By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
Now that Rochester Institute of Technology hasn’t just entered college hockey’s Top 20 but is maintaining a presence, the Tigers are intent on ensuring opponents know they deserve those votes.
Facing a possible trap weekend against the re-started program from Robert Morris University, RIT flexed its superiority from the first puck drop on Friday night and overwhelmed the Colonials, winning 4-1 at the Gene Polisseni Center.
The 19th-ranked Tigers outshot RMU 54-16, including 25-2 in the first period, and at no point was there ever a sense that they could lose.
Which is exactly how coach Wayne Wilson wanted it, though he admitted he had concerns. RIT (9-4 overall, 7-2 in Atlantic Hockey) was coming off a split on home ice against then-No. 10 New Hampshire. The Tigers won 5-4 in the opener – the first time in program history they have defeated a Top 10 team on home ice – and then lost a heartbreaker, 4-3 in overtime, the following night.
Next weekend they play at American International, one of Atlantic Hockey’s top teams. It would have been easy to look past Robert Morris (2-9-3, 1-7-2).
“We had a great weekend against a great team and we didn’t want to spoil it by getting off to a bad start this weekend,” said senior winger Cody Laskosky, who set up Carter Wilkie’s third-period goal and had a team-leading eight shots on RMU goalie Chad Veltri.
Caleb Moretz, Gianfranco Cassaro and Simon Isabelle also scored for the Tigers, who will look to complete the third AHA weekend sweep in Saturday’s 7:05 p.m. rematch.
While a ranking in December doesn’t mean a whole lot in the big picture, it’s still national recognition worth savoring. And there’s also motivation to justify being in the Top 20.
“When you know you’re up there with a lot of big-name schools, you want to make sure you’re playing to that level,” said first-year center Tyler Fukakusa, who set up the game’s first goal by Moretz 3:18 into the second period.
The Tigers did just that in the first period. The peppered Veltri from start to finish and rarely allowed the Colonials sustained offensive zone time.
Still, the game was scoreless at the first intermission and brought back memories of the Nov. 11 game against Mercyhurst. RIT led in shots that night 51-14 but lost 2-0.
“After the first period it’s a thought,” Laskosky admitted. “So it was super-nice to get that first one out of the way and just roll from there.”
That first goal came after Matthew Wilde forced a turnover by Cameron Hebert between the hash marks in the slot and, in the ensuing scramble, Fukakusa swatted a rebound toward the net, hit Moretz’s stick and slithered between Veltri’s legs.
“Sometimes you get a hot goalie but you just have to stick with it and keep getting pucks to the net,” Fukakusa said.
Cassaro extended the lead to 2-0 at 14:31 with his team-leading seventh goal. It also ended up as the game-winner, moving the fifth-year defenseman into a tie for the most in college hockey this year (five).
Wilkie’s goal off a two-on-one fast break 1:41 into the third period gave RIT a 3-0 lead but goalie Tommy Scarfone lost his bid for his second shutout of the season when a turnover led to a goal by Logan Ganie with just 3:26 to play.
Isabelle hit an empty net at 18:20 to inflate the score.
“I would have liked to see him get the shutout, I would have liked us to give up less opportunities, but I don’t have many complaints about tonight,” Wilson said.
One thing he definitely liked: The Tigers took just two minor penalties. They entered the night averaging 15 minutes a game, which was fourth-most in the country.
“That was a good first step,” Wilson said.