Men’s ice hockey routs RIT in NCAA Tournament opener

Men's ice hockey routs RIT in NCAA Tournament opener

Max Molski

Quinnipiac men’s ice hockey won its first NCAA Hockey Tournament game since 2013 with a 4-0 victory over the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers in the East Regional semifinal Saturday afternoon at the Times Union Center in Albany.

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“It was a nice, resilient win,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “Probably not our best game, but I thought we were resilient. As we’ve done all year, we found ways to win hockey games.”

RIT nearly got on the board first midway through the opening period. Erik Brown had a breakaway chance but Quinnipiac goalie Michael Garteig made a sliding pad save with his right leg en route to a 27-save shutout, bringing him to eight for his senior season.

“Their goalie made a lot of good saves tonight,” RIT captain Alexander Kuqali said. “That’s just the way it was. Sometimes you just run into a hot goaltender like that.”

Travis St. Denis got Quinnipiac on the board with 5:05 left in the first. Sam Anas sent a pass to St. Denis at the top of the right faceoff circle and he ripped the one-timer short side past RIT goaltender Mike Rotolo.

Anas, who did not return to the ECAC Tournament Championship game after being slammed from behind into the boards in the first period, was listed as a game-time decision for Saturday night’s contest. Yet, Pecknold said he wanted to get what he could out of his First Team All-ECAC forward.

“I felt like he could give us something on the power play tonight and maybe some shifts here and there and if we had to go 11 forwards, we’d go 11 forwards,” Pecknold said. “He made a great play on the power play and that was a big goal.”

The goal was St. Denis’ 10th power-play goal of the season, tying him for second in the country with Anas and Michigan’s Kyle Connor. The Bobcats scored three goals on the advantage in its ECAC Hockey Tournament Championship win over Harvard and came into Saturday’s game with the fourth best power-play percentage in the country.

“Our power play is one of our strengths as our team,” St. Denis said. “We knew, early on, if we were going to get a power play early, we’d have to score on it. Lucky enough, my shot went in.”

RIT had a chance to tie the game early in the second period. The puck rolled around the crease but Devon Toews, Alex Miner-Barron and Quinnipiac’s three other skaters on the ice pig-piled into the crease and kept the puck out of the net.

“I don’t think many of us know what happened on that play,” Toews, who also had three assists in the contest for the Bobcats, said. “We just tried to bail [Garteig] out as much as we can. He does the same for us.”

The Bobcats padded their lead 2:27 into the final period. Tim Clifton threw in a centering pass to Scott Davidson in front of the net and lifted the puck in for his third goal of the postseason.

“Getting that second goal was obviously huge for us,” Quinnipiac captain Soren Jonzzon said. “We were happy going into the third with a lead, but we knew that if we got one more, it would give us a little bit of a buffer and take some of the wind out of [RIT’s] sails.”

Connor Clifton, who won the 2016 ECAC Championship Most Outstanding Player Award, picked up his ninth assist of the postseason as he sent a no-look back-handed pass to Soren Jonzzon. The captain knocked the pass in to make it 3-0 and solidified Quinnipiac’s 4-0 victory with an empty-netter with 2:50 left in the game.

With the win, the Bobcats advance to the East Regional Final. They will face the winner of the other NCAA East Regional semi-final contest between UMass-Lowell and Yale. Although Jonzzon admits the fans would be excited for another edition of the Battle of Whitney Ave., he says that his team is prepared for either opponent.

“Either way, the way it falls, they’re both strong teams,” Jonzzon said. “Either way, we’ll be ready to go.”

*To see The Chronicle’s full photo album from the game, CLICK HERE.

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