March 21, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Mercyhurst Continues Hot Streak; RIT Foiled Again

by Kevin Oklobzija/Special to CHN

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — This was a tale of two fates — as things often are in sports.

For the second straight season, RIT — which has been so successful in his Division I infancy, but hasn't been able to yet make the NCAAs — was unable to get past the semifinals in front of a hometown crowd. And the expected dream matchup with Air Force, the team it tied in the regular season standings, was foiled.

On the other hand, there's Mercyhurst, which was overlooked much of the year because of a slow start. But the Lakers were perhaps the hottest Atlantic Hockey team down the stretch, finished third, and has carried it over into the postseason.

And Mercyhurst shook off a dramatic final-minute goal by RIT to tie it, and turned it around with its own dramatics, from Chris Risi. It was just Risi's sixth goal of the season.

"He's not a gifted scorer," Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said, "but he's an unbelievable hard-worker. You couldn't ask for a better kid on your team."

Risi was near the end of his shift and didn't expect his shot from the left of the slot to go in.

"Of course I was shooting to score, but I saw one of our guys going to the net and I just hoped for the best, hoped to get a rebound," Risi said.

Despite allowing the tying goal to Cameron Burt with 59.4 seconds to play in regulation, Mercyhurst dominated overtime.

RIT goalie Jared DeMichiel made two great gloves saves in the first minute, one on Cody Collins just 12 seconds into OT, and another on Scott Pitt at 46 seconds.

“They probably should have scored on two shots earlier,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said.

Obviously there was no anguish about being forced to OT.

"We got out to a great start in overtime and everyone could just feel it on the bench, we were all buzzing," Pitt said.

"My biggest concern was how RIT scored late," Lakers coach Rick Gotkin said. "We had five guys in front of the net and they had two. But I decided (between periods) I'm not even going to talk about the tying goal, it's over, let's just go play."

DeMichiel was a surprise starter. He broke his right wrist (blocker hand) last week and couldn't play against Holy Cross in the AHA quarterfinals. But he adapted well to a cast on his wrist and his only limitations were with puck-handling.

"I didn't have too many shots to my blocker side," DeMichiel said. "I don't know why but all they were shooting was glove side."

Last year, RIT lost to Air Force, 5-0, in the semis.

“It makes me wish I had more years here,” RIT senior right winger Jesse Newman said. “We did everything we needed to do to get here. But when it comes down to it, you need to win the playoff games. We just didn’t get it done.”

Some guys do have more years, but are running out of time.

“This is definitely a tough pill to swallow,” RIT junior defenseman Alan Mazur said. “We’re running out of years to say, ‘Next year,’"

Wilson tried to keep it in perspective, for a program that has been D-I for four years.

“I don’t want to let this game tarnish what we’ve accomplished all year,” Wilson said, pointing to the 20-6-2 AHA regular-season record and 23-13-2 overall mark, as well as the AHA regular-season championship in 2006-07.

“We’re still a very, very young Division I program. What we’ve accomplished in this very short time is nothing short of unbelievable.”

The Tigers vaulted to a 3-1 lead in just over 26 minutes on goals by Burt, Alan Mazur and Anton Kharin, but they couldn’t hold it.

Mercyhurst (22-14-3) then shrugged off Burt’s tying goal and dominated what turned out to be a brief OT, earning a repeat trip to the AHA title game. The Lakers meet Air Force, the team that beat them 5-4 in double OT last spring.

“We feel fortunate to get a chance to play again,” Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said.

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