TROY — There are brilliant engineering students on RPI’s campus who would’ve been hard-pressed to put this thing together on Friday night.
Get down 2-0 to the 11th-ranked team in the country while managing to put just one measly puck on net to 15 for the opponent, then commit a penalty at the end of the first period that will put the other team in a great spot to start the second … turns out, the RPI men’s hockey team had the Union Dutchmen right where they wanted them.
All it took was one strange bounce that seemed to defy the simple geometry of the Houston Field House rink, and the Engineers were on their way to assembling a stunning 5-3 comeback win over Union before a typically boisterous crowd of 3,045.
After having been outscored 12-3 in its first three games, RPI won for the first time, while handing Union (4-1-1) its first loss of the season heading into a 7 p.m. rematch at Messa Rink on Saturday.
While the win was a big boost for the Engineers, Union head coach Rick Bennett watched his team turn into “marshmallows,” he said, after that solid first period.
“A win allows you to say, ‘Oh, that’s one way to do it,'” RPI second-year head coach Dave Smith said. “Really great teams have lots of ways to do it. We won that game, honestly, on the penalty kill and timely scoring. And faceoffs. We got better at that. So that’s a little bit of the recipe. More importantly, it lets them address that’s how to win.”
Patrick Polino scored two goals for the Engineers, including the pivotal one 37 seconds into the second period while Union was on the power play.
Teammate Tommy Grant’s clearing attempt high off the glass hit a gap and wobbled over the outstretched hand of Union defenseman Brandon Estes, setting up Polino for a breakaway. He beat goalie Darion Hanson with a low shot and also scored the go-ahead goal at 5:14 of the third.
Jack Adams cut it to 4-3 for Union with 11:22 to play, but Ture Linden’s empty-net goal with 45 seconds left iced the victory.
“I was really curious to see what our team was made of tonight, and I’ve got to say, a lot of marshmallow,” Bennett said.
“When you shoot 15 and they get one [in the first period], obviously you’re paying attention somewhere. But in the last two, my goodness, I don’t know if we could’ve beat … Shen Mite. There was plenty of time to play, and we just did not respond. Hence the word I used before, ‘marshmallow.’ Because we played like marshmallows out there tonight.”
“The whole second and third period, they played a hard game, and we didn’t,” Union captain Cole Maier said.
Union’s power play went 0-for-8 after scoring on the first one of the night, and Hanson didn’t help the Union cause by letting in two goals that he had clean looks at, with utterly no traffic in front.
He finished with just 10 saves, as Union outshot RPI 35-15.
“[ECAC Hockey] Player of the week … last week. Player of the week … last week,” Bennett said, his voice rising on the repeat. “I’ll leave it at that.”
Union’s domination of the first period couldn’t have been more complete, other than getting “only” two pucks past goalie Linden Marshall.
The Dutchmen outshot RPI 15-1 and took a 2-0 lead on goals by Sam Morton, the first of his college career, and Sean Harrison’s first of the season.
Morton finished a hard rush by Union on the power play at 5:25, and Harrison made it 2-0 short-handed at 11:16 when he ripped a wrist shot off a draw won back to him by Brendan Taylor in the left faceoff circle.
Then the Dutchmen were set to start the second period with 1:06 of power play on the clock, but instead RPI cut it to 2-1 on Patrick Polino’s short-handed goal.
Polino admitted that he was headed to the bench for a shift change, but when the crazy bounce headed his way, he jumped on the opportunity.
“It hit something. It just kicked down to the middle to me, so it was a lucky break,” he said.
“We had a good conversation in the locker room after the first period. We had to get back to the way we need to play. That first goal definitely helped with the rest of the game.”
After his second goal made it 3-2, Ottoville Leppanen made it 4-2 just 1:43 later.
By then, the momentum was so clearly in RPI’s favor, even Adams’ third goal of the season couldn’t stop it.
“The building was loud,” Polino said. “We really appreciate the fans. They give us a lot of energy, especially on a night like tonight. They’re our rival. We look forward to games like this. The buildings are packed at both rinks, so to get the first one like this is huge for us.”
“This group wants to have success so bad,” Smith said. “We were amped up and talking about playing like our hair was on fire, but not chase the game, and we chased them the whole first period.”
“We took our foot off the gas and didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that were presented to us,” Bennett said. “They gave us every chance in the world. We didn’t take it.
“Yeah, the first goal was a terrible bounce for us. That happens. That’s life. Then we made a poor decision by one of our forwards on the second goal. That’s one of our senior captains. Like, c’mon. Then it snowballed from there.”
Union 2 0 1 — 3
RPI 0 2 3 — 5
First period — 1, Union, Morton 1 (Maier, Morgan), 5:25 (pp). 2, Union, Harrison 1 (Taylor), 11:16 (sh). Penalties — Jerry, RPI (high sticking), 4:30; Samec, RPI (hooking), 7:17; Breault, U (holding), 9:49; Supinski, U (tripping), 11:52; Bowman, RPI (holding), 14:00; DiGrande, RPI (hooking), 19:06.
Second period — 3, RPI, Polino 1 (Grant, Hayhurst), :37 (sh). 4, RPI, Moore 1 (Ott, Wiffen), 11:39. Penalties — Burgess, RPI (interference), 1:40; Sidorski, U (slashing), 13:50; Moore, RPI (interference), 16:54; RPI bench (too many men on the ice), 19:19.
Third period — 5, RPI, Polino 2 (Harris), 5:14. 6, RPI, Leppanen 1 (Hayhurst, Burgess), 6:57. 7, Union, Adams 3 (Morton, Sidorski), 8:38. 8, RPI, Linden 1 (Hayhurst), 19:15 (en). Estes, U (boarding), 2:42; Marello, RPI (tripping), 13:30; Marello, RPI (tripping), 19:50.
Shots on goal — Union 15-5-15 — 35. RPI 1-10-4 — 15.
Power-play opportunities — Union 1 of 9. RPI 0 of 4.
T — 2:20. A — 3,045.
Referees — Bryan Hicks, Brad Leblanc. Linesmen — Adam Wood, James Shea.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.
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