RIT split its final road series of the year at Holy Cross, falling 3-1 on Friday before rebounding with a 2-0 victory on Saturday. With two weeks remaining in their regular season, the Tigers hold sole possession of fifth place; the top five seeds in the conference earn a first-round bye in the Atlantic Hockey Tournament.
Friday night began well for the Tigers, closing the first frame with a 1-0 lead thanks to an early goal from Brandon Thompson. But things fell apart when Holy Cross scored three unanswered goals and cruised to victory. RIT failed to score again despite registering 36 shots.
Things went exactly the opposite for RIT the following night. This time, they scored a pair of unanswered goals, first from Brad McGowan and then from Mark Golberg. That’d be all the offense they’d need paired with a strong defensive effort that allowed Holy Cross to take only 16 shots, making it easy for goaltender Jordan Ruby to pitch the shutout. Even after the win, however, the team was reeling at the missed opportunity from the night before.
“I just thought we were consistent,” Tigers Head Coach Wayne Wilson said about Saturday’s win. “Quite frankly, if we could have played like we did in the first and the third in the second period of the first game, then we would have won that game. We lost two points because of that one period and so it was a good lesson that 60 minutes, against Holy Cross or any team in our league, is what you need to win.”
Senior Matt Garbowsky registered the assist on McGowan’s goal, marking his 100th career point. Garbowsky becomes only the seventh player in Tigers history to reach that mark, made all the more impressive by the fact that he played only 13 due to injury last season.
In the midst of a contested playoff race, RIT faces as big a test as they have all season when they host No. 19 Robert Morris this weekend. A sweep could mean a jump in the standings – the Tigers trail second-place Bentley by only four points – but a loss or two could cost them a first-round bye. Air Force trails RIT by one point and Holy Cross trails by just two. Despite having lost twice to the Colonels earlier this season, Wilson expects to compete this time around.
“We’d like to give them a little adversity, to be honest with you,” Wilson said. “They haven’t faced a lot of adversity this year, they haven’t been banged up or injured at all this year, and they’ve been fighting and clawing. They’ve had a lot of success in overtime and close games, which is the mark of a good team, but they’re not running away with anything.”
- February 20 vs. Robert Morris (7:05 p.m., Gene Polisseni Center)
- February 21 vs. Robert Morris (7:05 p.m., Gene Polisseni Center)
CANISIUS COLLEGE GOLDEN GRIFFINS (13-10-7 overall, 12-6-6 Atlantic Hockey)
Canisius dropped another spot in the Atlantic Hockey standings, to fourth, after a split with ninth-place Army at HARBORCENTER. The Griffs were upset by the Black Knights 2-1 on Friday then rebounded with a 3-1 win on Saturday.
Friday night began well for Canisius, with sophomore Shane Conacher breaking a scoreless tie in the second period with a power play goal. Army scored a goal of their own less than 10 seconds later, however, and added the game-winner on a power play midway through the third period when Canisius was called for having too many men on the ice. All in all, Army outshot the Griffs 26-25.
“We played well, the season is full of ups and downs,” Canisius Head Coach Dave Smith said. “We did enough things well to win the game; Army played better than us that night. They have talented players there and they have always had a great work ethic.”
Conacher opened the scoring again on Saturday, this time netting his ninth goal of the season late in the first period. C.J. Reuschlein, who scored the game-winner for Army on Friday, tied the game early in the second, but Ralph Cuddemi took advantage of a power play later in the period and Tyler Wiseman added a goal in the third for good measure. This time, the Canisius defense held Army to only 18 shots on the night.
“I thought we just played harder in the offensive zone,” Smith said. “I thought we ended plays a little sooner, I thought we got the puck back on our stick a little sooner, I thought we did a little better job with possession on Saturday night and we were also able to block some shots and to get some pucks down the ice.”
Despite coming out of the weekend with two points, Canisius was jumped in the standings by Mercyhurst, who they’ll play in a home-and-home series this weekend. After that, the Griffs have one regular season series left: the following weekend at sixth-place Air Force, who is within four points of Canisius. Best case scenario, Canisius climbs back to the second seed that they held for most of January; the worst case scenario could see them miss out on a first-round bye in the playoffs.
“It is so much fun to know that these points, even though they count the same as the ones in October and November, they really see the movement in the final standings. And our guys, based on when we first met as a team in September, we wanted to play for home ice and a top-four spot,” Smith said. “Now it’s within your reach, and it’s important to stay grounded and go after the task, and that makes those two points just fun.”
- February 20 @ Mercyhurst (7:05 p.m.)
