Setting the Scene...The 11th seed Sacred Heart men's ice hockey team travels to six-seed RIT for the first round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. The best-of-three series opens Friday night at the Gene Polisseni Center.
Last Time Out... The Pioneers closed the regular season with a 4-3 loss at Army West Point last Saturday. Vito Bavaro got SHU on the board with the power play goal at 17:35 in the first to tie the game at 1-1. The Black Knights put up two straight goals in the second to jump ahead before Austin McIlmurray cut the deficit to one at 14:14 in the second. Army scored off the Pioneers miscue just 36 seconds into the third to push ahead 4-2. Kory Kennedy got SHU back within one at 11:51 but late penalties severed the Pioneers chances at tying things up. Brett Magnus recorded 13 saves in goal.
Last Meeting... The Pioneers came up big late to earn the 5-3 win over RIT this past Saturday for the series split. Austin McIlmurray and Vito Bavaro potted goals in the first as SHU earned the 2-1 lead. RIT tied things up in the second before both teams traded goals to start the third period as Zach Tsekos scored for the Pioneers. SHU worked the puck through the RIT zone with a minute to go as Mike Crocock broke the 3-3 tie with 52 seconds to go. Tsekos made the stellar defensive play for the empty net goal to seal the win. Brett Magnus recorded 22 saves in his 11th win of the season.
All-Time Series... The all-time series lead belongs to RIT at 23-7-2. The Pioneers and Tigers have split the last four meetings between both teams over the last two seasons. SHU earned the 5-1 win in its last game at the Polessini Center last year.
Scouting The Tigers... RIT locked up the sixth seed in Atlantic Hockey with 27 points, getting swept by regular season champs Mercyhurst last weekend. Erik Brown has been on a tear with 11 goals in the last five games. He paces the RIT offense with 28 goals and 39 points. Myles Powell is the leading distributor for the Tigers with 23 assists. Christian Short has recorded a 3.02 goals against average and a 6-6-0 record in 12 games in goal for the Tigers. RIT enters the weekend with the second best scoring offense in the league at 3.12 goals per game.
First Round Matchup... The Pioneers will open the first round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs on the road for the third straight season. SHU battled Bentley to the decisive game three in each of the last two seasons, falling 4-1 in 2016 and 3-2 in double overtime a season ago. The Pioneers and RIT have met just one time in the playoffs with the Tigers taking home the Atlantic Hockey Championship with a 6-1 win in 2010.
20-Point Performers... SHU has five skaters reach the 20-point mark during the regular season, the first time since the 2015-16 season. Five underclassmen lead the way in sophomores Vito Bavaro (29), Austin McIlmurray (20) and Zach Tsekos (20) along with freshmen Marc Johnstone (26) and Matt Tugnutt (22) reached 20 points through 34 regular season games. Johnstone and Tugnutt are tied for the team lead with 16 assists; the last rookie to lead SHU in assists was Justin Danforth '17 with 24 in 2013.