Following the weekend’s opening sweep of ECAC play, the men’s hockey team is currently one win away from tying last year’s total regular season victories, a true step in the right direction for a rebuilding program. Friday evening—the seventh annual Black Friday—RPI dominated over No. 6 in the nation Yale University by a score of 5-2, followed by a 3-1 romp over Brown University the following night. The two wins place RPI a perfect 2-0-0 in the ECAC and 6-3-1 overall, while Yale drops to 0-1-0 and 1-1-0, and Brown sits at 0-1-1 in the league and a winless 0-2-1 overall. This is the first time in 12 seasons that Rensselaer began conference play with a sweep.
RPI also earned several votes in the national poll after a stellar performance against Yale. Although the Engineers did not crack the top 20, they did earn enough to effectively place the team as No. 23 in the nation.
Donning special black jerseys to be auctioned off following the game that eerily resembled those of the Minnesota Wild, the Engineers featured five skaters with multiple points in a 5-2 win over a team that Head Coach Seth Appert considers one of the best in the country. Junior wing Chase Polacek led the team with a goal and two assists, good for three points on the night.
The first goal of the game came at 7:42 into the opening frame off Polacek’s sixth mark of the year. Freshman Jerry D’Amigo fed Polacek in the left circle, who then ripped a shot under the crossbar for the goal. Rensselaer quickly increased that lead to two as junior Scott Halpern netted his first of the year 19 seconds later.
Yale rebounded with two goals from junior Broc Little in the first and second periods to tie the game at two. The first goal came off a power play as Little took advantage of an open net at 19:25 into the first. Carrying that momentum into the second frame, Little wrapped around the net and buried the puck through the five-hole of sophomore goaltender Allen York.
The two marks would be the Bulldogs’ last of the night as Rensselaer netted three unanswered goals to seal the win. D’Amigo scored the eventual game-winner at 3:16 of the second period as he collected a rebound off the boards behind Yale’s net and stuffed the puck inside the right post before sophomore goaltender Ryan Rondeau could react. Classmates Marty O’Grady and Brandon Pirri, making up an entirely rookie line, earned assists on the play.
RPI would add two more goals in the third period to cushion the win. Sophomore Patrick Cullen scored his first of the year as he deflected a shot by Polacek under Rondeau’s right arm at 1:21 of the third. Following the play was Pirri’s fifth of the year at 12:04, when he one-timed a pass from sophomore Alex Angers-Goulet to the back of the cage.
Earning the win, York stopped 34 shots on the night while Rondeau made 20 saves.
With another victory against a nationally-ranked opponent under their belts, the Engineers were prepared to take on the Brown Bears the following night at the Houston Field House. Once again, Polacek put on a strong performance for the Engineers with another goal and two more assists. Polacek is currently tied for third in the nation in scoring with 14 points, and is tied for second in the country for goals with seven.
RPI took advantage of a four-minute double minor to Brown’s sophomore Harry Zolnierczyk and a slashing call to junior Sean Connauton to capitalize on the five-on-three advantage in the latter half of the opening period. Polacek regrouped the puck behind Brown’s net and quickly saw Pirri open in the low slot. Pirri whipped a wrist shot just inside the left post for his sixth goal of the year and the 1-0 lead.
Unlike last season, which saw Rensselaer skate through many power play opportunities without a goal, the Engineers’ eventual game-winner came on the man advantage. RPI finished two for seven on the power play in the game. Senior Paul Kerins netted his second of the year at 3:39 of the second period when he buried his own rebound past sophomore goaltender Mike Clemente.
The Engineers’ two-goal lead would not last forever, as Brown cut the deficit to one late in the frame. On a five-on-three of their own, Bears senior co-captain Devin Timberlake grabbed a rebound at the edge of RPI’s crease and sent a shot over York’s shoulder.
With two minutes remaining in the game, Rensselaer ramped the score up to three as Polacek capaltized on a 2-on-1 breakaway with Cullen, giving RPI a final score of 3-1. Halpern earned the second assist on the play. “Things are just bouncing my way right now,” said Polacek of his recent success this season. “I’ve had a lot of scoring opportunites this past weekend, and they’ve been finding their way to the back of the net.” For his second win in a row, York made 18 saves, while Clemente finished with 25 stops.
“It was a big win for us and we beat a really good hockey team,” said Head Coach Seth Appert. “Everything was clicking offensively, it was smooth, it was transition … it wasn’t easy, we earned it, but it was on.”
Rensselaer travels to the North Country this weekend to continue with league play against Clarkson University and St. Lawrence University on Friday and Saturday, respectively. Both games are slated to begin at 7 pm.