth tonight,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson. “The special teams were good for us most of the night. Tonight as a group, our lineup played pretty well.”
The pace picked up early in the third period, and the teams kicked in to high gear during the latter half of the period, scrambling to break a 1-1 tie.
An interference penalty on Holy Cross gave RIT a power play with just over five minutes remaining in the game, but the Crusaders played a strong penalty kill and almost succeeded in nullifying the RIT power play.
However, just seconds before the power play ended, a Holy Cross defender tried to clear the puck out of the zone from along the back boards, but the puck deflected off another Crusader skate. The puck ricocheted to the far side of the ice where RIT’s Brent Patry collected it. Patry sent a strong slapshot towards the net that linemate Kharin deflected home for the goal at 16:43 to give RIT the 2-1 lead.
“We didn’t play in the first, and played well in the second,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl. “Then in the third, a one-goal game, we took an unlucky bounce off one of our guys’ feet and it ended up in the net, but that is what happens. You have to play  minutes. They have a really good hockey team and we didn’t play that tonight.”
Holy Cross poured on the pressure, pulling netminder Ian Dams with 1:31 remaining in the game. But the Crusaders couldn’t get anything past the sprawled RIT defenders and goaltender Jocelyn Guimond as the Tigers held on for the win.
“I know at the end of the game I have to be sharp,” said Guimond. “The defense played an unbelievable game in front of me, blocking shots all game.”
RIT got in penalty trouble in the opening half of the first period, taking four minors. Three of those were earned in a series that gave Holy Cross almost a minute and a half of five-on-three power play.
The Tigers’ penalty kill played aggressively during the double-man down situation, blocking several shots and clearing the puck repeatedly. The Crusaders managed to get two shots on goal during the extended two-man power play, but Guimond saved both of them to keep the teams scoreless.
“We’ve been practicing killing five-on-threes throughout the year and did a pretty good job with it tonight,” said Wilson.
However, just as the Holy Cross power plays were winding down, the Crusaders got tagged with a ticky-tack penalty and RIT converted on the ensuing power play. The Tigers were working the puck down low when it sprang out to Steve Pinizzotto at the left point. Pinizzotto wound a strong wrist shot through a crowd over Holy Cross netminder Ian Dams’ blocker to score the power play goal at 12:03.
The teams were finally able to play several consecutive minutes at full strength and exchanged offensive opportunities. Both goaltenders held firm and the period ended with RIT holding on to a 1-0 lead.
Holy Cross came out with more jump to start the second period and skated circles around the RIT players. The Crusaders dominated the neutral zone and worked several turnovers into scoring opportunities.
The offensive punch paid dividends for Holy Cross just 5:40 in to the second period. A bouncing puck ricocheted off of the back boards and onto the stick of Crusader James Sixsmith, standing just outside the RIT crease. Sixsmith quickly swatted the puck home for the power-play goal to tie the game at 1.
“We just started getting to pucks, winning some scrums on pucks, and doing a much more thorough job on the pucks,” said Pearl. “When that happens, good things usually follow.”
The referee reasserted himself during the second half of the period, sending a steady stream of players to the penalty box, sometimes for incidental contact. This disrupted any flow that the game had, reducing the second stanza to crawl. The slow pace kept the offenses contained and the period ended with the teams tied 1-1.