In their first NCAA Frozen Four appearance, the RIT Tigers (26-1-2) rode a three-goal explosion in the second period to defeat the Middlebury Panthers (22-5-1) by a 5-2 score. Traci Galbraith scored a pair of power-play goals for the Tigers. RIT advances to face Norwich in the championship game on Saturday. With the loss, Middlebury will meet Gustavus Adolphus in the consolation game.
“It was as tight as it can get,” said RIT coach Scott McDonald. “Special teams certainly was a factor in this game. Our penalty killing was a difference. Blocking everything, jumping in the way of shots, I couldn’t be happier with how we played.”
RIT killed off all but one of Middlebury’s eight power plays while scoring on two of its own three chances.
“Both teams played hard,” said Middlebury coach Bill Mandigo. “You had the two best goalies in the country playing in this game and the difference was [RIT’s Laura] Chamberlain. She was excellent and was everything we had heard.”
Chamberlain finished the game with 34 saves, 15 of which were made in a hectic third period.
Entering the game, history was on the side of Middlebury, as the Panthers made their sixth appearance in the NCAA Frozen Four and ninth appearance in the NCAA tournament in the last 10 years. Middlebury won three straight titles from 2004-06.
After a scoreless first period, RIT opened the scoring 4:12 into the second when Traci Galbraith scored from the right point. Middlebury goaltender Alexi Bloom had just made a spectacular sliding save to breakup an RIT two-on-one breakaway, but the Tigers maintained the pressure on the Panthers net.
Galbraith wound a hard shot from the right point through a crowd of players into the top left corner of the net for her seventh goal of the season. The goal came on RIT’s first power play of the game.
“I’m not one to really expect points, they just kind of fall when they do come,” said Galbraith. “Just playing my game and making smart decisions with the puck are what I think of.”
The Tigers struck again at 8:04 when Megan Kobar slid in a rebound off a shot from Tenecia Hiller.
Momentum was squarely on RIT’s side and the Tigers fully took advantage when they extended their lead to 3-0 at 12:24. RIT had a three-on-two odd-woman rush into the Middlebury zone. Ariane Yokoyama carried down the left side and centered the puck to Kourtney Kunichika who scored her fourteenth goal of the season.
Middlebury stemmed the tide at 15:18 as Maggie Melberg poked in a rebound while the Panthers were on the power play. Madeline Joyce began the play with a nice move around a Tigers defender. She fed Eliza Butler, whose shot was saved by Chamberlain. Melberg dug the puck out from under a scrum in the crease to get her sixth goal of the season.
The Panthers narrowed the margin to one midway through the third period with an unassisted goal by Lauren Greer at 11:33. Greer made a great individual play to keep the puck in the RIT zone and then whipped in a shot from the top of the zone just under the crossbar for her thirteenth goal of the season.
RIT quickly retook a two-goal lead just over a minute later on the power play when Galbraith scored her second goal of the game at 12:42. Galbraith launched a seeing-eye shot from the top of the slot that Bloom never saw coming in as she was screened.
Middlebury coach Bill Mandigo pulled his goaltender with 2:43 remaining in the contest while the Panthers were also on the power play. The RIT penalty killers held firm and Kolbee McCrea sealed the win at 18:45 with the empty-net goal.
“We’re a team that doesn’t give up,” said Greer. “Until the buzzer rang, we weren’t going to stop shooting.”