Nationally-ranked RPI men’s hockey opened its regular season with a two-game set against the Minnesota State University at Mankato Mavericks this past weekend at the Houston Field House. Although the No. 20 Engineers fell in the final minutes of play on Friday night in a 1-0 decision, Rensselaer bounced back to earn a 4-1 victory on Saturday. The win and loss place both teams at 1-1-0 for the young season.
Friday’s match featured a battle of goaltenders to the bitter end, with the Mavericks finishing out on top with a goal at 18:38 of the third period. While RPI freshman Scott Diebold was able to block the initial shot by MSU junior Eriah Hayes, senior Cameron Cooper buried the rebound with 1:22 remaining in regulation. The Mavericks were able to control the puck for the remainder of the game to keep the one goal shutout.
The game, which featured a multitude of fights and feisty play from both ends of the ice, saw numerous chances for each team throughout the contest. Early in the first period, junior Nick Bailen dished the puck over to sophomore Brock Higgs, who took off on a breakaway. Higgs’ backhand shot hit the pad of senior Maverick goaltender Austin Lee. Later in the third period, Diebold kept the game scoreless after turning away a Minnesota State skater also on a breakaway.
Diebold finished with 19 saves for the Engineers, including eight in the first period, five in the second, and six in the third, while Lee posted an impressive 36 stops on the night.
The following evening saw a slightly different lineup for Rensselaer, a change that produced positive results for the home squad. Junior goaltender Bryce Merriam stopped 31 of 32 shots faced to help lead the Engineers to a 4-1 win over the Mavericks.
MSU’s only goal of the game came midway through the first period after sophomore Johnny McInnis redirected a shot from the point at 12:00. Although Maverick sophomore Chase Grant had an opportunity to make it a 2-0 game, his one-timer shot was sent wide of the RPI cage.
With 38 seconds left before the first intermission, sophomore Guy Lebouef knotted the game at one for the Engineers. Lebouef’s shot from the left circle beat MSU junior goaltender Phil Cook to close out the first period of play.
An action-packed second period saw both teams take six penalties apiece, but only the Engineers were able to capitalize on the extra-skater opportunities. Bailen broke the 1-1 tie at 8:59 with a power play goal off a shot from the top of the left circle. Freshman Ryan Haggerty and Higgs were credited with assists on the play. With 24 seconds left in the middle stanza, graduate student Joel Malchuk made it a 3-1 contest after grabbing the puck following a failed clearing attempt and flipping it to the back of the net.
The Engineers weren’t done with the scoreboard yet, as sophomore Pat Koudys made it a 4-1 match with his first goal of the season. With another Maverick in the sin bin for holding, Koudys ripped the shot from the right point to earn the goal. Senior Josh Rabbani and freshman Zach Schroeder both earned assists on the play.
Merriam posted 31 saves to earn his first win of the season, while at the other end of the rink Cook made 34 stops in the loss.
Rensselaer hits the road for the next two weekends, first starting with a two-game set against Head Coach Seth Appert’s alma mater, Ferris State University. Both Friday and Saturday’s games in Big Rapids, Mich., are set for 7:05 pm.