ROCHESTER, NY – The third-seeded RIT men’s hockey team (18-14-5) advanced to the Atlantic Hockey Championship after defeating No. 2 seed Canisius (18-12-7) in the semifinal contest, 2-1 in front of 3,525 fans at Blue Cross Arena on Friday night. RIT will play fifth-seed Mercyhurst in the league championship on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. The winner of that game will advance to the NCAA Tournament.
RIT head coach Wayne Wilson picked up his 300th victory at RIT on Friday. He is now 300-179-54 in 16 seasons at the university.
The Tigers are 5-4 all-time at Blue Cross Arena in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs, going 4-2 in the semifinals and 1-2 in championship games. Overall, RIT is 22-11 in the postseason at the Division I level, having won the 2010 Atlantic Hockey Championship, advancing to the Frozen Four. It is RIT’s fourth appearance in the championship game and first since going three straight years from 2010-12.
“It feels great to be back (into the championship game),” said Wilson. Tonight’s game was a tough battle, but we were prepared since the past few weekends have been like this. We are very excited for the challenge tomorrow.”
RIT has won six straight contests, out-scoring its opponents, 25-9 over that span.
Brad McGowan (Langley, British Columbia/Surrey Eagles) scored in the final minute of the first period, while Danny Smith (Edmonton, Alberta/Sherwood Park Crusaders) broke a 1-1 tie with 4:45 left in the second period for RIT. Matt Garbowsky (St. George, Ontario/Powell River Kings), who was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award on Thursday, assisted on McGowan’s first period goal, giving him 51 points this season, tying a Division I team record, set by Simon Lambert in 2008.
In goal, Jordan Ruby (Tavistock, Ontario/Wellington Dukes) picked up his third straight win for the Tigers, making 27 saves. He made several big saves in the second period and stopped 10 third period shots for his ninth win of the year.
Canisius out-shot RIT, 28-27. Shane Conacher scored the Golden Griffins lone goal, while Keegan Asmundson made 25 saves in defeat.
The Tigers were 0-for-3 with the man-advantage, while taking just one penalty, tying a Division I team record. RIT’s penalty-killing unit, among the top-10 in Division I had to come up big, getting its lone penalty-kill in the final five minutes of regulation.
RIT played an excellent first period, generating several good chances and were finally rewarded with 23 seconds left in the period, as Garbowsky caused a turnover in the Canisius zone along the right wing boards, leaping to knock a clearing pass out of the air. He corralled the puck and fed McGowan in the slot, who just came off the bench. McGowan fired a low wrist shot that beat Asmundson to the far post for his fifth goal in the last two games and 21st of the season to make it 1-0.
Both teams came out cautious over the first five minutes, with not much in the way of great chances. RIT would gradually take over play in the period, with several great opportunities. McGowan had a golden chance from the slot about seven minutes in that went off the shoulder over Asmundson and then off the right post. Moments later, Mitchell rang one off the post from the slot on a 2-on-1 inside the Golden Griffins zone.
With RIT on the lone power-play of the period, a fanned shot from the point turned into a Canisius breakaway the other way, as Braeden Rigney came in all alone on Ruby but fired the puck over the net.
Just after the power-play ended, Smith had a tremendous chance in front off a rebound on a shot by Andrew Miller (Chicago, IL/Chicago Steel), with Asmundson out of position, but could not get enough on the shot, as it fell back into the goaltender’s pads.
Both teams scored once in a back and forth second period, in which Canisius held a 12-10 edge in shots.
Ruby made a great save on Mitch McCrank on a 2-on-1 just over two minutes into the period.
Just over the halfway mark of the period, Canisius would get on the board, as Conacher buried a rebound in front after Ruby made two huge saves. RIT tried to clear and it was intercepted at the blue line and appeared to possibly be offsides. The puck came to the front, where Conacher had one great chance stopped by Ruby. The puck came to the point, where Doug Jessey fired a shot that Ruby stopped, with the rebound coming right to Conacher, who beat a sprawled Ruby up high for his 11th goal of the year.
The Golden Griffins had a great chance to go up 2-1 with six minutes left in the period, as Cody Freeman was all alone in front of the net after a RIT giveaway, but Ruby was able to keep the puck out.
RIT got the lead right back, five minutes later at the 15:15 mark. Matt Abt (Leduc, Alberta/Whitecourt Wolverines ) fired a long pass to Miller, who found Smith cutting to the net. Smith had his first shot stopped by Asmundson, but he was able to swat the rebound in for his sixth goal of the season, giving RIT a 2-1 lead.
In the third period, Canisius came at RIT, holding a 10-5 edge in shots, but Ruby and the RIT defense held on. With RIT on a power-play in the final two minutes, Canisius looked to have a shorthanded breakaway, but Brady Norrish (Strongfield, Saskatchewan/Yorkton Terriers) made an outstanding poke check at his own blueline, knocking the puck away. The Golden Griffins held the puck inside the RIT zone for the final 25 seconds, but could not get a clean look off.
RIT is 59-19-2 all-time against the Golden Griffins and 20-9-1 since the start of the 2005-06 season. The Tigers have a five-game unbeaten streak against Canisius dating back to last season. RIT went 2-0-1 against Canisius this season, skating to a 3-3 tie at the HARBORCENTER on Nov. 14, while winning 3-0 the following night. Garbowsky scored a hat-trick the first night and added a goal and an assist the next evening. RIT is 2-0 against the Golden Griffins in the postseason, also winning 4-0 in the 2010 Atlantic Hockey Semifinal at Blue Cross Arena.
In the first Atlantic Hockey semifinal on Friday, Mercyhurst out-lasted top-seed Robert Morris, 4-3 in overtime, despite getting out-shot, 63-29. RIT and Mercyhurst met at the Gene Polisseni Center just three weeks ago, with RIT coming away victorious in both contests, 8-0 and 2-1 in overtime.