With new seasons come new beginnings; however, the women’s hockey team seems to be continuing the way it finished off the last. This past weekend, the Engineers went undefeated in the first official games of the season, defeating the Wayne State University Warriors by a score of 2-1 on Friday night, followed by a scoreless tie of the Midwest rivals on Saturday. Rensselaer is now 1-0-1 on the new year, while Wayne State dropped to 0-1-1.
“It was great to start the season off on a good foot and get that first win. It was disappointing not to get the sweep, but we still had a pretty good game on Saturday,” said junior goaltender Sonja van der Bliek of the weekend play.
After both teams skated through a scoreless opening period on Friday evening, senior co-captain Laura Gersten was able to place RPI on the boards first at 14:18 of the second. Following Wayne State senior Christine Jefferson’s hooking call, the Engineers saw an opening and took advantage of it to draw first blood of the game. Hanging out on the point, Gersten received a pass from classmate Whitney Naslund, and sent a slap shot from high in the slot past Warriors senior goaltender Lindsay Park for her first official goal of the season. Nearly three minutes later, RPI struck again; although this time, the tables were turned. After sophomore Sierra Vadner was tabbed for an interference penalty, Rensselaer’s talented special teams took to the ice and turned the man disadvantage into a 2-0 lead. Carrying the puck into the offensive zone, Naslund surprised the Wayne State defenders by dropping the puck back to sophomore center Alisa Harrison, who quickly executed the shot for the game’s second goal. Senior co-captain and line mate of Naslund and Harrison, Allison Wright, was credited with the second assist. “I was just glad I was able to help the team get on the scoreboard in a close game,” said Harrison of her first goal of the new season. “It’s not about the numbers; I want to play more consistent this year so that each game I can do what I can to help us get a win.”
Scoring for the Engineers didn’t end there. Naslund collected her third point of the night—this time a goal—for the eventual game-winner. With 46 seconds remaining on the clock to intermission, Gersten made a point-to-point pass to sophomore defensive partner Katie Daniels, who connected with Naslund in the slot. Naslund one-timed her shot and wrapped the puck around a defender straight into the right corner of the net for the 3-0 lead.
The Warriors mounted a comeback in the third stanza, but could not tie the game up. Wayne State’s first goal of the game came just over three minutes into the start of the third period. Freshman Warrior Julie Hebert rushed into the Engineers’ zone, and, although her shot nicked the right post, it deflected to the back of the net past van der Bliek to cut the lead to two. Wayne State’s second goal came with three minutes remaining in the game, as freshman Gina Buquet jammed the rebound of senior Katrina Protopapas through a pileup in front of the net for her first goal of the season. In an attempt to tie the game and send it into an overtime period, Wayne State pulled Park with 39 ticks left on the clock, but could not solve Rensselaer’s defense even with the man advantage. Naslund nearly netted her second of the game as the puck ricocheted off the right post with seconds remaining in the game.
In net, van der Bliek stopped 23 shots for the home standing Engineers, while Park shouldered the loss with 32 saves. The win was also the first season-opening victory for RPI since its 4-0 win over Sacred Heart University in 2005.
“It was great to get the first win in the first game. Mostly because it’s a confidence booster, and it’s nice to start the season off on the right foot,” explained Harrison of the win.
Similar to the last series between the two teams in 2007, RPI and Wayne State skated the second game to a tie, although this time it was a battle of the best goaltender, with the final score ending 0-0. “We worked hard all game and the bounces just didn’t go our way,” said Harrison. “We hit a lot of posts and had great scoring chances. We just can’t get frustrated and have to come out next weekend and set the net on fire.”
Van der Bliek, returning between the pipes for the Engineers in game two of the non-conference series, stopped all 21 shots faced to earn her first shutout of the season, on her way to topping her own single season school record of five shutouts in a year. “I guess a shutout always feels good, but I would sacrifice that shutout for a win in a second,” explained van der Bliek of her impressive performance.
Rensselaer put forth an offensive onslaught in the first period combined with strong defensive tactics from the team’s blue liners to uphold a 12-5 advantage in shots in the opening 20 minutes of play. Hungry to score, both teams picked up their respective games, combining for a total of 22 shots on net in the second frame.
The Engineers held several scoring opportunities in the second, including an assault of the Warriors’ net by the line of Naslund, Harrison, and Wright. Naslund started the attack with a pass to Harrison in the slot. Harrison whipped a shot at Wayne State sophomore goaltender Delayne Brian and collected her own rebound for a second attempt. The puck rebounded to Naslund as she made her own attempt, sending the puck between Brian’s legs and off the post, into the corner. Harrison quickly scooped up the puck and sent it back to Naslund at the left circle for another chance at the ice breaker, but was denied by Brian.
“I love playing with [Naslund and Wright]. On the bench, during games, and in practice, they are always pushing me, and I try to do the same for them. That kind of communication and motivation we get from each other translates into good chemistry in games,” boasted Harrison of her linemates—Rensselaer’s top-offensive unit—who combined for two goals and three assists over the weekend.
Wayne State had the best opportunity of the third, as sophomore Micheline Frappier grabbed the puck off an Engineer in the neutral zone and rushed toward van der Bliek on a shorthanded breakaway. Van der Bliek made the save on the right post, with help from senior Allysen Weidner to keep the game scoreless.
Both teams went into the sudden death overtime hungry for the win. Although RPI held a 3-1 shot advantage, neither squad was able to place on the board. The tie was the Engineers’ first scoreless knot since entering Division I. The last time Rensselaer skated to a scoreless decision was in 2001 against the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers, a Division-III school.
Next weekend, the Engineers hit the road to face another member of the CHA, Niagara University, for a two-game series. The two teams last met a year ago at the Houston Field House, where RPI came away with two wins. “Niagara is an entirely different team this year with a new head coach. We expect them to be tough competition, but we are definitely looking for two wins,” predicted van der Bliek.
Following the games against Wayne State, Rensselaer received a vote to the national poll. Although the team did not crack the Top-10, it is a step in the right direction for the young program. “A sweep this weekend could definitely get us some more votes in the national poll. However, I feel like the games against Mercyhurst [College] next weekend will have a much larger effect on that,” added van der Bliek. Rensselaer takes on the Purple Eagles on Friday and Saturday, with both games beginning at 2 pm.