The Engineers split the week’s worth of play against Hockey East foes, falling to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst Minutemen on Thursday by a score of 5-2 and rebounding back to take down the No. 16 University of New Hampshire Wildcats in a 3-1 on Saturday night. Rensselaer is now 1-1-0 in its opening week of play, while UMass improves to 1-0-0 and UNH drops to 0-1-0.
RPI took command of Thursday night’s game early in the opening period, but numerous penalties throughout the contest wore down the Engineer squad, eventually letting the Minutemen catch up and control the game. The first goal of the game was awarded to Rensselaer—which outshot the opposition 16-6 through the first 20 minutes of play—with a little over three minutes remaining in the frame. Junior wing Tyler Helfrich notched his first goal of the year after dishing an outbreak of shots upon UMass junior goaltender Paul Dainton and eventually finding the loose puck on the edge of the crease to roof it past Dainton for the tally. Freshman Brandon Pirri and senior Erik Burgdoerfer assisted on the play.
RPI nearly increased its lead to two as senior Paul Kerins put an offensive onslaught on Dainton, nearly sneaking the puck through the left post. Although the Minutemen responded with many attacks on the Rensselaer net, sophomore goaltender Allen York held strong between the pipes, keeping the score at 1-0 going into the first intermission.
The second period played much different for RPI than the first, with a large number of penalties against the Engineers dictating the outcome. UMass came back with three consecutive goals—including the eventual game winner—with two of those on the man-advantage.
“I thought our puck decisions were better,” concluded Head Coach Seth Appert of why the Engineers played differently through the final two period of play. “I thought at first we attacked well and put pucks behind them, and then we went and outworked them and won loose puck battles down low, which works on our strength of our forwards. I thought as the second and third went on, some of the penalty kills wore us down, and we started holding onto the puck a little too long and we turned the puck over too much in the defensive zone.”
UMass’ first goal of the game came at 16:58, as two Engineers dealt their time in the sin bin for their crimes. Senior defenseman Justin Braun dished a pass to sophomore Casey Wellman, who was camped out between the circles. Wellman controlled the puck and backhanded a shot over York’s left shoulder for the equalizer. Less than five minutes later, Braun added a mark of his own to put the Minutemen up 2-1. Wellman, deep in the zone, sent the puck up to sophomore blueliner Matt Irwin, who made a pass to his defensive partner Braun. Braun quickly one-timed the puck through York’s five-hole for the lead, UMass’ second goal on the man-advantage. The Minutemen would eventually go 4-10 on the power play for the day.
“[The goals] certainly gave [UMass] life because we had such a good first period. It was a great goal by Wellman. It was a high-end, talented play, but it was a mistake by one of our upperclassmen defensemen,” said Appert of the plays. “They fed on that energy and the crowd got into it, and made the second period a little more difficult.”
An Engineers’ timeout did not solve their dilemma, as UMass added one more before the period ended. The eventual game-winner came from freshman Rocco Carzo, who netted his first collegiate goal on a one-time shot off a pass from junior James Marcou.
With minutes left in the frame, RPI was not ready to step down. Pirri collected the puck in the neutral zone and had one of the best opportunities of the game as he went one-on-one with Dainton with four minutes left in the period. His shot went over the net, but gave the Engineers the drive to finish the stanza.
Rensselaer put forth one last offensive effort in the game, as freshman Jerry D’Amigo tallied his first collegiate goal off the face-off. With two minutes remaining in the game, D’Amigo grabbed the puck off the faceoff and sent it in the upper corner past Dainton for the mark. Helfrich, earning his second point of the game, was credited with the assist. With a one-goal deficit at hand, Rensselaer was back in the contest. “It felt great scoring my first goal, even though it wasn’t the prettiest goal, it still counts,” said D’Amigo of his mark. “At that point, the game looked good for us, but again we kept on taking penalities, giving them five-on-three’s which they capitalized on.”
