It may have taken nearly all season for RPI to find its scoring touch, but it came when games finally matter—the ECAC Tournament. The Engineers defeated Clarkson University in a best-of-three series on the road, taking the first and third matches to continue onto the tournament quarterfinals.
An explosive first period led the Engineers to their victory on Friday evening, a 5-1 decision over the Golden Knights. Clarkson graduate student Nick Tremblay’s goal at 3:25 gave the Golden Knights a 1-0 advantage, however, that would be the only lead the Golden Knights would hold through the contest as Rensselaer responded with five straight tallies—including four in the first frame alone.
Sophomore Matt Tinordi started the rush with his fifth goal of the season at 5:44 after backhanding a shot to the back of the net. Less than a minute later at 6:33, junior Nick Bailen scored his first of two on the night with the eventual game-winner. Bailen’s shot from the high slot sailed through traffic and beat Clarkson senior netminder Paul Karpowich for the 2-1 advantage. Three minutes later at 9:39, Bailen gave RPI a two-goal lead with his seventh of the season from the right faceoff circle. Graduate student Joel Malchuk then closed out the frame with this sixth goal of the season, this one coming at 12:17. Malchuk deflected a shot from the point by sophomore Guy Lebeouf to give Rensselaer a commanding 4-1 lead.
The Engineers weren’t done quite yet as freshman Jacob Laliberte netted the game’s final goal after slamming home a rebound off a shot by classmate Ryan Haggerty. Both teams skated through a scoreless third period which saw Rensselaer register six shots to Clarkson’s two, and the Golden Knights accumulate five penalties.
In net for RPI, junior Bryce Merriam finished with 17 saves for the win. At the other end of the ice, Karpowich made 25 stops for the Golden Knights.
Rensselaer wasn’t as lucky the following evening as the two teams skated through nearly two whole games in what proved to be the sixth longest Division-I men’s hockey game ever played. Clarkson sophomore Ben Saxton hit the back of the net at 13:48 of the third overtime period to end RPI’s six-game road unbeaten streak, and to send the series to a decisive game three.
Junior C.J. Lee gave the visiting Engineers the game’s first lead at 8:43 of the first period after deflecting a shot by senior Patrick Cullen over Karpowich while on the power play. However, the Golden Knights responded with a power play goal of their own to knot the match at one. Freshman Sam Labrecque’s shot was initially stopped by Merriam, but Tremblay was waiting on the doorstep to knock the biscuit home for his 17th of the season.
Cullen broke the one-goal deadlock at 6:47 of the second period off a fluke play which saw his pass from behind the cage deflect off a Clarkson skate and into the net. The goal marked his fifth of the season, and first of two on the night.
Sophomore Alex Boak found the equalizer for the Golden Knights at 6:25 off a power play in the third frame. Boak received a pass from freshman Joe Zarbo and buried the shot on Merriam. Shortly after at 11:00, Cullen once again broke the tie as his slap shot off a rebound from the end boards sailed right between Karpowich’s legs.
With just under five minutes remaining in the frame, Labrecque notched the game-tying goal off a shot from the right boards that made its way through traffic and past Merriam.
After nearly 54 minutes of scoreless overtime, the Golden Knights found themselves on top with Sexton’s eighth goal of the season. The goal came off a scramble in front of the RPI net, in which Sexton was able to grab the loose puck and pop it to the back of the cage. Merriam finished with 40 saves for the Engineers, while Karpowich picked up the win after making 50 stops.
The Engineers’ season depended solely on the final 60 minutes of hockey in Potsdam. N.Y., with the victor continuing on to the ECAC quarterfinals, and the loser hanging up their skates until September. Despite a dismal season thus far, Rensselaer stepped up its game in a commanding 4-1 win over the Golden Knights to win out the first round series.
Labrecque put Clarkson on the scoreboard first, but that would be the only goal the Golden Knights could muster in the final match. The defenseman’s tally came off a hard shot from the right point at 8:03 of the second period. Haggerty quickly responded to knot the game at one with his seventh of the season at 13:02. Bailen took the initial shot from the bottom of the right faceoff circle, and the puck deflected off Haggerty and into the net.
The Engineers came back with three goals in the final period to earn the win. Senior Mike Bergin scored the game-winner at 4:14 off a shot from the high slot. Malchuk then gave Rensselaer a 3-1 lead after slamming home a loose puck at 5:47.
Clarkson pulled Karpowich in favor of an extra skater in the final minutes of play, but the plan backfired as junior Marty O’Grady sealed the Engineers’ win with an empty net goal at 18:28. Merriam posted 23 saves for RPI, while Karpowich had 24 stops in the loss.
Rensselaer will not be traveling far this weekend as the Engineers will take on Route 7 rival Union College in the ECAC quarterfinals. Union, who had a first-round bye, finished as the top team in the league this season with a 20-7-7 record—including three regular season victories over RPI. The best-of-three series will take place at Messa Rink in Schenectady, and all three games will begin at 7 pm.