Rensselaer men’s ice hockey took home its first win of the season in an exhibition match on Saturday against the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers. Although the game ended in a 3-3 tie—fueled by goals from three RPI freshmen—the game went into a shootout where freshman Brandon Pirri and junior Tyler Helfrich put the Engineers up 2-1 for the unofficial win. “It was good to get the first period game under our belt and obviously a great feeling to come from behind and win the game,” said Helfrich. “Although it’s labeled an exhibition game, we treated it like any other game, and I was proud of the guys for how hard we worked.”
The Engineers found themselves behind midway through the first frame as UPEI netted the first goal of the game at 10:25. Sophomore Panther Jared Gomes was able to collect a rebound from teammate Chad Locke and get the puck past sophomore goaltender Allen York to draw first blood of the game. Although York was able to clip part of the shot, he was unable to keep the puck from crossing the goal line. Freshman Jordan Knox also assisted on the play. Both teams battled to the end of the period in a brutally physical match, with the Canadian squad bringing its style of play to an Engineers team that has adapted more to the skating and passing game of the ECAC.
“Saturday was a bit more physical, you could say. I think that they had to play physical out there because it was evident we were a much faster team and they had to do something to try and slow us down,” said junior center Chase Polacek of the change in play.
Prince Edward Island ramped the lead up to two just over a minute into the second frame of play. On the point, sophomore Thomas Stryncl rifled a slap shot toward the Engineers’ net. The shot was deflected by Panthers sophomore Matt Carter past York for the 2-0 lead. With another Panther in the penalty box—UPEI took twice as many penalties in the game as RPI—Rensselaer showed both what its freshman class has to bring and what the squad’s improvements in special teams over the summer has brought to the program. Pirri cut the Panther’s lead in half at 13:46 of the second on a power play marker. Helfrich scooped the puck out of the left end boards, sending it up to freshman Jerry D’Amigo, who was just outside the Panther’s crease. UPEI freshman goaltender Wayne Savage blocked D’Amigo’s shot, but deflected it out to Pirri, who was able to backhand the puck right over Savage’s pads for his first collegiate goal. “It was a great feeling to get that first goal, the entire team was buzzing all game prior, but their goalie played well. It was a great effort by Helfrich to win his one on one battle, then for [D’Amigo] to throw the puck on net,” explained Pirri of his first contribution to the rebuilding team. “It really put me in a goal situation to get the monkey off the team’s back. It is much different from juniors. The teams are stronger and work harder, and the game pace is something that will take time getting adjusted to.”
With the Engineers down by only a single mark, UPEI was not quite ready to trade a 13-hour trip for a loss. The Panthers regained their two-goal lead just over 10 minutes into the third period with a wrist shot from freshman Dylan Quaile, beating Rensselear’s freshman goalie Bryce Merriam, who entered the game at the start of the frame to relieve York.
The game began to look bleak for a revamped Engineers squad, but two goals barely two minutes apart from two of the new recruits put RPI back on track to tie the game up at three. D’Amigo collected a pass from Polacek from the bottom of the left circle and wristed a shot past Savage to cut the deficit down to one at 12:13. Closing out the game’s scoring was freshman Marty O’Grady, who corralled a pass from sophomore Alex Angers-Goulet and netted a goal from the slot for the 3-3 tie. Both marks came on the man advantage, something Rensselaer had struggled with throughout last season. “I think right now the power play looks better. We have two extremely talented freshmen in D’Amigo and Pirri, and I think their vision and skill is going to help the power play a lot,” explained Helfrich. “It is nice to have [sophomore Mike] Bergin back and quarterbacking the one unit, and [junior Bryan] Brutlag looks great on the other. A lot of our success from the weekend came off hard work and support. If we stick to that, I think the power play will continue to get better.”
Both teams played to a scoreless sudden-death overtime period, prompting a shootout to declare a victor in the exhibition matchup. With the Engineers up first, Pirri used a few fancy moves to trick Savage and net the first shootout goal. Merriam, still in goal for RPI, blocked the attempt by UPEI to keep Rensselaer ahead. Polacek missed his attempt at a goal and was followed up by one from a Panthers forward, tying the marks at one. Up next for Rensselaer was Helfrich, who was able to get one past Savage, bringing RPI up once again. Securing the win, Merriam put a pad on the final UPEI attempt, keeping the shootout score at 2-1.
York finished with a two-period total of 12 saves, with Merriam clocking in 10 in the third period and overtime frame. On the other end of the rink, Savage ended the night with 33 stops—including 14 in the first period alone.
Some fans may have been dismayed to see the traditional Red & White game scrapped in favor of the exhibition match, but the players believed it will help the team in the long run; “I liked the exhibition game better then the usual Red & White game. We have put a lot of extra time into our training and have been beating each other up, preparing for the season for several months now. It was nice to have an opponent come to the Field House and have an opportunity to dress a full squad and work on more game like things,” said Helfrich. However, watching the team fight for the win is something to alleviate the fans’ worries for another dismal season. “It was an unbelievable feeling to get the win on Saturday like we did, coming back from two, two goal deficits,” added Pirri. “It really showed a lot about the team’s character and gave something for the RPI faithful to look forward to all year.”
Although the win will never appear in any of Rensselaer official record books, it is a step in the right direction for a team that had been ailing in the past. RPI hits the ice for its official season opener this Thursday at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, playing the Hockey East foe at 7 pm. The Engineers then return to the Houston Field House for a 7 pm matchup against the University of New Hampshire Wildcats on Saturday. “Last year, we got pushed around by UMASS, and that is in the back of our minds a little bit,” said Polacek of the upcoming match. “It is a new year and a new team and we will be going into Thursday’s game with the same attitude we will go into every game this year and that is to win. It will be a fun weekend of college hockey as we play two good teams from the Hockey East.”