In a change of pace from the past few seasons, the men’s hockey team has started the season on a different foot—the winning kind, that is. With this past weekend’s sweep of Atlantic Hockey opponents in non-conference play, the Engineers came away with their first back-to-back wins at the Houston Field House since February 10–11, 2006. Fueled by impressive performances by freshmen Brandon Pirri and Jerry D’Amigo, RPI came away with the 4-3 overtime win over the Sacred Heart Pioneers on Friday, followed by a last-minute 3-2 victory over the American International College Yellow Jackets on Saturday. With these wins, RPI now sits 3-2-1 overall on the season, while Sacred Heart falls to 0-1-0 in its season opener, and the Yellow Jackets move to 0-2-0 after losing to Union College the evening before.
Pirri led the team in scoring on Friday, registering his first two-goal collegiate game—including the overtime game winner—in the Engineers’ 4-3 win over the Pioneers. Also registering two points apiece in the game were sophomore Alex Angers-Goulet, and juniors Chase Polacek and Tyler Helfrich.
The visiting Pioneers placed first on the boards at 5:32 of the opening frame. Freshman Tommy Castonguay took the initial shot on net, but had it blocked by sophomore goaltender Allen York. As York stretched across the ice to cover up the puck, it jutted out to Pioneer sophomore Anthony Yelovich, who picked up the loose puck in the crease and buried it past York.
Rensselaer quickly rebounded to even the game up at one, capitalizing on the power play to find the equalizer at 10:10. Polacek sent the puck to linemate Helfrich, who made the cross-ice pass to senior center Paul Kerins, who was able to make the one-timer finish for his first goal of the season.
Entering the second period, RPI increased its lead to two after a pair of quick goals to open the frame. Just under a minute into the period, Polacek rushed into the offensive zone and causally flipped the puck toward Sacred Heart netminder junior Olivier St. Onge just past the blue line. Onge misread the play as the puck trickled into the net, putting RPI up 2-1. The Engineers would add a another goal 35 seconds later off the man advantage due to a delayed penalty. With York on the bench and an extra attacker on the ice, Pirri faked a shot in the high slot and blasted a shot into the upper left corner of the net from the left circle for his first of the night.
The game seemed to be in the bag through the end of the second and the first half of the third until senior Nick Johnson netted two unanswered goals to bring the Pioneers back into the game. Johnson’s first goal came at 12:50 of the third during the man advantage. Fellow senior Erik Boisvert ripped a shot on net, but was denied by York. Johnson was waiting for the rebound and was able to stuff it past the goaltender to cut the deficit by one. Less than two minutes later, Johnson added his second of the night when he rifled a shot into the upper left corner of the net, beating York glove-side for the equalizer. Rensselaer was unable to find another mark during regulation, forcing the game into a five-minute, sudden-death overtime.
Early in the extra frame, Pirri collected his second tally of the night at 1:37. Angers-Goulet sent the puck up the left boards to Pirri, who then snuck a shot under the arm of Onge for the game-winner.
York made 20 stops in his second win of the season, while Onge made 24 saves in the narrow loss.
Saturday’s match against AIC was uncomfortably close as the Engineers faced one of their weakest opponents of the year. Pirri continued on his scoring streak, registering two more points in the game, while D’Amigo netted two goals and an assist in the win. Sophomore defenseman Mike Bergin also collected a goal and an assist in the game, good for two points. Making his collegiate debut in net was freshman Bryce Merriam, who earned his first win in an Engineers jersey.
Rensselaer took the lead at 5:21 of the first period as freshman Marty O’Grady buried a rebound from inside the crease, putting RPI up 1-0 on his first collegiate goal. Midway through the period, Helfrich was taken out of the game after a brutal hit along the right boards, resulting in a sprained ankle, although the injury looked much worse. No penalties were called on the play as it was a clean hit.
That lead quickly increased to two in the second period off Bergin’s second goal of the season at 8:20. Out on the point, Bergin blasted a shot on net through a screen and past Yellow Jackets goaltender freshman Ben Meisner. Pirri and D’Amigo each earned their second assists on the night, with the first coming off O’Grady’s mark.
AIC cut the deficit to within one at 18:08 of the second as freshman Adam Pieskach netted his second goal in as many nights, with assists going to junior Tomas Benovic and senior Josh Froese. Heading into the third period, Pieskach would find the equalizer at 3:15. Off the face-off, Pieskach collected the puck and made his way into the slot before ripping off a shot that beat Merriam on the stick side.
With the pressure on of another potential overtime match, D’Amigo pulled through for the Engineers, netting the game-winner with less than three minutes remaining in the game. On the power play, D’Amigo wrapped around the net and flipped a backhand shot over the blocker of Meisner for his second of the night.
Earning the win, Merriam stopped 18 shots, while Meisner, another rookie goaltender, made 34 saves in his first collegiate start. “Getting my first win was a great feeling,” said Merriam of the game. “I was nervous in the first period, but once I felt the puck a few times, I calmed it down a little and started to play more relaxed.”
As far as which goalie will get the call this weekend, Merriam thinks that either he or York will be an excellent choice. “I think right now York and I are working harder than any two goalies in the country. He is playing very consistently, and I got my first win so whatever works for us to win games is fine with me,” said Merriam. “He has been helping me out technically, and I think I am pushing him too. It’s a very healthy situation we have between the pipes.”
The Engineers have one more weekend to prepare before ECAC play begins. Friday evening, Rensselaer heads to Schenectady, N.Y., to take on the Union College Dutchmen in a non-conference game before returning home on Saturday to face the United States Military Academy at West Point (Army) Black Knights in another Atlantic Hockey matchup. Both games begin at 7 pm. “We are working hard as a team and once we watch tape and touch up our systems,s we should be very focused and prepared for the weekend,” predicted Merriam. “I will work just as hard as I can throughout the week, and if I play, I will play my heart out. If not, York will.”