By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
If you want to do special things during the hockey season, Rochester Institute of Technology coach Wayne Wilson says, you need to author a few signature victories.
The Tigers did just that on Saturday night.
Gianfranco Cassaro, Carter Wilkie and Cody Laskosky scored goals and goalie Tommy Scarfone stopped all 36 shots as RIT blanked Notre Dame 3-0 in front of a raucous Brick City Homecoming crowd of 10,566 at Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial.
“This one’s special,” Laskosky said. “Sold out house, a program like Notre Dame. Very special.”
The homecoming game has become an annual staple, with RIT students and alum turning the downtown arena into a sea of orange and white. And the Tigers now are starting to make it an event to behold on the ice as well.
RIT (1-1) is now unbeaten in the past seven Brick City games, winning the past four, for an overall record of 7-5-4 in the October homecoming.
“It’s fun to go 4-0 in my career in this building,” defenseman Ryan Nicholson said.
The Tigers built a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by Cassaro and Wilkie, added insurance with a Laskosky goal in the second period, then clamped down and were never really under siege the rest of the way, despite having to kill a five-minute major.
“I thought we played a pretty patient game and when we got the chances, we capitalized,” Wilson said. “This was a great win but I can’t say it was unexpected.”
For Scarfone, the victory provided a little personal redemption. The last time the junior from Montreal faced the University of Notre Dame, he was making his NCAA debut in October of 2021. It was pretty much a nightmare.
Six of the 45 shots by the Fighting Irish found the net and RIT suffered an embarrassing 6-0 loss in South Bend, Ind. The night before, Wilkie had scored in overtime as the Tigers upended Notre Dame 3-2.
“We beat them my freshman year and then the next night was Tommy’s first game and I felt awful for him,” Wilkie said.
On Saturday, it was all smiles and high-fives afterward, with Scarfone getting the game puck for career shutout No. 6.
“He’s a different breed of human,” Wilkie said. “He’s one of the best goalies in the nation, hands down.”
Scarfone did need a little help from his defenders. He made 36 saves and another 18 shots were blocked, including three each by defensemen Aiden Hansen-Bukata, Dimitri Mikrogiannakis and Nicholson.
“That adds to their frustration when you’re blocking shots,” Wilson said.
A first-period block by Nicholson arguably ranked as one of the top five saves in the game. With the Tigers ahead 1-0 and Notre Dame on a five-on-three power play, Scarfone stopped a shot from the slot but the rebound skittered to the left of the crease.
Notre Dame winger Trevor Janicke was waiting and fired toward an open net but Nicholson sprawled and blocked the shot.
“I got in the way and prayed it was going to hit me,” Nicholson said. “It’s nice to help him out once in a while because he’s been helping me out all the time.”
Cassaro had given RIT an instant lead with a power-play goal just 2:57 into the game. Posting up in his usual power-play spot, the right circle, he took a pass from the center point from Hansen-Bukata and unloaded a laser that zipped high past goalie Ryan Bischel.
The Tigers then killed off the full two minutes of five-on-three Notre Dame power play starting at 6:19 before using the hands of Wilkie to take a 2-0 lead.
Laskosky moved the puck from the left corner to the left point, where Tanner Andrew curled toward center before feeding a pass to Wilkie at the left edge of the crease. Using his backhand, Wilkie chipped the puck toward the crease, then instantly moved to his forehand and essentially slam-dunked an in-tight shot at 12:26.
Wilkie is Atlantic Hockey’s reigning Player of the Year and was voted by the league’s coaches as the preseason player of the year earlier this month.
He assisted on Cassaro’s goal and helped create the goal by Laskosky.
“When he gets on the ice, he isn’t nervous about performing,” Wilson said. “Some guys think about it and they’re done.”
Said Wilkie: “I feel excitement. I just look at it as another game and another chance to prove our schedule.”
The Tigers maintained that 2-0 lead until 15:41 of the second period, when Wilkie helped set up Laskosky’s goal. He danced around one check and carried in on left wing. He was ridden off the puck on the boards but Laskosky, trailing the play, pounced, moved into the circle and, using defenseman Ryan Siedem as a screen, snapped a shot past Bischel.
The Irish had a great opportunity to narrow the gap when Tigers first-year forward Christian Catalano was given a major penalty and game misconduct for a check to the head.
But RIT killed the five-minute power play. Scarfone made one terrific save, turning aside a one-timer by Danny Nelson with 1:10 remaining in the second period, while a host of defenders made shot blocks.
While the 3-0 lead looked large, Wilkie said there was never really a feeling of comfort.
“Not against a team like Notre Dame,” he said. “There was a bit of a cushion but you can’t take your foot off the gas.”
Rare visit to Rochester by the Irish
The last time Notre Dame traveled to Rochester for a high-profile sporting event was in men’s basketball. The Irish played St. Bonaventure at the War Memorial on the afternoon of Jan. 14, 1978, and drew a sellout crowd of 8,123, then a Rochester record for college basketball.
Notre Dame edged the Bonnies 79-78, with the winning margin provided by Bill Laimbeer free throws in the closing minute.
The game grossed a little more than $50,000, according to the Democrat and Chronicle, with $30,000 going to Notre Dame while St. Bonaventure received $10,000. Notre Dame hired the Bishop Kearney band to be their band for the day.