RPI suffers first losses of season to Purple Eagles

Women’s hockey falls in narrow one-goal decisions over weekend to Niagara on the road

SOPHOMORE TONI SANDERS RACES after the puck in the Engineers’ exhibition match against the Toronto Aeros in September. RPI will return home for the first time since that match this weekend for two games against Robert Morris University.

RPI women’s hockey’s impressive undefeated run came to a stop this weekend by the hands of the Niagara University Purple Eagles. The Engineers fell in game one on Friday by a 5-4 margin in overtime, while Niagara narrowly edged RPI in a 3-2 decision again on Saturday. The two losses place Rensselaer 2-2-2 overall, while the Purple Eagles, with assistant coach Allysen Weidner ’10 behind the bench, are now 2-4-0 overall.

Junior Taylor Horton put the Engineers on the board first at 6:49 of the first period with her third goal of the season. Senior captain Alisa Harrison carried the puck deep into the Niagara zone and dished the biscuit over to Horton at the top of the crease where the St. Thomas, Ontario, native banged it into the back of the net.

The goal would be the only of the period, and the Engineers quickly made it a 2-0 advantage at the start of the second frame. Senior Jill Vandegrift received a pass from sophomore defenseman Madison Marzario on the blueline before skating through the slot and ripping a shot on the net. The tally, which came exactly one minute into the period, was Vandegrift’s first of the season.

Niagara bounced back, however, with two quick goals midway through the period. With two RPI skaters in the penalty box, the Purple Eagles took advantage of the 5-3 opportunity to cut the deficit down to one. Junior Kathleen Bortuzzo sent the puck over to freshman Kelsey Gunn, who was situated at the top of the slot. Gunn fired a shot through traffic that sailed over freshman goaltender Brianna Piper’s glove. Although Piper was able to keep the Purple Eagles off the boards seconds later following another strong attack on net, Niagara knotted the game at two at 11:26 as sophomore Kristen Richards netted her first of two on the night.

Less than a minute later, however, sophomore Jordan Smelker helped the visiting Engineers regain the lead with her first goal of the season. Smelker corralled a pass from Marzario and skated through the far circle before burying her shot into the left corner of the Niagara net at 12:15.

Rensselaer’s defense kept the Purple Eagles off the scoreboard for the remainder of the period, and came out of the locker room with another quick goal to make it a 4-2 match. Sophomore Toni Sanders skated down the slot and sent the puck past Niagara sophomore goalie Sarah Moses for her second tally of the season. However, penalty troubles plagued the Engineers for the remainder of the game, leading to Niagara’s next three goals.

With 6:27 remaining in regulation, sophomore Jessica Hitchcock sent a low shot on Piper, who was able to make the initial save, but left a juicy rebound for the Niagara skater. Hitchcock took advantage of the second chance to cut the lead to 4-3 at 11:12. Just over two minutes later Niagara knotted the game at four as junior Jenna Hendrikx rifled the puck past Piper’s right side.

Although both teams had several chances to break the tie in the final minutes of play, the game went into a sudden death overtime. The Engineers had a power play opportunity early in the five-minute overtime session, but Moses deflected Horton’s shot from the top of the circle. The Purple Eagles fought back to the RPI zone, where a Rensselaer defender was tabbed with a hooking penalty, giving Niagara a penalty shot. Richards skated down the slot and flipped the puck into the upper right corner on the free attempt for the win.

Piper made 27 stops for the Engineers, while Moses posted 14 saves for the Purple Eagles.

The two teams met again the following afternoon for another decisive battle. Once again, the Engineers couldn’t hold onto a two-goal lead as Niagara rallied back for the 3-2 victory.

Five minutes into the match Sanders collected her second in as many days with a shot from the near boards just inside the blueline. A short while later at 9:07, senior Laura Guillemette made it a 2-0 advantage for the Engineers with her first goal of the season. Sanders and freshman Ali Svoboda earned assists on the play.

With 46 seconds remaining in the first frame, the Purple Eagles began to mount their comeback as Hitchcock failed to score on a breakaway, but left the puck for Hendrickx, who was able to push it past freshman RPI goaltender Kelly O’Brien.

That momentum carried to the second period where sophomore May Wilkerson knotted the game at two just over two minutes into the second stanza. Although O’Brien was able to stop the initial attempt by sophomore Kaleigh Chippy, Wilkerson was waiting on the doorstep to bury the rebound.

With 5:43 remaining in the game, junior Kelsey Welch notched the game winner after capitalizing on a rebound of a shot initially taken by junior Erin Burns. O’Brien made 26 saves in the loss, her first non-shutout of the season, while at the other end of the rink freshman Abby Ryplanski had 22 stops for Niagara.

Rensselaer women’s hockey returns to Troy for its home opener this weekend against Robert Morris University. Friday’s match at the Houston Field House is set for 7 pm, while Saturday’s puck drop is slated for 4 pm. Both games are part of the Homecoming & Reunion Weekend festivities that will be held all over campus.