The concern of any team coming off a big win against its archrivals is, how well will it play the next night?
One night after beating Elmira, RIT answered that question Saturday when it jumped out to solid first period lead en route to an 8-4 win over Utica.
“It’s a very difficult game to play after last night.” RIT coach Wayne Wilson admitted. “Didn’t let their guard down, and I was proud of how we played. They showed good patience in the first five minutes of the game.”
The stars of the game were a likely one — Mike Tarantino, who scored a hat trick — and unlikely ones — the members of the fourth line, each of whom scored a goal.
It didn’t take long for RIT to get on the scoreboard — just inside the two-minute mark. J.R. Holmes let go an apparently harmless shot from the left point. Utica’s goalie, Rich Rager, didn’t properly handle the save, and Tarantino swooped in to pick up the loose puck and finish the play.
Utica, at times, would stay with RIT, keeping the game at 1-0 till late in the period. At one point, the Pioneers had an empty net to put a rebound in, but shot it wide.
After another excellent chance by Utica, RIT transitioned quickly the other way. David Bagley at center ice fed a speeding Tarantino down the left side. Tarantino didn’t waste any time, blasting a shot over Rager’s shoulder into the far upper corner.
Utica countered that with a goal of its own 16 seconds later when Mark Juliano beat Tyler Euverman.
RIT regained the two-goal lead when Jason Chafe was credited with a goal that changed directions multiple times after the initial shot from the right point by Holmes. It was a soft shot, but because of all the deflections, it eventually eluded a confused Rager.
Thirty-four seconds later, Lanner Fayad made it 4-1 on a goal which, speedwise, was the exact opposite of the previous score. Fayad blasted a slapshot from the slot area that easily beat Rager.
RIT had territorial control in the second period, but no one came close to scoring a goal until late, when Utica struck. Thanks to a sloppy effort by RIT after a scoring chance, Utica turned the play around as Juliano split the spread-out RIT defensive duo to go in alone.
He waited for Euverman to go down, skated around him, and easily slid the puck into the now empty net. So sure was the goal judge, he turned the red light on before the puck actually went in.
RIT answered 41 seconds later when the fourth line used its speed. Brent Macovi raced the puck into the zone, past the defense, and snuck the puck between the goalie’s skate and the near post. Linemates Adam George and Fayad, got the assists.
George scored the first goal of the third period to complete the “hat trick” by the fourth line when he one-timed it by Rager.
Said Wilson of his fourth line, “They had a great game on their part. I felt the same as last night.”
Shortly afterwards, Fayad was hauled down on a shorthanded breakaway, and the refs awarded him with a penalty shot. However, Rager thwarted that attempt with a nice poke-check.
On the same penalty, Tarantino took advantage of a breakaway of his own to make it 7-2 by shooting it up high.
More action on the same power play saw Utica put one in as Travis Doan from behind the net banked it off the back of Euverman. Utica had pulled the goalie after a timeout, despite over six minutes remaining in the game.
After RIT scored again — again into the upper corner of the net by Darren Doherty — Utica went on the power play, and pulled the goalie again to go up six skaters to four. Though they didn’t score on that power play, the Pioneers kept the goalie on the bench almost the rest of the game.
All RIT has to do is beat Hobart in its final game to take first place to host the ECAC West tournament, as the Tigers currently have a 7-1-1 record in league play (17-3-2 overall). RIT doesn’t play again until that Hobart game on February 28 at home.
Utica is now 1-4-1 in the ECAC West (9-11-1 overall). Though Utica is not mathmatically out of the running for the playoffs, its chances are slim. The Pioneers must win their remaining four games, and have Hobart lose its game against RIT. Utica needs to start that streak at home Friday against Manhattanville.