MINNEAPOLIS, MN – The RIT women’s hockey team (15-19-5) had its magical postseason run stopped by top-seed University of Minnesota (32-3-4), 6-2 in front of 1,796 fans at Ridder Arena in the NCAA Division I National Quarterfinal on Saturday afternoon. It was RIT’s first appearance in the NCAA Division I Tournament since moving up in 2012.
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak overall and eight-game winning streak in postseason play for RIT.
Minnesota’s power play was the difference, scoring three times on five attempts with the man-advantage. Kate Schipper and Patty Kazmaier Award FInalist Hannah Brandt led the Gophers with a goal and two assists apiece. Rachel Ramsey, Milica McMillen, and Maryanne Menef had a goal and an assist apiece. Lee Stecklein added an empty-net shorthanded goal in the final minute. Amanda Leveille stopped 17 shots for the win.
Carly Payerl (Kitchener, Ontario/Resurrection Catholic) scored both RIT goals, with assists on each going to Emilee Bulleid (Waterdown, Ontario/Stoney Creek Sabres). Payerl scored her first of the game on a power-play midway through the first period and got RIT to within 5-2 with 2:19 left in the third period.
RIT was 1-for-5 with the man-advantage. The Tigers had two five-minute power plays, one in each of the first two periods.
Minnesota out-shot the Tigers, 52-19. In goal, RIT net minder Ali Binnington (Oakville, Ontario/Mississauga Chiefs), despite allowing five goals, was strong, stopping a season-high 46 shots, including several highlight reel saves. She made 19 first period saves, 15 in the second, and 12 in the third.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the way we played,” said RIT head coach Scott McDonald. “Minnesota is such a highly skilled team and they showed that on the power-play, which was the difference. I thought our energy and effort was really strong. Today was a great stepping stone for our program.”
The Gophers scored a pair of goals 48 apart early in the opening period en route to a 3-1 lead after 40 minutes of play, while out-shooting RIT, 22-10.
Binnington made a tremendous save on a partial breakaway chance from Cameranesi three minutes in. The Gophers would keep the puck in the RIT zone for the next 40 seconds, with McMillen getting a pass at the right face-off circle and beating an unscreened Binnington for her 11th goal of the season and a 1-0 lead.
Schipper would add on to the lead for Minnesota just 48 seconds later, taking a feed from Cara Piazza and firing a shot that went off the pad of Binnington and in for her seventh goal of the season and a 2-0 Minnesota lead.
Shortly after, Christa Vuglar (Crystal Lake, IL/Chicago Mission) was hit hard from behind by Minnesota’s Kelly Pannek, who received a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
On the ensuing major power-play, Payerl got the Tigers on the board at the 9:35 mark of the opening period, taking a feed from in front from Emilee Bulleid (Waterdown, Ontario/Stoney Creek Sabres) and beating Leveille through the legs for her sixth goal of the season.
Binnington had to come up big a handful of other teams in the period, as she robbed Brandt on a shorthanded attempt and Cameranesi twice from the doorstep on a Golden Gophers power play. Moments later, Minnesota would regain the two-goal lead, as Ramsey fired a rocket from the right point that went off Binnington’s shoulder and in for her ninth goal of the season.
The Tigers started the second period with a five-minute power play, as Minnesota’s Meghan Lorence was called for a major penalty for butt ending and a game misconduct. Unfortunately, RIT could not muster much in the way of offense, with just a one shot during that opportunity.
Minnesota would pepper Binnington with 17 more shots in the period, and the senior goaltender was up to task, making several big saves on a handful of point-blank and odd-man rushes.
Leveille had to come up big on a blast from Jess Paton (Woodstock, Ontario/Waterloo K-W Rangers) in the slot off a Minnesota giveaway, flashing a quick glove to keep it a 3-1 game.
RIT would not have an answer for Minnesota’s power play however, as the Gophers scored twice with the man-advantage in the period to up the lead to 5-1. At the 8:28 mark, Menefee took a perfect feed from Ramsey in the slot and wired a perfectly placed wrist shot over the shoulder of Binnington off the crossbar and in to make it 4-1 Gophers. Just under six minutes later, Brandt took a feed from Menefee, cut to the front of the net and placed a shot just under the crossbar for a 5-1 Minnesota lead.
The Tigers battled hard in the third period and kept pace with the Gophers, cutting the lead to 5-2 with 2:19 left, as Payerl took a feed from Bulleid in the slot and fired a shot past Leveille for her second goal of the game and seventh of the season.
Payerl scored the last three goals of RIT’s season, including the double overtime winner against Syracuse last Saturday that propelled the Tigers into the NCAA Tournament.
Binnington had allowed three goals over her first four postseason starts this season, as RIT knocked off the top three seeds in the CHA. The senior goaltender enjoyed an incredible postseason career at RIT; going 11-2 in 13 starts with a microscopic 1.20 goals against average and .962 save percentage, recording three shutouts.
RIT is now 24-13 all-time in postseason contests at the Division I and III levels, since women’s hockey was recognized as a NCAA Championship sport in 2001. Since Scott McDonald took over as head coach in 2006, RIT is 21-8 in the postseason, including a 10-2 mark at the Division I level. The Tigers made the NCAA Division III Tournament in 2007, 2011, and 2012, winning the championship in its final season as a Division III member.
The senior class of Morgan Scoyne (Drumbo, Ontario/Stoney Creek Sabres), Kolbee McCrea (Wawa, Ontario/Burlington Barracudas), Marissa Maugeri (Ajax, Ontario/Durham West Lightning), Bulleid, Lindsay Grigg (Oakville, Ontario/Oakville Hornets), Celeste Brown (Great Falls, MT/National Sports Academy), and Binnington finished their four-year career with an impeccable 15-2 record in postseason play. The group of six skaters combined to play in 805 career games with 175 goals and 226 assists for 401 points.
“I can’t say enough about this group of seniors,” said McDonald. “They accomplished everything they could in a RIT uniform. They truly are Tigers for life.”
RIT advanced to the NCAA Tourmament after winning the CHA Championship for the second straight season. RIT started the postseason by sweeping Robert Morris in a best-of-three series, winning 3-1 and 1-0 on Feb. 27-28. The Tigers knocked off top-seed Mercyhurst University in the CHA Semifinal, 4-1 on March 6 and defeated No. 2 seed Syracuse University, 2-1 in double overtime to claim the league title the next afternoon.
Minnesota will play No. 4 seed Wisconsin in the NCAA Division I Frozen Four Semifinal that gets underway on Friday, March 20 from Ridder Arena. No. 2 Boston College plays No. 3 Harvard in the second semifinal with the two winners meeting for the NCAA National Championship on Sunday, March 22.