Men's hockey sees success over winter break

While most Rensselaer students enjoyed this year’s extended winter recess, the men’s hockey team has kept sharp with a seven-game schedule, beginning just before the start of the New Year. In that span—which included an appearance in the championship round of the 45th Annual Great Lakes Invitational held at the legendary Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Mich.—the Engineers posted a 4-2-1 record, ending with a win and a tie over Ivy League foes at home this past weekend.

RPI capped off 2009 with an impressive showing at the Great Lakes Invitational as the guest of the University of Michigan Wolverines, the Michigan State Spartans, and the Michigan Tech University Huskies. Rensselaer took its first game against the Wolverines, currently ranked No. 20 in the nation, by a slim 4-3 margin despite missing freshman sensation Jerry D’Amigo to the World Junior Championships in Saskatoon. However, the tournament saw the return of sophomores Jordan Watts and Mike Bergin from injury, helping the team get out of its recent slump. Sophomore goaltender Allen York finished with an inspiring 43-save match, as senior Paul Kerins notched a goal and two assists for the Engineers, with junior Chase Polacek netting two of his own, and freshman Marty O’Grady collecting the eventual game winner. Fellow freshman Brandon Pirri ended the game with a playmaker, assisting on three of RPI’s four goals.

Unfortunately for the Engineers, that momentum didn’t carry into the following night as six different Spartans found the back of the net to send RPI packing for the long ride home to Troy. Michigan State, ranked No. 13 in the nation at the time of the match, is now ranked No. 12 in the country. Sophomore Patrick Cullen collected the only point for Rensselaer as the Cherry and White fell 6-1 in front of a national audience. Rookie netminder Bryce Merriam was pulled following the Spartans’ second goal of the game in favor of York. The two goaltenders combined for 25 saves. Polacek was the only member of the Engineers’ squad to earn All-Tournament honors at the conclusion of the game.

Disappointment from the team’s second championship-round loss this season fueled the Engineers’ two-game sweep of Quinnipiac University and Princeton University for the start of league competition just over a week later. Facing a strong Bobcat team on their home ice, Rensselaer pulled off the 4-1 victory over the then-nationally ranked squad. Polacek collected three assists in the game, as juniors Joel Malchuk and Bryan Brutlag, O’Grady, and Watts all placed on the board.

Fresh from a gold-medal victory for Team USA at the World Junior Championships where he was also named one of the top-three players for the U.S., D’Amigo immediately made his presence known with a first-period goal against the Princeton Tigers the following evening. D’Amigo would also add an assist on the night as Polacek, O’Grady, and Bergin helped to propel RPI to another 4-1 win. York earned his second-straight victory, stopping a total of 66 shots on the weekend.

Still on the road, the Engineers had one more stop before returning to the Houston Field House for a two-game set. In Rensselaer’s fourth and final regular season meeting with Route 7 Rival the Union College Dutchmen, RPI fell 3-1, notching the team’s third-straight loss in the heated rivalry. Union is currently ranked No. 18 in the county, although at the time of the match, the Dutchmen were the No. 13 team in the nation. Despite taking the lead in the second period off a shorthanded goal from Polacek, Rensselaer would not be able to place on the boards again as junior Adam Presizniuk quickly tied the game midway through the second period, followed by another Union tally early in the third for the go-ahead goal. Junior Luke Cain sealed the game for the Dutchmen with an empty-netter with just over a minute remaining in the game.

With classes looming just days away and finally returning home to Troy, the Engineers stepped up their game to open the spring semester. This past Friday night saw Rensselaer dominate over the Dartmouth College Big Green in a 2-1 romp, followed by a 3-3 tie with Ivy League rival Harvard University on Saturday. Currently, the Engineers sit 13-11-2 overall and 6-5-1 in ECAC play, while Dartmouth fell to 4-14-0 overall and 2-9-0 in league play. The Crimson make little improvement on their record, becoming 5-10-3 overall and 5-5-3 within the conference.

Remaining strong in net, York carried the team in a come-from-behind victory over the Big Green. The sophomore draft pick stopped a total of 27 shots on the night—including the final 27 he faced during the game to secure RPI’s win. Dartmouth freshman Mark Goggin would mark a shorthanded tally, the only of the game for the Big Green, just 13 minutes into the opening frame. York was able to keep Dartmouth off the boards for the final two periods as junior Tyler Helfrich and Kerins netted goals in the final minutes of play of the game. Helfrich recorded his fifth of the year at 5:46 with helpers going to Cullen, while Kerins added the game-winner at 9:23 with assists going to senior Peter Merth and Pirri.

Despite holding a 3-1 lead heading into the third period on Saturday night, the best the Engineers could do was salvage a 3-3 tie with the Harvard Crimson. Two late-game goals—including one with 2.3 seconds remaining in regulation by Harvard freshman Louis Leblanc—took the game to an extra frame which neither team capitalized for the win.

D’Amigo opened scoring for the Engineers at 8:28 of the first period off a shot from the left circle, followed by Kerin’s eighth of the year at 19:52 of the second. Following Harvard’s first goal of the game just 20 seconds into the third period, O’Grady regained RPI’s two-goal lead and brought the score to 3-1 at 1:11 with his seventh marker of the season. York stopped 26 shots on the night, while Harvard netminders Ryan Carroll and Kyle Richter saved a combined total of 21.

Rensselaer men’s hockey hits the road again to take on Brown University and Yale University this upcoming weekend. The Engineers tackle the Bears on Friday night, with the puck drop beginning at 7 pm, followed by a trip in Ingalls Rink in New Haven, Conn., to take on the Yale Bulldogs on Saturday, also at 7 pm.