By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
Defenseman Dan Willett is making the most of his final year on the ice at Rochester Institute of Technology – and making sure it lasts a little longer.
While freshman goalie Tommy Scarfone continually turned aside great scoring chances by Sacred Heart, Willett took care of the scoring as the Tigers began their playoff push on Friday night.
His goal 10:17 into overtime gave RIT a 1-0 victory over Sacred Heart in Game 1 of the best-of-three Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals at the Gene Polisseni Center.
The Tigers and Pioneers play again at 7:05 p.m. Saturday and, if Sacred Heart wins, will play the deciding game at 5:05 p.m. Sunday.
While Willett was the scoring hero, Scarfone was the reason RIT was victorious. He made at least a half-dozen five-bell saves, including a pair on defenseman Hunter Sansbury in overtime.
“All game he was outstanding,” Tigers coach Wayne Wilson said.
The Tigers were outshot 39-26 in the game, including 13-4 in the third period and 11-1 in overtime. Yet they won because of Scarfone, who posted his second career shutout.
That’s called stepping up when called upon. “If you’re going to win a championship, that’s what you need,” Willett said.
Timely scoring helps as well, and Willett provided the only goal with a perfectly placed wrist shot from the right point that found the top right corner of the net midway through overtime – on the Tigers’ first shot in nearly 15 minutes.
Sacred Heart goalie Justin Robbins immediately argued with the officials, saying he was denied a chance to make the save by Tigers forward Tanner Andrew.
After Kobe Walker moved up the right-wing boards and then fed Willett at the point, Andrew drove to the net from along the end line. There was contact, but it was difficult to determine if Andrew was angled toward Robbins by defender John Jaworski.
Referees Adam Tobias and Kenneth Gates asked for video review and, after watching the overhead view, ruled the goal was legal, and the Tigers celebrated again.
For Willett, a graduate-student senior, the goal was his third of the season, and first since Feb. 1 against Sacred Heart. All three have been game-winners.
“I saw we had a good screen in front so I was just trying to shoot it to one side of the screen,” Willett said.
He picked the right side. Literally.
With Nick Bruce in the deep slot and Andrew knifing to the front, Willett let fly with the perfect shot.
He gave much of the credit to Walker for the play along the boards, curling away from one defender and forcing the winger to collapse to him.
“He drew my guy with him so I had a little more time,” Willett said. “I could get my head up and survey.”
Wilson was just glad Willett shot the puck. Too often, he said, the Tigers passed up good shots in an effort to be creative.
“That was a good lesson – we had an opportunity to shoot and did,” Wilson said. “On our power play, we had so many chances to shoot but wanted to pass. Are we playing keep-away?
“It sounds simple but sometimes you can outthink yourself. Just get the puck on net.”
Notes: Tigers leading scorer Will Calverley played only two shifts. He was pounded to the ice by an illegal hit to the head from Sacred Heart’s Ryan Steele just 89 seconds into game.
Steele was ejected and Calverley went to the medical room. He returned for one shift but spent the rest of the game on the bench.
Wilson said illness has been running through the team, that Calverley hadn’t felt all that well on Friday, so they’re not sure if it was concussion symptoms or illness that had him feeling sick to his stomach later in the game.
The Tigers had gone 130 minutes ad 57 seconds without a goal (losing 1-0 at Air Force in the regular season finale).
This is the third meeting between RIT and Sacred Heart in the past four seasons. The team winning Game 1 lost the series. RIT won 5-4 in overtime to start the 2018 series and the Pioneers won Game 2 in OT 4-3, and 2-0 in Game 3.
In 2019, Sacred Heart started the series with a 9-4 in but RIT rebounded to post 7-3 and 3-1 wins.