The geometry didn’t make much sense, but the only math the Union College hockey team cared about at the time was two plus one equals three.
From a very tight angle, 6-foot-3 sophomore forward Sebastian Vidmar tipped a puck over the right shoulder of RIT goalie Mike Rotolo and just inside the far right corner of the net to break a 2-2 tie at 12:21 of the third period on Friday night.
That stood up as the game-winner, as the Dutchmen (3-1-1) added two empty-net goals in the final 44 seconds to beat the Tigers 5-2 before 2,017 in the home opener at Messa Rink.
Special teams played a big role in the outcome, as Union weathered six RIT power plays without giving up a goal and scored on three of nine with their own man advantage.
As pretty and improbable as Vidmar’s goal was, head coach Rick Bennett pointed out how it was a product of more subtle aspects of Union’s game, the grinding hard work that puts players in a position to score in the first place. That certainly was the case on the first of two goals by senior captain Mike Vecchione, who won a goal-mouth scramble to beat Rotolo for a 2-1 Union lead at 18:50 of the second period.
On Vidmar’s score, J.C. Brassard flung the puck in from the left point as two RIT defensemen charged at him, leaving Vidmar camped with his back to Rotolo on the left post to make something happen with the puck sailing way wide of the net. He reached out and got his blade on it waist-high, and redirected it through the tiniest of gaps over the goalie’s shoulder.
“I think it was only me that knew it was going in,” Vidmar said. “Puck came up the ice, I see both their guys went at him [Brassard], so I figured I’d stay back and hope I get the rebound. But the puck goes there, and I stuck my stick out.”
“I think it started before that with his hustle to get down there and battle,” Bennett said. “Obviously, that third goal was huge.”
After a scoreless first period, RIT got a fluke goal 25 seconds into the second period on a geometry lesson Union defensemen Jeff Taylor and Greg Campbell would like to have skipped.
While trying to clear the defensive zone, Campbell pushed an errant pass right to the stick of RIT’s Erik Brown, who fired a low shot that goalie Alex Sakellaropoulos blocked away right to Taylor skating back toward the net. Taylor attempted to shove it clear of the net to the end boards, but instead angled it right in his own net with Sakellaropoulos in no position to do anything about it for a 1-0 RIT lead.
“Obviously, you want to come back from burying one in your own goal, but the team did a good job,” Taylor said. “I know it’s a freak play and it’s not going to happen all the time. To be honest, I was just trying to look past it.”
“Sometimes you get on your heels a little bit,” Bennett said. “Hey, it’s a team game . . . Where were our forwards? And then instead of having a 30-foot pass, maybe let’s have a 5- or 10-foot pass, make it simple. Because when we did that tonight, we came up the ice clean and we had some speed.”
Spencer Foo tied it at 14:37 of the second while the Tigers were in the midst of five straight minor penalties in a span of 7:27.
After Vecchione’s grinding goal made it 2-1 late in the second, Caleb Cameron tied it 1:40 into the third period, eight seconds after Union had killed a penalty.
Vecchione’s second goal, an empty-netter to make it
4-2 with 44 seconds left, came on the power play.
RIT (1-2-1) came into the game averaging 44 shots per game through three games, but was outshot 34-18 by the Dutchmen.
“It was nice to see that the power play kicked in,” Bennett said. “[Assistant coaches] Jason Tapp has done a nice job with that, and Matt Alvey has kicked it in with the PK.
“Obviously, they were on the PK an awful lot, but it [limiting shots on goal] was a focal point for us. That was a great challenge, to try to prevent them to 25 shots, because that’s a very dangerous team.”
“There’s no quit in this team,” Vecchione said. “That’s a positive sign right now. We have the depth and the strength and the legs in the third to wear teams out and get that last goal.
“We started moving our legs, got a couple power plays, buried one and started rolling from there.”
Union is home again today with a 4 p.m. game against Niagara.
RIT 0 1 1 — 2
Union 0 2 3 — 5
First period — None. Penalties — Mikowski, RIT (hooking), 1:46; Vidmar, U (hooking), 3:51; Lichtenwald, U (hooking), 11:07; DeSimone, U (hooking), 12:48; Kerins, RIT (slashing), 13:13; Smith, RIT (holding), 13:49.
Second period — 1, RIT, Brown 2 (ua), :25. 2, Union, Foo 3 (Supinski, Vecchione), 14:37 (pp). 3, Union, Vecchione 2 (Supinski, Taylor), 18:50 (pp). Penalties — DeSimone, U (hooking), 3:42; Light, U (interference), 5:28; Brady, RIT (interference), 10:27; Abt, RIT (interference), 11:32; Skirving, RIT (checking), 12:27; Skirving, RIT (checking), 12:27; Norrish, RIT (hooking), 17:55; Burton, U (tripping), 19:32.
Third period — 4, RIT, Cameron 2 (ua), 1:40. 5, Union, Vidmar 2 (Brassard), 12:21. 6, Union, Vecchione 3 (Foo), 19:16 (pp). 7, Union, Lichtenwald 1 (Walker), 19:46. Penalties — Brubacher, RIT (hooking), 17:18.
Shots on goal — RIT, 7-6-5—18; Union, 12-8-14—34.
Power-play opportunities — RIT, 0 of 6; Union, 3 of 9.
Goaltenders — RIT, Rotolo 1-2-1 (32 shots-29 saves); Union, Sakellaropoulos 3-0-0 (18-16).
Attendance — 2,017.
Referees — Robert St. Lawrence, Chris Pitoscia. Linesmen — Ryan Knapp, Michael Zyla.