Courtesy RIT Athletic Communications
ERIE, PA – junior defenseman Lindsay Grigg (Oakville, Ontario/Oakville Hornets) scored with 6:17 left in the second overtime to lift the RIT women's hockey team (20-15-3) to the College Hockey America Championship, 2-1 over No. 8 Mercyhurst (23-8-4), 2-1 from the Mercyhurst Ice Center on Saturday afternoon. RIT wins the CHA Championship in just its second season as a Division I program and finishes the season by winning its last seven games.
"The girls played extremely hard and left it all on the ice to earn this championship," said RIT head coach Scott McDonald, who has now led his team to three conference championships over the last four seasons. "We came to compete this weekend and I couldn't be happier with this group."
Mackenzie Stone (Kars, Ontario/South Carleton) corralled a loose puck along the boards and fed a pass back to Grigg at the right point. Grigg, who was named to the CHA Championship All-Tournament Team, fired a rocket of a slap shot that eluded traffic in front and beat Mercyhurst goaltender Amanda Maklela over the blocker for her third goal of the season.
Grigg, who also assisted on Erin Zach (Elmira, Ontario/Cambridge Fury)'s second period power-play goal, blocked a career-high 12 shots and was a force all weekend for the Tigers.
In net, junior Ali Binnington (Oakville, Ontario/Mississauga Chiefs), the CHA Tournament Most Valuable Player, was simply phenomenal, stopping a career-high 62 of Mercyhurst's 63 shots in the game. She made 13 saves in the opening period, 20 in the second, 13 in the third, 14 in the first overtime, and two stops in the second overtime to pick up her 16th win of the season. She stopped an incredible 234-of-240 shots (.975 save percentage) over her last six games. Binnington, the CHA Goaltender of the Year, ended the season with a 16-9-2 mark, 1.72 goals against average, and .944 save percentage.
At 93:43, this is the longest game in the history of the RIT women's hockey program. Zach, Kourtney Kunichika (Fullerton, CA/LA Selects), and Binnington were named to the CHA Championship All-Tournament Team.
Mercyhurst out-shot RIT 63-25 in the contest, although the Tigers held a 7-2 edge in overtime. Christie Cicero scored Mercyhurst's lone goal, while Amanda Makela stopped 23 shots.
RIT was 1-for-7 with the man-advantage, while Mercyhurst was 0-for-7. The Tigers blocked 46 shots in the contest, including a team-high 12 by Grigg.
RIT is ineligible for the NCAA Tournament due to being in a two-year NCAA probationary period after moving up from Division III last season. RIT is eligible for the NCAA Tournament in 2014-15. Last season, the Tigers finished their first Division I season with a 16-16-5 mark.
"This (championship weekend) started with the staff preparing the girls the right way," said McDonald. "We left it in the players' hands and they responded with two tremendous efforts, both yesterday (a 4-1 win over Robert Morris) and today."
Neither team scored over the opening 20 minutes, with Mercyhurst holding a 13-4 edge in shots.
Binnington needed to come up huge on a Mercyhurst power-play early in the game, stopping four shots from point-blank range. Her best save came later in the period on a shot by Christine Bestland in close. In the final minute of the period, Emily Janiga came in on a 2-on-1 and fired a wrist shot just wide.
Zach had a great chance early on, stealing an errant Mercyhurst and going wide around a defender, but just sliding her shot wide of Makela. Caitlin Wallace (Brantford, Ontario/Assumption Collegiate) was robbed by Makela on a 2-on-1 chance after a great feed from Marissa Maugeri (Ajax, Ontario/Durham West Lightning) in the final minutes.
Mercyhurst fired 20 shots in the second period, but Binnington stole the show, keeping everything out. With 57.6 seconds left in the period, Zach came into the Mercyhurst zone on a power-play and fired a shot that Makela stopped, but the senior forward somehow poked the rebound through the goaltenders leg for her eighth goal of the season. Grigg drew the assist on the tally.
Both teams had 5-on-3 power-plays during the period, but were unable to score. RIT had 31 seconds of a two-man advantage midway through the period, while Mercyhurst had 1:08 of a 5-on-3 power-play with just under four minutes left.
