ALBANY, N.Y. — There were two questions surrounding Quinnipiac heading into the opening game of the NCAA East Regional on Saturday.
First, would leading scorer Sam Anas play? The junior was hurt in last Saturday’s ECAC Hockey championship game against Harvard, putting his status in question for this weekend.
2016 NCAA East Regional
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In the end, the Bobcats answered both positively, if not convincingly. Anas was in the lineup but played limited minutes, while Quinnipiac needed three third-period goals to pull away for a 4-0 win over RIT at the Times Union Center.
Captain Soren Jonzzon scored twice for the Bobcats and Travis St. Denis and Scott Davidson each added a goal. Defenseman Devon Toews had three assists, while Michael Garteig had 27 saves for Quinnipiac. RIT’s Mike Rotolo finished with 26 saves.
“It was a nice, resilient win,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. “It was probably not our best game, but I thought we were resilient, as we have been all year.”
It was the first NCAA tournament win in three years for Quinnipiac (30-3-7), which had lost two straight first-round games after making the national championship game in 2013.
Anas was listed as a game-time decision before the start of the game and was tentative during warmups. But the junior was in the lineup in his usual left wing spot on Quinnipiac’s top line, and had an assist on St. Denis’ power-play goal.
“I felt like he could give us something on the power play tonight and a few shifts here and there,” said Pecknold, adding that Anas practiced Friday but did not take part in Saturday’s pre-game skate.
RIT (18-15-6) came out strong in the first, creating turnovers and putting pressure on Garteig. The Bobcats senior made several nice saves early, snagging a Myles Powell blast from the point with the Tigers on the power play, and then denying Erik Brown on a breakaway later in the period.
But the Bobcats took a 1-0 lead on St. Denis’ rocket from the right wing hashmarks at 14:55.
“We didn’t get a timely goal when we needed it the most,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “I don’t think we lacked energy. As a 16 seed playing a one seed, we needed to put the pressure on them.”
RIT nearly tied it early in the second. Matt Abt took the initial shot as the Tigers’ power play drew to a close. The puck snuck between Garteig’s legs but was kept out of the net thanks to some heads-up defensive play by Devon Toews and Alex Miner-Barron. With Garteig down amid a crowd of RIT players, Toews knocked the puck away from the goal line before Miner-Barron pushed it out of the crease.
“I don’t think any of us know what happened on that play,” Toews said. “We try to bail [Garteig] out as much as we can and he does the same for us. I think we got a lucky bounce.”
For RIT, it was another early missed scoring chance.
“I thought that we were taking it to them at that point,” Tigers senior captain Alexander Kuqali said. “Our transition was good and we had a couple of close calls. Their goaltender came up with a couple of big saves, but our guys never lost hope.”
Davidson beat Rotolo from close in to make it 2-0 2:27 into the third period. The goal was set up thanks to a nice play by Toews, who forced a turnover along the wall in the RIT zone and quickly moved the puck the other way.
Jonzzon scored off the rush to make it 3-0 at 12:18 and then capped the scoring with an empty-net goal at 17:10.
Quinnipiac will face the winner of the Yale vs. Massachusetts-Lowell matchup at 7:30 p.m. EDT Sunday in the regional championship.