ROCHESTER — It was 16 degrees with a steady snow. Hardly ideal conditions for an important Atlantic Hockey matchup.
But then again, that’s part of the mystique of the outdoor game and made the battle between Niagara and RIT a bit more intriguing.
Niagara rallied for a goal in the third period and the teams skated to 2-2 tie in front of 4,760 at Frontier Field in the first outdoor game for both teams.
Overtime is nothing new between these teams. This was the eighth time in the last 11 meetings they’ve gone to the extra period. The teams are 1-1-6 in those OT outings.
“I think in the spirit of what this game is about, playing outdoors and in the city of Rochester … a 2-2 tie is probably perfect in the spirit of fun and stuff,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “It’s a big point for us. We’ll take it. There was a lot of good in the game. We had several chances in overtime but couldn’t get the winner.”
It wasn’t just the spirit of the outdoor game, it was the outdoor elements itself which caused problems for team, especially through the first two periods.
The snow slowed the game down, both in puck movement and overall time. Pucks didn’t travel far, getting stuck in snow piles on the ice and passing was a challenge at best.
The snow also extended timeouts as crew members went out with shovels to clear the ice.
“The weather dictated how you were going to play, not your opponent or yourself,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “We tried to play conservative out there. … When you get a game that has that much snow in the first two periods, in particular, it’s a hard game to play. You’re hoping it doesn’t end on a fluke at all.”
There were no flukes and after an even first period, the game started to get more physical with more penalties. At 4:15 with Niagara on the power play, the Purple Eagles went back to regroup in their own zone. RIT forward Brandon Thompson drilled Kevin Ryan from behind. Thompson received a five-minute major for hitting from behind and a game misconduct. Ryan left the game with a shoulder injury.
The Purple Eagles had 1:07 of 5-on-3 but couldn’t take advantage. As the power play continued, they generated some shots and pressure, but again couldn’t convert and a holding penalty to Stephen Pietrobon negated the final 48 seconds of man advantage.
Niagara got on the board with a 5-on-5 goal.
Vince Muto skated in behind the RIT net and passed to Matt Chartrain who was charging to the front of the net. Chartrain jammed the puck past freshman Mike Rotolo to give the Purple Eagles a 1-0 lead at 11:42 of the second.
But penalties started to cost Niagara and the Tigers tied the game at 17:12 when Dan Schuler put in a rebound from the high slot beating Jackson Teichroeb.
The Tigers took a 2-1 lead with just 1:10 left in the period when Danny Smith grabbed another rebound and drilled it pat Teichroeb.
“We were trying to get the pucks and let them try to handle the puck in the snow,” Wilson said. “We didn’t want to handle the puck in the snow. You couldn’t even really ice it almost. We were just trying to get the pucks deep, get shots on the net, wait for a break and we got a couple of breaks.”
But then the snow let up and Niagara picked up the pace of play.
With less snow, the skating speed picked up and the puck moved faster. With about six minutes gone, Niagara’s Rocky Gruttadauria had a shot that went off the cross bar on the glove side of Rotolo. Muto threw a puck on net during a Niagara power play that hit the post.
Finally at 11:45 the Purple Eagles found the equalizer as Mike Benedict won the faceoff in the RIT zone and pulled it back to Ryan Rashid who fired the puck past Rotolo.
“I thought Ryan Rashid was one of the best players on the ice,” Burkholder said. “It was nice that he got rewarded with that faceoff goal.”
In overtime, Niagara carried the play, holding a 6-0 advantage in shots but couldn’t get the puck through.
The Purple Eagles hold a 10-1-7 lead in the series. The only win for the Tigers came in 2012 when they knocked the Purple Eagles out of the conference tournament in the semifinal game.
RIT has been on a surge, winning its last five games. The streak coincides with the insertion of Rotolo into the lineup. The Rochester native made his debut Nov. 23 against St. Lawrence, making 26 saves in the 6-4 win. He has started every game since, including his first collegiate shutout Nov. 30 at Sacred Heart, to start his college career with a 5-0-0 mark. He now moves to 5-0-1.
On the flip side, Niagara has been struggling to find, well, anything consistent.
The Purple Eagles entered Frozen Frontier on a five-game losing streak and without a win away from Dwyer Arena.
Both teams are off until after the first of the year. Niagara returns to action playing at Bentley Jan. 3-4 before finally returning home to Dwyer to host American International on Jan. 10-11.
RIT plays next at Connecticut on Jan. 3-4.
Niagara and RIT will meet again for a home-and-home series on Jan. 24-25.