UMass added two more power play goals in the third period to seal the win, 5-2. Less than half a minute into the frame, Marcou settled the puck behind Rensselaer’s net and passed it up to the blueline to a waiting Irwin. Without hesitation, Irwin blasted the puck back toward the net, beating York on his glove side. Irwin would add his second goal of the night on a similar play, at 10:36. Wellman and Marcou exchanged the puck low in the zone before sending it up the ice to Irwin, who was patiently waiting atop the faceoff circle. Again, Irwin sent a slap shot at York, this time sending the puck past the young goaltender midway up the right post.
“The way Irwin shoots the puck … those are the type of shots you want to give up on a five-on-three,” said Appert of the Minutemen’s last two goals. “You just don’t expect many guys to do what he did with those and put them right under the cross bar. Credit to them on that.”
Despite falling behind 5-2, RPI was not to be counted out of the game. Junior defenseman Bryan Brutlag broke out of the right boards two minutes into the period and tried to stuff the puck between Dainton and the post but was unsuccessful in his attempt. With six minutes left in regulation play, Pirri blasted a shot from the right boards, but was narrowly stopped by Dainton. Pirri made one more attempt to score for the evening, with a slap shot from the top of the right circle that clipped the goaltenders shoulder, with just over a minute left in the game.
Rensselaer outshot the Minutemen 30-26 in the game. York made 21 saves in the loss, while Dainton blocked 28 of RPI’s attempts in the win.
After the difficult loss at the Mullins Center, the Engineers came back with a vengeance against fellow Hockey East foe, UNH. Pushing national rankings aside, RPI, backed by the stellar goaltending performance of York, shutdown the No. 16 Wildcats for the 3-1 win at the Houston Field House on Saturday.
Sophomore Josh Rabbani put RPI on the boards first with his first goal of the season at 14:16. Burgdoerfer, on the point, sent a long pass along the left boards to junior winger Chase Polacek. Although Polacek’s shot was unable to beat UNH senior goaltender Brian Foster, Rabbani was waiting outside the crease and stuffed the rebound past the Wildcats’ netminder for the tally. Both teams finished the first without any additional goals.
The Wildcats came back to tie the game midway through the second frame. On the power play, senior Bobby Butler sent a low shot under York to knot the game at one. Classmate Peter LeBlanc and junior Mike Sislo assisted on the play. Despite holding a 16-5 advantage in shots through the frame, it would be the only goal to get past York on the night.
Rensselaer added two more goals in the third to regain the lead and seal the win. Polacek netted the game-winner at 3:24 of the frame off a rebound from Brutlag. The Engineers’ third goal came off a near-breakaway attempt by Helfrich. The wing, who just jumped out of the penalty box, collected the puck but had his shot stopped by Foster on the partial breakaway. Brutlag was not far behind and grabbed the puck, sending it back up the boards to sophomore defender Mike Bergin. Bergin cut down the left boards and rocketed a shot past Foster at 7:58, netting RPI’s insurance goal.
York finished with 37 saves on the night—including eight that came on the man-advantage for the Wildcats. Foster made 27 stops in the loss.
“Saturday’s game was a huge win for us. UNH is a good team, and we definitely out played them,” boasted D’Amigo. We are a very underestimated team, and this year we are going to surprise a lot of team with the talent and drive we have this year.”
Rensselaer heads west to Alaska this weekend for the Brice Alaska Goal Rush. The first game of the weekend will be against the University of Alaska at Anchorage, beginning at 8:35 pm EST. RPI’s second game in the Land of the Midnight Sun will be against the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, with puck drop at 11:35 pm EST. “Going to Alaska is going to be a good experience for the team by going to a place where not a lot of us have been, but also to play two non-conference teams which would help a lot if we pull out with two wins,” said D’Amigo of the upcoming trip. “For our team, we should expect nothing less than two wins this weekend and that’s setting the bar high, but we are striving to do big things this year.”