Engineers disappoint in 33rd Freakout!

No longer does the Big Red Freakout! hold the illustrious title it once did, as the Engineers dropped their third-straight match in the annual contest, bringing the team’s winless streak to four in the event. After clinching home ice advantage in the upcoming ECAC playoffs with a stunning 5-3 victory over the Quinnipiac University Bobcats, RPI failed to deliver in a jam-packed Houston Field House, dropping a hefty 7-0 loss to the Princeton Tigers. Despite the loss, Rensselaer still has an opportunity to qualify for a first-round bye, as long as the team is able to sweep in the Finger Lakes region this upcoming weekend.

The Engineers now stand 17-14-3 overall and 10-8-2 in the ECAC, placing them in a tie for fourth place in the league with Colgate University. Quinnipiac sits solely in the seventh position after falling to 15-14-2 overall and 9-10-0 within the conference, while Princeton, backed by the stellar performance of senior goaltender Zane Kalimba, improves to 11-13-3 overall and 7-11-2 ECACHL, only good for a tie for the ninth seed with Brown University.

The start of the weekend looked promising with a hard-fought win over the Bobcats. Both junior Chase Polacek and freshman Jerry D’Amigo registered a goal and two assists in the 5-3 win.

Rensselaer lit the lamp a mere four minutes into the contest as freshman center Brandon Pirri ripped a slap shot from the bottom of the right circle past sophomore goaltender Dan Clarke for his 10th mark of the year. Classmate Marty O’Grady and senior Paul Kerins each earned helpers on the play. However, the Bobcats came back to tie up the contest just over three minutes later as sophomore Scott Zurevinski knocked a shot out of mid-air and past freshman netminder Bryce Merriam. Polacek brought the Engineers back up with his 24th goal of the season—second highest in the NCAA.

The Engineers ramped up play in the second period, netting two goals less than a minute apart, on only six shots on net. D’Amigo struck first with his 10th of the year off a rebound, quickly followed by a tally from sophomore Alex Angers-Goulet’s one-on-one with Clarke, where he pulled the goaltender to the right side of the net before swooping in and burying the biscuit into an open cage.

Quinnipiac’s senior Jean-Marc Beaudoin placed one more on the boards for the Bobcats before the end of the period. With 28 seconds remaining in the period, fellow senior Brandon Wong blasted a shot on net and Beaudoin, perched on the right of the crease, deflected the shot over Merriam to bring the game to 4-2.

The pressure was on entering the third period, as the Bobcats added one more in the opening five minutes of play to pull within one goal. Zurevinski netted his second of the night on the power play, but it wasn’t enough to come away with the win, as Rensselaer held the Bobcats at bay for the rest of the night. Junior captain John Kennedy sealed the deal for the Engineers, collecting his first collegiate goal with 29 seconds remaining in the game, pulling RPI ahead 5-3.

Merriam, in for an injured sophomore Allen York, stopped 24 of 27 shots faced on the night in his first start since December, and his first start at the Houston Field House since November. On the other end of the rink, Clarke blocked 16 of RPI’s 21 attempts.

With the Houston Field House sold out several hours before puck drop, and an exciting match the night before, Freakout! looked to be the game of the year as RPI continued on its quest to break a three-Freakout! winless streak and to make a first-round bye more of a reality. Unfortunately for a tired Engineer squad, the Princeton Tigers, backed by the remarkable performance of Kalimba, came out for the win, desperate for home ice advantage come the playoffs.

The game did not begin as the final score would leave one to believe, with RPI and Princeton battling out to a one-goal opening period. Rensselaer, placing 20 shots on net in the first frame alone, simply could not solve Kalimba, who made spectacular saves through all 60 minutes of play. Junior Tiger Taylor Fedun netted what would prove to be the eventual game-winner at 14:20 of the first period as his shot from the hash marks beat Merriam on the left side.

A hard-hitting first period wore the Engineers down for the second, falling behind in shots 7-12 as the Tigers placed three more goals on the boards. Three minutes into the frame, senior Mark Magnowski deflected the puck off an RPI defender and dribbled over the goal line to make it a 2-0 game. That lead was increased to three at 12:41, when Merriam was caught out of position and sophomore Marc Hagel buried a shot from the slot. Closing out the period, sophomore Brody Zuk went top-shelf over Merriam’s glove for his first collegiate goal a mere two minutes later.

Despite putting forth a stronger effort in the third period, Rensselaer could not find the back of the net. Princeton placed three more goals on the boards to close out the game, 7-0. The Engineers had several chances throughout the period, including several near-open net opportunities. At one point, Rensselaer held a six-on-four man advantage, pulling the goaltender for the extra skater during a power play. Even with the extra players, the Engineers could not place on the boards.

Freshman Will McDonald added two goals, one in the first three minutes of the period and the other coming in the final three, while sophomore Derrick Pallis put one past sophomore Joey Harkenrider in the final minutes. Princeton’s relentless attack in the waning minutes of a blow-out game led to a brawl in front of Rensselaer’s bench, with a total of 28 penalty minutes being issued at the final whistle. Four Engineers, sophomore Mike Bergin, junior Tyler Helfrich, D’Amigo, and Polacek all tabbed with penalties. The Tigers got nailed with calls on four players as well.

It was just “one of those nights,” Head Coach Seth Appert said in a post-game press conference, “that everything they shot seemed to find a way in … and everything we threw at the net, they found a way to stop.”

Merriam stopped 24 shots on the night before being replaced by Harkenrider, who made one save, in the final minutes of play. Kalimba stopped an astounding 41 shots faced.

Following the match, seniors Erik Burgdoerfer, Christian Jensen, Peter Merth, Paul Kerins, and Garett Vassel were honored for their services to the hockey program over the past four seasons. The three defensemen and two forwards combined for a total of 584 games dressed in an Engineers jersey, with Merth teetering on the edge of the school record for career games played.

For the Engineers, a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs is still not out of the question despite Saturday’s devastating loss. Had RPI swept the weekend, only one win would be needed to clinch the fourth seed in the conference. Now, Rensselaer must take both games at Cornell University and Colgate University this weekend to maintain the No. 4 seed. Earlier this season RPI dropped both contests, 2-1 to the Big Red and 5-3 to the Raiders. With tough games coming at Starr Rink on Friday at 7 pm, and the always-hostile Lynah Rink Saturday at 7 pm, the Engineers will have their work cut out for them in coming up with the sweep this weekend. Friday’s game against Colgate will also be broadcast nationally on the NHL Network.