RIT wins OT thriller in game one vs. Sacred Heart

RIT wins OT thriller in game one vs. Sacred Heart

ROCHESTER, NY – Abbott Girduckis (Belleville, Ontario/Wellington Dukes) scored 23 seconds into overtime to lift the No. 6 seed RIT men's hockey team (15-18-2) to a 5-4 win over No. 11 seed Sacred Heart University (11-20-4) in game one of the Atlantic Hockey First Round playoff series from the Gene Polisseni Center Friday night.

Gabe Valenzuela (Brampton, Ontario/North York Rangers) and Erik Brown (Keene, Ontario/Kemptville 73's) used a tenacious forecheck to gain control of the puck behind the Sacred Heart net after a neutral zone face-off. Valenzuela nudged the puck to Brown, who found Girduckis all alone in the slot. Girduckis fired a shot over the pad of Sacred Heart goaltender Brett Magnus for his seventh goal of the season, lifting RIT to the win.

The Tigers led 3-0 but Sacred Heart came all the way back to tie the game at 4-4 on a goal by Mike Crocock with 4:07 left in regulation to force overtime. Girduckis' goal was the first overtime winner in the postseason since Myles Powell (Courtenay, British Columbia/Cowichan Valley Capitals) did so against Air Force in the 2016 Atlantic Hockey Semifinal from Blue Cross Arena. The Tigers are now 8-3 in overtime during the postseason at the Division I level.

Adam Brubacher (Elmira, Ontario/Powell River Kings) scored two goals for the Tigers, while Powell added three assists. Valenzuela had a goal and two assists, while Brown and Chase Norrish (Strongfield, Saskatchewan/Yorkton Terriers) added two helpers apiece. Girduckis and Dan Willett (Bayville, NY/Bloomington Thunder) also scored. Goaltender Logan Drackett (Calgary, Alberta/Calgary Canucks) made his postseason debut, making 24 saves.

Crocock and Stephen Hladin had a goal and an assist apiece for the Pioneers, while Kory Kennedy added two helpers. Matt Tugnutt and Marc Johnstone also scored. Brett Magnus took the loss in net, stopping 28 shots.

RIT out-shot Sacred Heart, 33-28. The Tigers were 2-for-4 on the power-play, while holding Sacred Heart scoreless in all seven attempts with the man-advantage. RIT's penalty-killing unit successful killed off a pair of Sacred Heart 5-on-3 power-plays and was a main contributor to the 26 blocked shots on the evening.

"We said in the room that we wanted to end (overtime) on the first shift and get right after it," said RIT head coach Wayne Wilson. "Special teams were critical for us, as our penalty-kill blocked a lot of shots and we scored the two early power-play goals. We need to do a much better job staying out of the penalty box tomorrow night."

RIT jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the opening 13 minutes on the strength of two power-play goals and an even strength tally. Brubacher gave the Tigers an early lead just 1:13 into the contest, as he took a feed from Powell in the high slot and fired a well-placed wrist shot over the shoulder of Magnus for his eighth goal of the season.

Valenzuela made it 2-0 Tigers just before the halfway mark of the period, deflecting a shot from \Norrish through the legs of Magnus for his 11th goal of the season. The assist gave Norrish a point in 11 straight games, tying the Division I team record (shared by Simon Lambert, 2007-08 and Andrew Favot, 2008-09).

Drackett and the RIT penalty-killing unit had to come up big, killing off 59 seconds of a 5-on-3 Sacred Heart power-play. He made a huge save on a shot by Vito Bavaro from point-blank range. Moments later, he robbed Austin McIlmurray in front with a sprawling save.

Brubacher would score his second goal of the game and ninth of the season with seven minutes left in the period, firing a shot from the point past Magnus after taking a feed from Alden Dupuis (Edmonton, Alberta/Bonnyville Pontiacs ).

Sacred Heart would get back into the game in the second period, out-scoring the Tigers 3-1 to make it a 4-3 game after 40 minutes of play.

The Tigers penalty-killing unit had to come up large early in the period, killing off a brief 5-on-3. Chris McKay (Edmonton, Alberta/Sherwood Park Crusaders) had two big blocked shots on the penalty kill.

This time, Sacred Herat would make the Tigers pay not long after the penalty ended, as Hladin buried a rebound on an odd-man rush after Drackett made the initial save on a hard slap shot by Kennedy, 2:47 into the period. Just 1:51 later, Tugnutt would cut the RIT lead to 3-2, firing a shot from a tight angle off the mask of Drackett and in for his sixth goal.

RIT would regain the two goal lead with 12:24 left in the period, as Willett took a cross-ice feed from Norrish and fired a shot towards the Pioneers net that went off the skate of a defender and in for his second goal of the year.

The Pioneers would answer again, right after a power-play ended, as Johnstone slammed in a rebound from in tight after a point shot from Crocock was deflected on goal by McIlmurray.

RIT would come out strong in the third period and fire 11 shots in the first 10 minutes, but could not get the big insurance goal.

The Pioneers thought they tied the game while shorthanded, as Johnstone broke in and fired a shot while being slashed that Drackett stopped. Johnstone crashed the net and put the puck in, while careening into the goaltender. After a video review it was determined that Johnstone kicked the puck in, resulting in no goal.

Sacred Heart would tie the game with 4:07 left, as Crocock fired in a rebound after a shot by Hladin was blocked by a RIT defenseman right to the streaking Crocock, who had the open left side to shoot at, for his second goal of the year, makingit 4-4.

RIT has won two of the three regular season meetings between the two schools this season and holds a 24-7-2 edge in the all-time series.

Overall, the Tigers are 30-15 in the postseason at the Division I level, while appearing in their 11th Atlantic Hockey Tournament. RIT is 16-4 on home ice in the postseason.

Game two of the 2018 Atlantic Hockey First Round series between the Tigers and the Pioneers is Saturday evening at 7:05 p.m.

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