Late Goal Gives RIT Tie, Playoff Bye

Senior defenseman Chris Haltigin (Oakville, Ontario) scored a power-play goal with 6:25 left in regulation to lift the RIT men's hockey team (17-11-6, 14-7-6 AHA) to a 2-2 tie against Niagara University (15-10-9, 14-6-7 AHA) 2-2 in the regular season finale in front of a sellout crowd at Ritter Arena on Saturday. The tie gives RIT the No. 3 seed in the upcoming Atlantic Hockey Tournament and a first round bye.

RIT trailed 2-1 heading into the third period despite holding a 32-16 edge in shots. Niagara had a golden opportunity to go up 3-1 on a power-play of its own with 10 minutes left, but RIT goaltender Shane Madolora (Salinas, CA) made perhaps his best save of the season, robbing Sam Alfieri with a sliding pad save from in tight. Alfieri looked to have an open net before Madolora came out of nowhere to keep the puck out of the net.

On the ensuing RIT power-play, Haltigin took a feed from classmate Cameron Burt (Detroit, MI) at the right point and ripped a hard slap shot past Niagara goaltender Chris Noonan for his fourth tally of the season. The assist was Burt's second of the game, giving him 132 career points, tied for the all-time lead at RIT during the Division I era with Simon Lambert (Ste.-Therese, Quebec/Cumberland Grads), who played from 2005-08. Burt now has 42 goals and 90 assists.

From there, both teams had great chances but could not convert. In overtime, Burt was 1-on-1 with Noonan in close, tried to go to the backhand, but could not get it over the goaltender. After a Tiger giveaway in front, Issac Kohls fired a point blank shot that Madolora kicked out with his pad.

RIT fired a season-high 53 shots, out-shooting Niagara 53-31. Noonan was named the game's first star, making 51 saves, several in remarkable fashion.
Madolora made 29 saves and was named the game's third star.

Chris Lochner and Jeff Hannan scored for the Purple Eagles. Lochner's was a power-play goal, Hannan's a shorthanded tally.

Both teams were 1-for-4 with the man-advantage.

RIT Head Coach Wayne Wilson was much more pleased with his team's play tonight.

"That was a hard fought game, a playoff game, no question about it," said Wilson. "We wanted to get the bye and knew we had to get at least a tie to get it. I was very happy with our play tonight, we played with desperation, a totally different effort from last night."

RIT held the better of the play in the first period, but Niagara tallied the only goal on the power-play to take a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes of play.

Niagara got on the board first at the 5:20 mark on the power-play in an unusual way, as Kevin Ryan fired a long pass that missed everyone but tipped off a Tiger defenseman's stick, negating the icing. Alfieri got to the puck first in the corner and fired a centering pass to Lochner all alone in front. Lochner was able to lift the puck over Madolora for his 11th goal of the year.

RIT racheted up the pressure and were able to generate a few good chances of its own. Haltigin fired a blast from the point on the power-play that Noonan somehow got a piece of as it was labeled for the top corner.  On the same power-play, Haltigin snuck in back door and had an open net from the left side but just missed the open side.

The Tigers completely dominated the second period, firing a season-high 23 shots, but could only muster one goal, as Niagara also tallied a shorthanded goal to lead 2-1 after 40 minutes of play.

Smith got the Tigers on the board just 50 seconds into the period, talking a feed from Burt in close and sliding a shot between the legs of Noonan for his sixth goal of the year. Burt did a great job causing a turnover behind the Niagara net to get the puck to Smith.

From there, RIT had countless chances to go ahead but could not, as Noonan made save after save, many from point blank range to keep it tied. Twice, RIT tipped shots in tight past Noonan but through the crease and wide, as Brad Reid (Delta, British Columbia/South Delta) and Burt had great chances in close.

Noonan robbed Matt Garbowsky (St. George, Ontario/St. John's Collegiate) and Scott Knowles (Riverside, Ontario) in tight later in the period.

With RIT buzzing on a power-play, Robert Martini blocked a Tiger shot and sent Hannan into the clear in the neutral zone. With a Tiger defenseman set to catch him, Hannan fired a seemingly harmless shot from the right wing side towards the net that Madolora got a piece of, but trickled past for the shorthanded goal and a 2-1 Niagara lead.

The Tigers continued its pressure but could not the tying goal. Noonan made his best save on a back door attempt by Nolan Descoteaux (Dallas, TX) late in the period.
RIT and Niagara were ECAC West foes in the 1990's when both were Division III teams. The Tigers are 2-9-6 all-time against the Purple Eagles and are 0-6-4 since moving to Division I in 2005.

Tonight's game was the third of three meetings of the season between the two schools. In the first meeting of the season on Oct. 8, the two teams skated to a scoreless tie, RIT's one and only in 47 seasons of varsity hockey. Madolora made 32 saves in that contest, while Niagara's Cody Campbell stopped 30 shots. Last night, Ryan Murphy scored the hat-trick and added an assist in the Purple Eagles' 4-1 win at Dwyer Arena.

Tonight, the Tigers honored its Class of 2012. Scott Knowles (Riverside, Ontario), Mark Cornacchia (Unionville, Ontario), Taylor McReynolds (Sherwood Park, Alberta), Haltigin, Daniel Spivak (Thornhill, Ontario), Trevor Eckenswiller (Lions Head, Ontario) and Burt have combined to play in 875 games, while Madolora was the national leader in save percentage a season ago.

"As a group, our seniors all play important roles," said Wilson. "From the penalty-kill to the power-play, defense, offense, and goaltending, it's a tremendous group."

RIT is now 8-0-6 at home against AHA foes this season and 33-2-10 since the start of the 2011-12 season. All six of RIT's ties this season have come at Ritter Arena.

Air Force is the 2012 AHA regular season champion, while Niagara gets the No. 2 seed. RIT finishes third, while Mercyhurst gets the final first round bye as the fourth seed. Click here for complete standings.

The Tigers are off this weekend and will host a quarterfinal round series of the Atlantic Hockey Association Quarterfinals against a yet-to-be determined opponent in a best-of-three series starting Friday, March 9 at 7:05 p.m.

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