Holy Cross picked the perfect time to beat RIT for the first time since November 4, 1983. After falling behind 2-0, Holy Cross came back to win 5-3, snapping RIT’s 14-game winning streak against Holy Cross. The win gives Holy Cross a one game to none lead in the three game Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series.
The highlight of the game for Holy Cross was their three power play goals after completing the regular season with a meager 10.4% power play. Those extra man tallies turned the 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead which the Crusaders would never relinquish.
“We won the special teams,” Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl said. “We got three on the power play and they didn’t get any. If you get a plus on the special teams, you’re usually doing pretty well.”
“Their special teams clearly worked,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “I thought we took too many penalties. They were very patient and very opportunistic. They were blocking shots, and they were playing a lot more desperate in front of the net than we were.”
RIT struck first on what originally appeared to be a harmless attack. Though the Tigers kept the puck in the Crusaders’ zone, it was mostly behind the net. However, Holy Cross appeared to be content allowing RIT to control the puck near the end boards. Anton Kharin used a burst of speed behind the net to quickly wrap it around the left post before Ian Dams could cover the post at 8:53.
The Tigers grabbed what Holy Cross considered a gift in the final two minutes to take a 2-0 lead. A potential icing was waved off allowing Jesse Newman to pick up the puck along the right boards. His shot was stopped by Dams, but the rebound came out to Matt Crowell at the right slot area. Crowell beat Dams five-hole.
Pearl argued vigorously with the refs, continuing the “discussion” all the way into the locker room after the period.
Holy Cross had to be kicking themselves after the first period as they missed some excellent opportunities. The best was the first chance when Jay Silvia, with the puck already behind the goaltender and a foot from the goal line, missed tipping the puck into the wide open net.
The Crusaders had flurries in front of the net where Menard could not find the puck, but were unable to knock it in. They also had odd man rushes a few times, missing the net on a two-on-one and having Menard make a spectacular save going from left to right when it looked like he had already been beaten. Holy Cross also failed on two power-play opportunities.
RIT missed a golden opportunity themselves when Andrew Favot smacked the post.
“We talked about it with the team that we thought we played well,” Pearl said. “But they are a very opportunistic team, and we gave them two really good opportunities, and they finished them. We knew we had to limit that and keep playing. That’s why they give you 60 minutes as opposed to just the 20.”
Holy Cross finally got on the scoreboard at 13:10 of the second period while on a \4-on-3 power play. Brodie Sheahan kept poking at the puck at the right side of Menard, finally jamming the disk just inside the post despite Menard thinking he had the post covered.
It took Holy Cross a bit over two minutes later to tie the game on yet another power play by Sheahan. Sheahan from the right face off circle, let go of a shot that flew by Menard.
The hitting picked up exponentially midway through the game, becoming rougher and rougher. After Jordan Cyr was called for a boarding minor that could have been a major, the intensity picked up even further. This led to Anton Kharin receiving a major for spearing and a game misconduct after coming to the aid of his goalie who was run over.
However, in most instances, the extracurricular activity was overlooked by the officials leading to a routine of hits and scuffles after the whistle going unpunished.
The major penalty eventually led to a power-play goal, and the lead, for Holy Cross at 1:07 of the third period. Cyr passed it across down low allowing Silvia to tip it into the open net from the backdoor.
“The big part of that is we scored once on that five-minute power play,” Pearl said. “If you don’t score, that can be a big momentum swing the other way.”
“The five-minute major hurt us going into the third,” Wilson said. “That’s when you want to start grabbing some momentum.”
The Crusaders scored again at 4:58 by outhustling the RIT defense. Silvia’s shot from close range was stopped, but an unmarked Sheahan pounced on the rebound. When his shot bounced over Menard, a streaking, and unmarked, J.P. Martignetti, batted the puck out of the air into the open net.
RIT finally turned the momentum around when they scored seconds after a power play expired at 11:36. Favot scooping in a rebound in front of the net.
However, Holy Cross was able to hold off furious attacks by RIT. The Crusaders clinched the game with an empty net goal by Matt Celin. Celin out fought the RIT defender for the puck after a clear, sweeping it into the open goal from the right face off circle.
“The last goal into the empty net clearly showed how much more they wanted it than us,” Wilson said.
Ian Dams wound up with 34 saves for the win.
The two teams go at it again for Game 2 Saturday night.
“We took a three game series and turned it into a single game elimination,” Wilson said.
“I would expect the same type of game,” Pearl said.