Engineers drop out of ECAC tourney

No. 3 Union College defeats Rensselaer in league quarterfinals over break

SOPHOMORE BROCK HIGGS SKATES with the puck during a game from earlier this season at the Houston Field House. Higgs scored a goal in RPI’s 4-2 loss to Union College.

RPI men’s hockey’s fairytale journey through the first round of the ECAC tournament and into the quarterfinals came to a screeching halt by the hands of Route 7 rival Union College. The top-seeded Dutchmen defeated the 10th seeded Engineers in a best-of-three series at Messa Rink on March 9 and 10. Rensselaer finished the season with a 12-24-3 record, while Union cruised through the remainder of the tournament to be named the ECAC champion and earn a bid to the NCAA East Regional.

The first match of the series took place on Friday, March 9; with Union earning a 3-2 victory over the Engineers. Despite an early start by RPI, the Dutchmen bounced back to earn the win.

Sophomore Matt Tinordi led the charge for Rensselaer, putting the visitors on the scoreboard just 42 seconds into the contest. However, the Dutchmen retaliated with two goals in the first period. The first came at 6:22 when freshman Max Novak grabbed the puck as he exited the penalty box, taking it down the right side of the ice and beating RPI junior goaltender Bryce Merriam. Nine seconds into a power play, Union made it a 2-1 match off junior Wayne Simpson’s 17th goal of the season at 13:19.

Union continued that momentum into the second period, netting another power play goal to make it a 3-1 advantage. Junior Greg Colburn slid the loose puck under Merriam’s pads less than two minutes into the middle frame.

A shorthanded goal by senior Alex Angers-Goulet at 10:32 of the third period pulled the Engineers within one, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Union’s strong defense and goaltending as the Dutchmen held on to take game one of the series. Merriam finished with 24 saves for RPI, while sophomore Troy Grosenick made 21 stops for Union.

Game two fared no better for Rensselaer as the Engineers fell in a 4-2 decision and saw their season come to an abrupt end. Union, ranked eighth in the nation at game time and now No. 3 overall in the country, advanced to the ECAC semifinals where it defeated Colgate University, and won the final with a 3-1 victory over Harvard University. The Dutchmen will now face Michigan State University in the East Regional of the NCAA Tournament this Friday.

The Dutchmen started the first period strong, jumping to a 2-0 lead after the first 20 minutes of play. Junior Kyle Bodie scored on the power play from the bottom of the right faceoff circle at 10:14 to open the match. Junior Jeremy Welsh doubled Union’s lead with his 23rd goal of the season at 14:03 after knocking in a cross pass from sophomore Daniel Carr.

Not ready to give up quite yet, Rensselaer responded with two goals in the second frame to knot the score. The first came at 15:03 off sophomore Brock Higgs’ third tally of the season after he deflected his shot off Grosenick’s shoulder. Just 1:36 later, freshman Matt Neal made it a 2-2 match after his pass attempt to senior Mike Bergin deflected off a Union defenseman and into the net. Freshman Jacob Laliberte and Bergin earned the assists on the play.

Despite the comeback by the Engineers, the Dutchmen regained the lead just over a minute later at 17:37. Sophomore Kevin Sullivan scored off a backhanded shot to give Union a 3-2 advantage. Sullivan then gave the Dutchmen a two-goal advantage six minutes into the third period as he scored off a rebound from Bodie for his sixth goal of the season.

The Engineers weren’t able to overcome the deficit, and ultimately bowed out of the tournament with the loss. Merriam posted 20 saves for Rensselaer, while Grosenick had 27 stops.

After playing through a difficult season that proved to be one of the worst in years, the Engineers finally hit their groove in the final weekends of play. Despite the loss of many seniors at the end of the season, expect RPI to come back stronger than ever at the start of the 2012-13 season in October.