RIT went into the weekend against Robert Morris wanting to give the No. 19 team in the country “a little adversity.” That’s exactly what the Tigers did; falling seconds shy of a point in a 4-3 loss on Friday and then battling back for a 4-3 victory on Saturday at the Gene Polisseni Center.
The Tigers were sitting pretty midway through the game on Friday, leading the Colonials 3-1 thanks to goals from Josh Mitchell, Max Mikowski and Chase Norrish.
But what appeared to be a big win in the making turned quickly into a heartbreaker: Robert Morris scored towards the end of the second period and again early in the third. Then star player Cory Wydo delivered the finishing blow with only 10 seconds remaining in regulation.
“There’s no question it was tough,” Tigers head coach Wayne Wilson said. “We’re looking for another shot on goal to possibly try and win it with 10, 12 seconds left and they pick it off and they send a guy on a breakaway and score. And it’s over.
“That just made the next night that much more special when we responded because I didn’t know how we were going to respond to that.”
RIT found itself on the opposite side of the table on Saturday night. This time, they were the ones trailing 3-1 midway through the second period. However, the Tigers were saved by their top line – which has carried them all season – and Atlantic Hockey Player of the Week Brad McGowan in particular.
McGowan, who had already assisted on RIT’s first goal, responded to the Colonials’ third goal with one of his own. He tallied again on the power play later in the second period. He then secured the win – and the natural hat trick – with a third goal in the final period.
The Tigers enter their final weekend of the regular season with much to play for. A pair of wins will secure home ice in the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals while a couple of losses could cost them a first-round bye.
They’ll decide their fate at home against the team that sits directly in front of them in the standings, Mercyhurst.
•February 27 vs. Mercyhurst (7:05 p.m., Gene Polisseni Center)
•February 28 vs. Mercyhurst (7:05 p.m., Gene Polisseni Center)
CANISIUS COLLEGE GOLDEN GRIFFINS (15-10-7 overall, 14-6-6 Atlantic Hockey)
The Griffs came into their weekend series with Mercyhurst in danger of losing a first-round bye after having won only one of their past four games against Army and Robert Morris. Canisius responded in a big way, sweeping the Lakers 4-2 on Friday and 3-1 on Saturday.
In the process, they jumped to second in the Atlantic Hockey standings and clinched home ice in the quarterfinal round of the playoffs.
“They proved to me that 10 seniors that have been on this path before are in tune with what it takes to prepare for the weekend,” Canisius head coach Dave Smith said. “And last week on Tuesday they came and said ‘Hey, Coach, we’re ready, we’re ready to go, let’s just make sure we’re not overtired or fatigued and let play,’ And we did, and they took care of business.”
Friday night’s game at Mercyhurst began in familiar fashion, with sophomore Shane Conacher opening the scoring with his 10th goal of the season.
Mercyhurst evened the score later in the first, but the Griffs pulled away as the game went on thanks to goals from Chris Rumble, Mitch McCrank and Ralph Cuddemi. Mercyhurst outshot Canisius 37-27, but senior goaltender Keegan Asmundson was solid in net with 35 saves.
Canisius allowed Mercyhurst to score the first goal on Saturday, but Ralph Cuddemi responded with his 20th of the season just one minute later, capturing momentum that the Griffs would never relinquish.
McCrank added a goal and Cuddemi capped off the night with another of his own in the win. Senior captain Doug Jessey blocked two shots to build on a five-block performance on Friday, earning him Atlantic Hockey Defender of the Week honors.
“Doug Jessey is a physical beast,” Smith said. “He will battle true to the end on any play and you get near him and there are arms and legs and you just get a battle and Doug’s mentality has rubbed off on a lot of guys.”
With the win, Canisius improved to 7-1-1 in its past nine games against Mercyhurst. The Griffs will finish their season this weekend with a pair of road games against Air Force. A sweep will clinch the second seed in the conference.
•February 27 @ Air Force (9:05 p.m.)
•February 28 @ Air Force (7:05 p.m.)
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY PURPLE EAGLES (4-24-4 overall, 4-18-4 Atlantic Hockey)
When the Purple Eagles finally won, they won big. Niagara snapped its 18-game winless streak with a convincing 6-1 win at home against Air Force and then stormed back the following night to earn a 4-4 tie. Senior Isaac Kohls led the way with four points on the weekend.
Kohls opened the scoring early on Friday and then the Purple Eagles followed with three more unanswered goals from Stanislav Dzakhov, Matt Chartrain and Dan Kolenda. By the time Air Force got on the board with a power play goal in the third period, it was too late. TJ Sarcona rounded out the scoring with a pair of goals shortly after.
“It wasn’t pretty, but we just outworked Air Force, who is known for their work ethic,” Niagara Head Coach Dave Burkholder said. “We scored five of our six goals right at the top of the crease, getting our rebounds and being tough in the dirty areas.”
The Niagara players celebrated the win, but the next night it seemed like their fortunes may have reverted back to where they had found themselves so often before. With less than five minutes to play in the second period, Niagara found themselves behind 4-1 in a game that was all but over.
But Kohls ignited the team yet again, scoring late in the period to bring Niagara within two heading into the final frame.
Brock Edwards inched them closer with a goal to begin the third period and later, with less than three minutes to play in the third period, Keegan Harper found the back of the net to complete the comeback.
“When you look up at the scoreboard and you’re down 4-1 and you’ve given up 12 shots, you would think you wouldn’t have a chance,” Burkholder said. “But to rally and comeback like we did Saturday night was a testament to our guys and I think saved our season.
“If we don’t follow up Friday night with a gutsy performance like we did Saturday, it was for naught. So I think we can build off of what was a huge weekend for us.”
The Purple Eagles are locked into one of the bottom two seeds for the Atlantic Hockey playoffs, but the win may have come at a perfect time – with only one week to play in the regular season, they have the opportunity to carry the momentum into the postseason.
Doing so, however, will not be easy. Niagara closes out its regular season this weekend with a home-and-home series against No. 19 Robert Morris.
•February 27 vs. Robert Morris (7 p.m., Dwyer Arena)
•February 28 @ Robert Morris (7 p.m.)
BUFFALO STATE BENGALS (11-11-3 overall, 7-6-3 SUNYAC)
Buffalo State closed out its regular season with a 4-1 win over Brockport and a 4-4 tie against Geneseo, but fell short of their ultimate goal of securing home ice for the first round of the SUNYAC playoffs.
Instead, the Bengals will open their postseason at Potsdam on Wednesday night.
Sophomore goaltender Mike DeLaVergne was excellent in net on Friday for a Bengals team that won despite being outshot 41-18. DeLaVergne made 40 saves and his offense capitalized heavily in a third period in a game that was scoreless through two periods.
Jason Zaleski finally opened the scoring early in that third period, but Brockport responded quickly to tie it again. The Bengals eventually closed out the game when Zach Nieminen and Ryan Salkeld scored within one minute of each other later in the period.
On Saturday, all the scoring came sooner rather than later. Each team scored three times in the first period. Taylor Price scored shorthanded and again on the power play while Marcus Michalski added another for Buff State.
Geneseo scored again on the power play early in the second period – their third power play goal of the game – but the Bengals responded again, this time with a goal from Nieminen.
The offense stopped there with the two teams playing scoreless hockey beyond the second period’s halfway point.
The Bengals will face a postseason opponent in Potsdam that they’ve had recent success against – they beat the Bears 5-3 at Buffalo State Ice Arena on Feb. 7 after falling to Potsdam early in the season. Should they win, their next game will be on Feb. 28 at the home ice of the higher-seeded opponent.
•February 25 @ Potsdam (7 p.m.)