The Atlantic Hockey playoffs got underway tonight, as the RIT Tigers just missed out on a first round bye week, trailing the fifth place Air Force Falcons by two points in the standings.
The Tigers jumped out to a roaring start over the visiting Sacred Heart Pioneers, scoring three times in the first period. Sophomore defenseman, Adam Brubacher, got things started with a power-play goal just 1:13 after the opening face-off.
Midway through the first 20 minutes of play Gabe Valenzuela would add another for RIT, once again on the man-advantage, after he deflected a half-shot/half-pass attempt from teammate Chase Norrish. Brubacher would break the power-play goal streak for the Tigers with his second of the night, as he cashed in less than four minutes later to make it 3-0, with no loss of man power on the ice this time around.
“We expect it,” said Tigers’ coach Wayne Wilson when asked if Brubacher’s offensive heroics are simply a bonus or something that needs to happen on a regular basis for his club. “That’s his track record, and defensemen have always traditionally scored goals for us. He just has that ability. With some defensemen, pucks find shin pads and others the puck finds the back of the net.”
Despite this flurry of offense from the Tigers, things began to change during the middle frame at Gene Polisseni Center.
The Pioneers would score two goals less than two minutes apart to cut the deficit to one. Stephen Hladin and Matt Tugnutt each picked up tallies for the visitors.
RIT would re-gain the two-goal lead not long after, as Dan Willett was able to find the back of the net for his first ever playoff goal of his young collegiate career. Norrish and Myles Powell each added an assist on the Tigers’ fourth goal of the evening.
Sacred Heart proved they weren’t going to go down without a fight at the 10:55 mark of the period. Marc Johnstone took advantage of a costly rebound given up by Tigers’ goaltender Logan Drackett, that got his club back to within a goal.
The Tigers out-shot the Pioneers 13-7 throughout the duration of the third period. However, it would not be enough to seal the deal and take a 1-0 series lead.
With less than five minutes remaining, Mike Crocock capitalized on a scoring chance from below the hash marks to even things up. The game would need overtime.
The extra period would not last long, in fact, there were most likely several fans who did not get a chance to make it back to their seats in time for the eventual game winner. Abbott Girduckis scored just 23 seconds into overtime to officially give the Tigers the series lead.
“I was fortunate there,” said Girduckis about his game clinching goal. “My line mates (Valenzuela) and (Brown) had a great forecheck, turned it over, and then (Brown) with a nice look to find me in the slot. I was lucky to get it over the pad. It feels good.”
The Tigers can secure the series and advance to the quarterfinals with a win tomorrow night. Face-off is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. from the Gene Polisseni Center.
Photo Credit Kelsie Redburn – RIT Athletic Communications