ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Brad McGowan scored twice in the final three minutes to help lead Rochester Institute of Technology to the Atlantic Hockey title with a 5-1 victory over Mercyhurst on Saturday.
The Tigers never trailed in the contest and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the second time. It was RIT’s seventh consecutive win, with the Tigers coming from the No. 3 seed to win the tournament.
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The Tigers outshot the Lakers 16-8 in the first period, but neither team was able to score.
RIT broke the deadlock early in the second period. Freshman Mark Golberg broke down the left side and put a centering pass in front of Mercyhurst goalie Brandon Wildung. Lakers forward Jack Riley had RIT’s Matt Abt tied up in front of the Mercyhurst net, but the puck glanced off of Abt’s skate for the first Tigers goal.
The second RIT goal was a prettier play with the line of McGowan, Matt Garbowsky and Josh Mitchell putting together a tic-tac-toe play that Mitchell finished at 9:51.
But like they had done throughout the tournament, Mercyhurst mounted a comeback when Stephen Hrehoriak rifled a shot past RIT goalie Jordan Ruby at 2:55 of the third.
“When we got it to 2-1, I thought we might get that magic again but it just didn’t happen,” said Mercyhurst senior Matt Zay. “But we couldn’t get our offense going.”
When RIT sophomore Andrew Miller put a wrist shot behind Wildung at 14:45, the Atlantic Hockey title game record crowd of 3,554 came to life, sensing a championship for the Tigers.
“I know RIT was the No. 3 seed, but this was a home game for them,” said Gotkin. “It was a sea of orange.”
“This is something we’ve been working to all year,” said Miller. “To get here now, I can’t even describe it. Best fans in the league.”
Then it was time for McGowan to strike for his 22nd and 23rd goals of the season, first into an empty net at 17:21, and then with Mercyhurst conceding the game and Wildung back in net at 18:42.
That set off a celebration for the Tigers, who last made it to the final weekend in 2012. RIT lost to Air Force in the title game that year.
“We were here as freshmen and it left sour taste ever since then,” said Garbowsky, a Hobey Baker Award finalist. “To win this senior year is great. I can’t put into words how much.”
Ruby finished with 27 saves, allowing just two goals on 56 shots this weekend.
“We only let in two goals in two games, our biggest games of the year,” said Garbowsky. “That says a lot.”
The loss ended a dramatic run for Mercyhurst, which had found a way to upset both Bentley and regular season champion Robert Morris to get to its fifth AHC title game. The Lakers last won the title in 2005, but made it to Rochester each of the last four seasons.
“I don’t know how many seniors get to go to championship weekend all four years and make the championship game two years,” said Gotkin. “It’s been a special group. The magic kind of ran out. I thought our guys left it all on the ice.”
The Tigers will look to rekindle their own magic, the kind from 2010, when RIT advanced to the Frozen Four.
“Whoever we play [in the NCAA tournament] is going to be a great team,” said Wilson. “We look forward to the challenge. But we shouldn’t be in awe of anyone — we’ve played a lot of good teams this season.”
F Matt Garbowsky, RIT
F Brad McGowan, RIT
F Andrew Miller, RIT
D Matt Abt, RIT
D Brady Norrish, RIT
G Brandon Wildung, Mercyhurst