Binnington was called upon to make several big saves and did a great job smothering many second chance opportunities. Mercyhurst attempted 35 total shots in the period.
The Lakers would get the tying goal with 14:25 left in the third period, as Cicero made a tremendous individual effort, skating through a pair of defenders on a RIT delayed penalty and roofing a perfect backhander over the glove of Binnington for her 16th goal of the season.
From there, Mercyhurst kept coming, but Binnington and the RIT defense did all they could, diving in front of shot to keep the game tied at 1-1. RIT had a power-play with 2:27 left in regulation, but could not get the go-ahead goal. Wallace had a good chance from the slot wheeling around to fire a good, low shot, but Makela was there to make the save.
In the first overtime, Binnington made the save of the game just two minutes in, as she absolutely robbed Megan Whiddon at the side of the net after making the original save on Kayleigh Chippy. Whiddon though she had the open side, but Binnington stretched her right pad across to keep the game tied.
RIT nearly ended it moments later, as Zach took a shot from the left side that Makela stopped. The rebound came to Caitlin Wallace (Brantford, Ontario/Assumption Collegiate), who was also stopped by the goaltender. Marissa Maugeri (Ajax, Ontario/Durham West Lightning) also had a whack at the loose puck and was denied.
RIT finished the season with a Division I program record 20 wins. The Tigers were 4-4-3 in 11 overtime games this season.
Today's game was the fifth and final regular meeting between the two schools this season, with the Lakers winning the season series, 3-2-0. Earlier in the season, the two teams split a weekend series at Ritter Arena, with Binnington stopping 42 shots in a 2-1 win on Nov. 22. The next day, Mercyhurst pulled out a 3-2 win. The Lakers defeated the Tigers at the Mercyhurst Ice Center on Feb. 7-8 by scores of 5-1 and 5-2. Binnington did not play in either game last month.
RIT is now 20-12 all-time in postseason contests at the Division I and III levels, since women's hockey was recognized as a NCAA Championship sport in 2001. Since Scott McDonald took over as head coach in 2006, RIT is 17-7 in the postseason, including a 15-3 mark at Ritter Arena. The Tigers are 14-1 at home in the postseason over the last four seasons, including a 5-0 mark en route to winning the 2012 NCAA Division III National Championship.
Last season, the Tigers advanced to the CHA Semifinals, defeating Penn State in a two-game sweep in the first round, both by one-goal outcomes, before falling to Syracuse in overtime of the semifinals.
The Tigers swept Penn State last weekend for the second straight season in the CHA First Round, winning 3-2 on an overtime goal by Brown in game one, and receiving 31 saves from Binnington in a 3-0 shutout in game two. Last night, RIT advanced to the championship after defeating No. 10 Robert Morris, 4-1 in the second semifinal. Kuncihika had a goal and an assist, while Melissa Bromley (Aurora, Ontario/Aurora Panthers), Carly Payerl (Kitchener, Ontario/Waterloo K-W Rangers), and Cassie Clayton (Pickering, Ontario/PEAC School) scored.
Mercyhurst defeated Syracuse in the first CHA Semifinal, 2-1 on Friday afternoon.
Today was the final collegiate games for Kunichika, Zach, and Melissa Bromley (Aurora, Ontario/Aurora Panthers). Kunichika finished her RIT career tied for fourth all-time at the university with 136 points on 54 goals and 82 assists, while playing in a school record 129 games. Zach recorded 73 points on 29 goals and 44 assists in 121 games, while Bromley had 36 points on 12 goals and 24 assists in 126 games. The group led RIT to a 90-34-89-35-11 record in four seasons with three conference titles and a NCAA Division III National Championship in 2012.
"We have a team full of proven winners that showed how to get it done this weekend," said McDonald.
College Hockey America All-Tournament Team
Forward- Kourtney Kunichika, RIT
Forward- Kayleigh Chippy, Mercyhurst
Forward- Shelby Bram, Mercyhurst
Defenseman- Lindsay Grigg, RIT
Defenseman- J'nai Mahadeo, Mercyhurst
Goaltender- Ali Binnington, RIT
Tournament MVP – Ali Binnington, RIT