Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute had nearly 15 minutes of intense pressure against Brown in the third period of their deciding game of the ECAC Hockey tournament first-round series Sunday, and scored twice.
But the sixth-seeded Engineers came up a goal short.
RPI’s best season under fourth-year coach Seth Appert came to a bitter end. The 11th-seeded Bears took a 3-0 lead, and then held on for dear life to capture a series-clinching 3-2 victory over the Engineers at Houston Field House.
Brown (10-18-4) wins the best-of-three series, 2-1. The Bears will face top-seeded Yale in the best-of-three quarterfinals starting Friday in New Haven, Conn. It is the second straight year the Bears have pulled off a first-round upset. As the No. 12 seed last year, the Bears swept No. 5 Harvard.
Had RPI (18-17-4) won, it would have faced third-seeded and Capital Region rival Union in the quarterfinals.
Instead, the Engineers, who had their first winning season under Appert, will have several months to contemplate what might have been, had they not fallen behind by three goals and forced to play catch-up.
“It hurts a lot,” said junior forward Chase Polacek, RPI’s leading scorer with 26 goals and 26 assists. “We didn’t work this hard at the end of last year to be done right now. We did a lot of good things this year, but this isn’t what we had planned for our team this year. It hurts, and it stings real badly.”
For senior forward Paul Kerins, it hurts even worse. His college career is over.
“There are no words for it,” said Kerins, who scored a goal in all three games of the series. “It’s tough. [The end] came too soon. I wasn’t ready for this.”
Despite outshooting Brown, 11-6, and carrying the play in the first period, RPI found itself down, 1-0. In a scramble in front of the RPI net, Aaron Volpatti put a backhander past goalie Allen York at 7:05.
Just like in their 3-1 win Friday, the Bears took control in the second period. They had a 14-5 advantage in shots, and had the Engineers running around. Jack Maclellan’s power-play goal during a two-man advantage with 7:36 left in the second gave Brown a 2-0 lead.
Eighteen seconds into the third period, Harry Zolnierczyk knocked the puck off of Jerry D’Amigo’s stick to the right of the RPI net. Chris Zaires picked it up and fired it past York. The three-goal lead seemed insurmountable.
But for the second time in three nights, the Bears went into a defensive shell, and the Engineers started coming.
For the third straight game, Kerins scored RPI’s first goal. He fired a shot from the left circle past goalie Mike Clemente at 5:49.
After that, it seemed like the remainder of the game was played in the Brown zone.
“Anyone is going to play [desperate] like that,” Volpatti said. “We would do the same. You’re playing for your season. You’re playing for your lives. They played hard, and they battled back. We were sitting on our heels.”
RPI got a power play with 5:07 left when Jesse Fratkin was called for slashing. Less than a minute later, York was pulled for an extra attacker, giving the Engineers a six-on-four advantage.
Two seconds after the penalty expired, Jeff Foss’ left-point shot beat Clemente. The pressure was on the Bears now, and they remained in a defensive shell. Brown coach Brendan Whittet didn’t use his timeout to settle his team down.
“It was definitely chaotic on our bench,” Whittet said. “Not that the guys were doubting what we were going to, hopefully, do. It was tight on our bench. I was pretty close [to calling a timeout]. But I didn’t want to spend my timeout and give them an opportunity to get some of their top guys rest and get them back on the ice.”
The Engineers continued to battle for the tying goal. But all hopes ended with 12.3 seconds left when Polacek was called for slashing Volpatti’s stick as he tried to shoot the puck from the neutral zone into the empty net.
“It’s tough, clearly tough,” Appert said. “We certainly didn’t expect this. We’ve responded well to challenges all year. This one, I guess, was a little too much.”
Brown 1 1 1 — 3
RPI 0 0 2 — 2
First Period — 1, Brown, Volpatti 14 (Timberlake, Farnham), 7:05. Penalties — Malchuk, RPI (tripping), 9:47; Brown bench, served by Zaires (too many men), 15:38; Kennedy, RPI (hitting from behind), 19:27.
Second Period — 2, Brown, Maclellan 13 (Buvinow, Volpatti), 12:24 (pp). Penalties — Buvinow, Bro (tripping), 4:20; Foss, RPI (interference), 10:49; Polacek, RPI (slashing), 12:04; Bergin, RPI (holding), 18:17.
Third Period — 3, Brown, Zaires 9 (Zolnierczyk), :18. 4, RPI, Kerins 15 (Cullen), 5:49. 5, RPI, Foss 2 (Burgdoerfer, Cullen), 16:55. Penalties — Buvinow, Bro (hooking), 1:10; Cullen, RPI (tripping), 10:18; Fratkin, Bro (slashing), 14:53; Polacek, RPI (slashing), 19:47.
Shots on Goal — Brown 6-14-5 — 25. RPI 11-5-14 — 30.
Power-play opportunities — Brown 1 of 7: RPI 0 of 4.
Goalies — Brown, Clemente 10-13-4 (30 shots-28 saves). RPI, York 14-13-4 (25-22).
A — 1,452. T — 2:16.
Referees — Peter Feola, Mike Baker. Linesmen — Steve Shufelt, Justin Prusak.
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: College Sports