RFA hockey loses late lead, falls in OT
ROME — With five minutes left in regulation, Ontario Bay cut the Rome Free Academy lead to one then tied the game with 40 seconds left before winning 5-4 in overtime on the road at Kennedy Arena Tuesday night.
The Black Knights lost two two-goal leads and were plagued by penalties all night.
"Two-goal lead in the third," noted RFA head hockey coach Jason Nowicki after the game. "We were right there to finish the game out."
Ontario Bay captain Zach Blevins picked RFA apart with all four regulation goals and an assist on the overtime winner. Nowicki said he liked how RFA defended Blevins in the first period, forcing him to pass or at least pushing him to the outside parts of the zone. But when RFA turned the puck over, he said, it seemed to go to Blevins, who made the Knights pay.
"We continued to play hard all night. We made plays most of the time when we needed to," Nowicki said, but late in the game the team didn't "pick up the most important stick on the ice" – the one in the hands of Blevins, the player with the second most points in the division.
RFA co-captain Jake Premo got the team off on the right foot, potting two goals a few minutes apart in the middle of the first period to give the Black Knights the 2-0 lead they took into the first intermission.
With 9:34 left in the first, Premo took a pass from fellow co-captain Tyler Wilson and swooped in on the left side. He cut to the net and sent a shot high to beat Ontario Bay goalie Colin Bennett top shelf.
He doubled the lead 2:23 later when he cleaned up a rebound off the initial shot by John Sharrino, tapping the puck home from where it sat in the crease.
The teams traded goals in the second before the visitors got their second to make it 3-2 RFA going into the final frame of regulation.
First it was Blevins whose long shot 6:26 into the period hit an RFA defender’s stick close to goal and deflected past goalie Donte Sparace. An assist went to Owen Newton.
With 4:11 left RFA reclaimed its two-goal edge when Johnny Wilson sent a laser-accurate cross-ice pass to Brandon Natale on the far post. Natale fired the puck into the back of the net from inches away. Wilson and Tanner Spina earned assists.
Blevins scored 49 seconds later when he sliced through the defense and sent a shot high and past Sparace. Bryce Goodnough assisted.
Natale picked up a second goal, again on a feed from Johnny Wilson, to put RFA up 4-2 with 4:43 elapsed in the third period. Wilson hit him as he skated between the circles and his wrist shot found the mark.
But with just over nine minutes left in regulation, RFA took a pair of penalties that gave Ontario Bay an opening. With a player already in the penalty box, co-captain Jacob Swavely was given a five-minute major for boarding. That put Ontario Bay on a five-on-three power play for 1:34. And though they didn't score with a two-man advantage, they did get one before Swavely's penalty expired. It was Blevins again, this time with a low shot that snaked through traffic and into the net on an assist from Joseph Brodeur.
"That changed the momentum of the game," said Nowicki. "We were a minute away from getting through that thing," he said of the five-minute penalty. RFA was short-handed six times on the night. "You're not going to win many games when you're in the box six times and they aren't at all."
Ontario Bay pulled the goalie to get an extra attacker on the ice in the final minute, and it worked. Blevins struck for his fourth goal, capping a mad scramble in front of the RFA net to tie the game 4-4.
In five-on-five overtime, Julian Watts cut through the RFA defense and snapped off a game-winnnig shot 1:24 into the extra time. Assists went to Blevins and Brodeur.
Bennett stopped 20 shots in the win. Sparace had 21 saves in the loss.
RFA falls to 10-4-4.
The Knights have two crucial divisional games left with major post-season seeding implications. First the team hosts Mohawk Valley at 7 p.m. Wednesday on Senior Night. Then it's at Cazenovia at 6:30 p.m. Friday.
"This one is going to hurt us in a lot of ways," Nowicki said. It means the third seed is likely out of the picture but could make even a four or five seed a challenge, he said. "Which is a big difference," he added. "And it's going to be a challenge to come back here tomorrow and bounce back."
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