- February 21 vs. Mercyhurst (7:35 p.m., HARBORCENTER)
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY PURPLE EAGLES (3-24-3 overall, 3-18-3 Atlantic Hockey)
Slow starts buried the Purple Eagles in a pair of road losses to Mercyhurst, falling to the Lakers 5-2 on Friday and 4-1 on Saturday. With only four games remaining in the regular season, Niagara is now winless in its last 18 contests.
Niagara fought back falling behind 2-0 in the first period on Friday. Senior Chris Lochner scored for the Purple Eagles to cap off that period, and then Hugo Turcotte opened the scoring in the second to even to score at two goals apiece. Lakers senior Matthew Zay scored less than three minutes later, however, regaining a lead that Mercyhurst would never relinquish. Zay assisted on the team’s next goal, in the third, and later scored again on his way to being named Atlantic Hockey Player of the Week.
“When you’re in one of those funks, that’s what happens,” Niagara Head Coach Dave Burkholder said. “We’re just not strong enough mentally, as a group, to battle for a complete 60 minutes, and when something bad does happen we haven’t found a way to respond and hang in there.”
The Purple Eagles fell behind in the first period again on Saturday, this time allowing three goals to Mercyhurst in the opening frame. T.J. Sarcona scored a power play goal in the second period to inch Niagara closer, but Mercyhurst pulled away again with an early goal in the final frame. Mercyhurst goaltender Brandon Wildung stopped 46 of the 49 shots he faced in the two games combined, earning him Atlantic Hockey Goaltender of the Week honors.
Niagara is still reeling from injury with six players out of the lineup and has only two series left before the playoffs. Burkholder says that the team recognizes that time is running out for them to right the ship.
“There’s no one inside our program that thinks we’re just going to turn it on come playoff time, that’s not how it works,” he said. “But, I think if you were to ask our opponents the last two weekends about our team, we’re a physical crew, we work really hard, and that’s our MO. That’s what we’re trying to do, and I think once we get one we’ll get many.”
- February 20 vs. Air Force (7 p.m., Dwyer Arena)
- February 21 vs. Air Force (7 p.m., Dwyer Arena)
BUFFALO STATE BENGALS (10-11-2 overall, 6-6-2 SUNYAC)
With a pair of victories over Battle of the Lake rival Fredonia, Buffalo State clinched a SUNYAC playoff berth for the fifth-consecutive season. Fittingly, it was team captain Brett Hope who led the way over the weekend, combining for two goals and five assists on his way to being named the conference’s Player of the Week.
Hope contributed to all three of Buffalo State’s goals in its 3-1 victory over the Blue Devils on Friday. He opened the scoring with his seventh goal of the season in the first period and helped pad the lead with an assist to line mate Ryan Salkeld in the second. When Fredonia pulled within one, Hope fed Salkeld again for an empty-netter in the game’s final minute. The Bengals were outshot 29-25, but sophomore goaltender Mike DeLaVergne stopped 28 shots and their special teams killed six penalties.
“Hope is a guy that plays hard, plays the right way and goes to the tough areas. He’s one of the more physical players consistently that I’ve ever coached,” Bengals Head Coach Nick Carriere said. “He’s surrounded by good teammates that I think support him well and allow him to do good things and he’s been executing.”
Saturday, at Fredonia, Buffalo State outshot the Blue Devils 42-35 and this time ran away with a 6-2 victory. Hope fed Salkeld yet again to take the lead early, but Fredonia scored to tie the game at one just a minute later. From that point on, it was all Bengals: Anthony Beaumont, Jason Zaleski, Hope, Brody Power and Taylor Pryce all scored for Buffalo State. The Bengals scored on two of their eight power plays and even netted one goal, Pryce’s, shorthanded. DeLaVergne took the win again, this time with 33 saves.
The Bengals enter their final weekend of the series as the four seed in the SUNYAC standings; the conference’s third and fourth seeds host playoff games in the quarterfinal round on Feb. 25. Right now, they’re two points behind third-seed Geneseo, tied in points with fifth-seed Potsdam, and two points ahead of sixth-place Brockport.
The Bengals host two of those teams in a weekend with huge playoff implications, starting with Brockport on Friday, and then Geneseo on Saturday.
“We have another goal in mind, and if we can strive to host another playoff game, that’s something we’re going to aim for,” Carriere said.
- February 20 vs. Brockport (7 p.m., Buffalo State Ice Arena)
- February 21 vs. Geneseo (7 p.m., Buffalo State Ice Arena)