Fans got a glimpse of two types of Engineers this weekend: the kind that work for their wins and the kind that can barely put a game together. The only problem is they are all the same players donning the same jerseys. After putting on one of its best performances in several years in a non-conference match against Union College on Friday, the men’s hockey team in turn put on one of its worst games in recent memory on Saturday against the United States Military Academy at West Point. Friday’s overtime match against the Dutchmen ended in a 4-3 decision in favor of RPI, while on Saturday, the Engineers gave up a two-period lead to ultimately fall to the Army Black Knights by a score of 2-1. Rensselaer is now 4-3-1 overall on the year, while Union fell to 3-3-1, and Army earned its first win of the season to rise to 1-4-2.
Rensselaer’s Route 7 rivalry with Union College is not one to take lightly. Although teams like Clarkson University and, more recently, Cornell University are seen as some of the most hated foes, abhorrence between the Engineers and Dutchmen date back to the early 1900s—and the players intend to keep it that way. Following the Engineers’ 4-3 overtime victory over the Dutchmen in a game filled with hard hits and scrappy play between the two squads, junior Chase Polacek admited that “We don’t like each other. You can see it out on the ice when we’re going into the corners and hitting each other hard; the energy is always high.” Head Coach Seth Appert couldn’t agree more: “I don’t think you’re supposed to like your opponents.” Even though Appert is good friends with Union Head Coach Nate Leaman, he himself doesn’t like looking across at him during games like this. “Friends are for the offseason. The season is competing with your brothers and family and trying to make the program better.”
Throughout the game, both teams exchanged brutal hits and lamp-lighters in the 60 minutes of regulation play. In the end, Rensselaer prevailed as Polacek netted his second of the game—and fourth of the season—just under two minutes into the extra frame.
Leading up to the picture-perfect ending, Union placed on the boards first at 16:10 into the first period. Dutchman freshman Wayne Simpson grabbed the puck near the left faceoff circle and skated around Rensselaer sophomore goaltender Allen York, easily sliding the puck into the net. Without fail, RPI found the equalizer 1:25 later off rookie Brandon Pirri’s fourth goal of the year. Classmate Jerry D’Amgio sent the pass to Pirri, who was able to deflect the puck over junior Union goaltender Corey Milan. With the game tied going into the first intermission, hostility between the two teams built.
Rensselaer took a brief lead in the second frame off Polacek’s first tally of the game. On the man advantage, Polacek received a pass from D’Amigo and was able to send a quick wrist shot from the slot at 2:57 past Milan. Sophomore defenseman Mike Bergin also assisted on the play.
Not ready for RPI to command the game, Union found the equalizer less than three minutes later. Junior Stephane Boileau gained control of the loose puck in a scramble in front of the net and sent it past York to tie the game at two. The Dutchmen then regained the lead with 1:38 left on the clock off a slap shot from senior Mario Valery-Trabucco.
The score would remain 3-2 in favor of the Dutchmen until late in the third period, when junior defenseman Bryan Brutlag tied the game and ultimately sent it to overtime. On the power play with just under three minutes left in regulation, Brutlag rifled a slap shot past the unsuspecting Milan. When asked about the goal following the game, Milan replied that he “never saw it coming,” as the puck flew past the bewildered goaltender.
“Brutlag had a great shot. Didn’t look like Corey Milan ever saw it, so we had a great screen presence in front of the net,” said Appert of the play. “That’s what you’re looking to do in the power play. Don’t get overly cute, let’s get it up top, shoot through traffic, and we carried that momentum through overtime.”
Heading into overtime with crowds from both teams cheering their schools on to victory, it became a fight of who wanted to win the game more. Just under two minutes into the period, junior defenseman Jeff Foss ripped a slap shot on net, which was deflected by senior center Paul Kerins to Polacek on the edge of the crease. Polacek, without hesitation, shoved the puck under Milan for the game-winner. “It was just wobbling on the ground, and I got enough wood on it to get it under his pad,” explained Polacek of the lightening-fast play.
In net, York finished the night with 19 saves, while Milan ended with 20 stops in the loss. The win marked Rensselaer’s first victory over the Dutchmen in the last five meetings. “It’s been a while, and it feels good to get back at them,” noted Polacek.
Appert was also pleased with the game, although he wasn’t too concerned of the outcome for the ECAC warm-up match. “I think that’s first of all, just a really good college hockey game. I said to Coach Montgomery heading into the third, regardless of what happens in the period, it’ll be a good experience for us growing as a team to play a non-conference game in a tough environment against a physical team. It’s going to do wonder for what we’re trying to become, and for our young guys to understand how hard ECAC play is.”
With their third-straight win and a four-game unbeaten streak under their belts, the Engineers seemed unstoppable heading back to home ice at the Houston Field House. Despite outshooting the Black Knights by an eye-popping margin of 40 to 16, Rensselaer could not pull out the win, letting up two third period goals in a defensive breakdown to let Army come away with the 2-1 win.
Continuing off how the previous evening ended, Polacek netted his team-leading fifth goal of the year just under six minutes into the contest. On the man advantage, Polacek ripped a wristed from the slot, which tipped off the glove of junior Army goaltender Jay Clark and into the back of the cage. Earning assists on the play were Kerins—his third of the weekend—and sophomore Justin Smith.
In a spectacular performance, Clark denied RPI 13 times in the first frame, 12 in the second, and 14 times in the third, keeping Rensselaer to only one goal on the night.
Neither team placed on the board in the second period, which saw first RPI and then Army take back-to-back penalties for having too many men on the ice in the relatively tame game.
Army began its conquest two minutes into the third period with the game-tying goal. Junior Cody Omilusik collected a loose puck in front of Rensselaer’s crease and slid the biscuit under the pads of freshman goaltender Bryce Merriam. Five minutes later, the Black Knights took the lead as Owen Meyer capitalized on a power play advantage, grabbed the rebound off an Omilusik shot, and stuffed the puck inside the right post.
Despite many chances in the remainder of the period—including a scramble in front of Army’s net that left the puck sitting on the crease with Clark nowhere to be found—Rensselaer could not find the equalizer and left the ice with a 2-1 loss to the Atlantic Hockey foe. The loss was the first time RPI has ever dropped a contest to Army during the month of October—previously the Engineers were 8-0 against the Black Knights in the fall season.
With all the non-conference warm-up matches behind them, the Engineers prepare for the beginning of ECAC play, slated to start this weekend at the Houston Field House. Friday’s match—the seventh annual Black Friday—is set to take place against the Yale University Bulldogs starting at 7 pm. The following evening, Rensselaer suits up against the Brown University Bears, also at 7 pm.