When Rochester Institute of Technology moved to Division I in 2005 and joined Atlantic Hockey, the Tigers looked forward to renewing old rivalries with several teams they regularly faced at the Division III level.
Canisius, Mercyhurst and Niagara were all regular foes for RIT in the ECAC West, and the Tigers enjoyed success against each of them.
But one rivalry has stood out since then, and that is the one against the Niagara Purple Eagles. RIT and Niagara games were always competitive affairs back in the Division III days, with the Purple Eagles enjoying a slight 3-2-2 advantage before they moved up to Division I in 1998 and joined the CHA.
The rivalry has been anything but even since 2005, though, as Niagara has dominated RIT 7-0-4 at the Division I level. It isn’t that the games have been necessarily one sided but the final results certainly have.
On Friday, RIT put the ghosts of all of those games to rest with a dramatic 2-1 overtime win over Niagara in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals. The winning sequence started with a shot by senior Taylor McReynolds that bounced off Niagara goaltender Chris Noonan’s shoulder before freshman Brad McGowan tapped it in.
“It’s bizarre that we could have that kind of record,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder, who is a 1984 graduate of RIT. “We’d trade those first 11 for this one back. I think RIT and Niagara have something special for years to come, that’s for sure.”
Last Sunday, after RIT beat Bentley to advance to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals, the Tigers were already looking ahead to a rematch against Niagara.
“We were aware of what the streak was and wanted the challenge, and what a better time to break it,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson.
The seniors in particular wanted one more shot at the Purple Eagles and they made the most of it. The last time RIT beat Niagara was Feb. 28, 1997, when Niagara was playing in its inaugural season as a Division I team.
“It’s playoffs and every game’s a big game,” said McReynolds. “We just wanted to play our best.”