By KEVIN OKLOBZIJA
When Rochester Institute of Technology assistant coach Dave Insalaco went on a recruiting trip to Ontario to see the Kemptville 73s a few years back, he was was hoping to lure Jason Tackett to the Henrietta campus.
Instead, another forward on the Ron Tugnutt-coached Junior A team caught his eye.
Now, three years later, that forward, Erik Brown, continues to play a prominent role in the Tigers offense as a power winger on a line with Gabe Valenzuela and Abbott Girduckis.
Brown scored one goal, the game-winner, and assisted on another as RIT completed the weekend swept of Robert Morris University with a 5-2 victory on Saturday night at the Gene Polisseni Center.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound junior winger also scored the winning goal in Friday’s 5-3 victory over the Colonials. Through nine games, he leads RIT in goals with six and is fourth in scoring with 10 points.
And while he has good hands, as his team-best 16 goals and 27 points proved last season, he succeeds because of another asset.
“He works his tail off, that’s his best attribute,” said RIT coach Wayne Wilson, whose club is off to a 5-1 start in Atlantic Hockey (5-3-1 overall). “That team he played on (in the Central Canada Hockey League) was really good that year and we were interested in Tackett (who ended up at Ferris State) but Dave came back and really liked Brown.”
A biomedical engineering major, Brown likewise liked what RIT offered from a hockey standpoint.
“I loved the coaching staff and I liked the direction of the program,” he said. “They liked the style I play and they thought I’d fit with the direction they want to go. I go into the corners, get pucks, create turnovers.”
He also goes to the front of the net and, once there, is pretty tough to move. His net front presence is the biggest reason why Chase Norrish was able to give the Tigers a bit of a comfort zone late in the second period. With Brown screening goalie Andrew Pikul, Norrish’s shot from the right circle found the net at 17:24 for a 4-2 lead.
“That’s what I’ve always done,” said Brown, a 22-year-old native of Keene, Ontario. “I’ve always been the guy they’ve stuck in front of the net.”
His goal on Saturday actually came by going to the net. Valenzuela led the rush into the RMU zone but had the puck poke-checked away by defenseman Alex Bontje deep in the slot.
Brown, however, was right behind, picked up the loose puck and fired it home, breaking a 2-2 tie at 3:54 — just 36 seconds after the Colonials had tied it.
The Tigers then relied greatly on goalie Logan Drackett in the third period to complete the sweep. He stopped all 15 shots he faced, and made 34 saves in the game.
“We’ve played a lot of close games and we’re getting more comfortable in that situation,” Wilson said.
The Tigers play a pair next weekend at Air Force, where it’s never easy to win, but they’ll go there feeling good about their play.
“Getting four points on any weekend is absolutely huge, especially against a team like this (Robert Morris),” Brown said. “It’s tough to breathe out there (because of the higher elevation in Colorado Springs), but if we take the style of play we’ve been playing into Colorado, we should be fine.”