Finally … Union gets first win of the season, 2-1 over RPI

Light-scoring Emelifeonwu gets both goals as Dutchmen halt longest losing streak to start a season
Union's Zach Emelifeonwu (13) skates past RPI's Ottoville Leppanen while celebrating his first-period goal.
Union's Zach Emelifeonwu (13) skates past RPI's Ottoville Leppanen while celebrating his first-period goal.

TROY — Sometimes the reproduction is better than the original.

Halfway through the third period on Friday, Union’s forward line of Zach Emelifeonwu and Josh Kosack centered by freshman Owen Farris created the kind of shift that head coach Rick Bennett is looking for, a steady, determined forecheck that leads to puck possession and scoring chances in the offensive end.

The Dutchmen ultimately lost that game 3-2 to RPI at Messa Rink, but on Saturday, they picked right up where they left off, and the finished product was a 2-1 victory over RPI at Houston Field House.

Union is framing this one, not because it was a piece of artwork, but because it was the Dutchmen’s first win, stopping the worst losing streak to start a season since the program went to Division I in 1991-92.

The senior Emelifeonwu came into the game with just three career goals in 86 games, but accounted for both against RPI. The Engineers made it interesting with a power-play goal with 3:20 left but couldn’t tie it, prompting an energetic — and perhaps relieved — celebration on the Union bench.

“They’re our rival, right?” Emelifeonwu said. “So definitely a good feeling beating those guys, especially after last night when they came into our barn and stole one from us. Moving forward, it’s kind of remembering what worked tonight and building on that.”

“Finally, yeah,” said junior goalie Darion Hanson, who made 25 saves, including a tough stop on Jake Marrello’s breakaway early in the second period.

“I was talking last night [Friday] about how it was one of the hardest losses since I’ve been at Union, and it’s funny, 24 hours later, it’s one of our best wins. We put ourselves in a big hole and we’ve got a lot of work to do to dig ourselves out of that hole, but this one feels good and we’re going to enjoy it.”

The Dutchmen (1-1-0, 1-1-0) gained two standings points in ECAC Hockey, while RPI fell to 3-3-0 overall and 1-1-0 in ECACH.

Union sneaked one in just before the first intermission, as Emelifeonwu one-timed the puck through the legs of RPI goalie Owen Savory with 1:12 left in the first period.

Farris, a 6-foot-3, 212-pound freshman from Dallas, won a faceoff in the left circle back to senior defenseman Vas Kolias, who skated up the left boards and sent a cross-ice pass from the bottom of the left circle that found Emelifeonwu on the back door.

The Dutchmen were lucky not to have been down 1-0 at that point, since RPI captain Will Reilly had half the net to shoot at from the left circle under no pressure and bounced it off the pipe with Hanson out of position during a scrambling play in front of him.

“That’s on me. I’ve got to bury that,” Reilly said.

The shot-challenged Dutchmen finished the first period with a 14-9 advantage in that department and carried the momentum through the intermission, although limited to just three shots on goal as RPI blocked 11 in the second period alone.

Hanson, meanwhile, kept it a 1-0 game with  a sparkling save at his left post on Marrello’s short-handed breakaway through the left circle 3:35 into the second, after Union defenseman Joseph Campolieto couldn’t contain an awkwardly bouncing puck at the blueline.

“He’s a right-handed shot. I saw [defenseman Brandon] Estes coming hard from the center there, and usually, best-case scenario, is Brandon can move his feet back and cut off the back half of the net,” Hanson said.

“But, also, for me, I can’t really expect that, so I saw him come in protecting the puck a little bit, and usually that means they’re going to pull it over forehand, maybe try and flick it backhand. That’s a really tough play, so once you kind of read that, you just slide over and don’t let it go under you, too. My stick was in a good spot, and I got it. Pretty happy about that.”

Union extended its lead to 2-0 57 seconds into the third period when Emelifeonwu tipped in a puck that Kosack slid ahead toward the crease during a rush.

Farris, who came into the game with no points in his first six games as a college player, also had an assist on this one.

“We’ve got to find a way to start with better focus,” RPI head coach Dave Smith said. “I thought Union played desperate, and we played a little more convenient than we would’ve liked. Their game-winning goal was a nothing play that they just drifted into the net, and we were not as motivated in that moment, because it was non-threatening, and it cost us the game.”

“We carried our third period from last night into tonight,” Bennett said. “We were just a little more consistent tonight.

“Mo [Emelifeonwu] backed up what he’s been saying in the locker room the past couple games. He’s been very vocal, and he certainly carried that tonight, and he was rewarded for his hard work and his linemates’ hard work. And he was fortunate to be the guy who got the two.”

“They’re probably the most reliable line we have, and they came to work tonight,” Hanson said.

“Tonight it seemed like stuff just came together, which is nice,” Emelifeonwu said. “I was glad we were able to help out on the stat sheet, but it was a team effort getting things done all over the ice.”

The Engineers took advantage of a late power play when Reilly found himself in the identical position as when he clanked the puck off iron in the first period.

He buried this one with 3:20 left in the game. Savory went to the bench for an extra skater with just over a minute left, but the Engineers couldn’t manage a good scoring chance the rest of the way.

“We knew they were going to come hard, they’re oh-and-7, they’re fighting for their lives and we just didn’t give enough tonight,” Reilly said. “It was that simple.”

“The teams that win consistently find that edge after a win,” Smith said. “It’s not hard to bring the effort, we know how to play. We’re learning how difficult that it is and what it takes in their mind. That’s the most important item that we’re trying to solve, that if you want to win, it starts the moment last night [Friday] ended. And it needs to burn.”

“You could just tell, from the morning on, that there was some vibe that they wanted this game and they weren’t going to stop,” Bennett said. “It was really fun to be a part of it.”

Union 1 0 1 — 2

RPI 0 0 1 — 1

First period — 1, Union, Emelifeonwu 1 (Kolias, Farris), 18:48. Penalties — Kolias, U (interference), 10:24; Burgess, RPI (tripping), 16:34.

Second period — None. Penalties — Lacka, RPI (hooking), 2:01; Campolieto, U (tripping), 6:52; Lee, RPI (roughing), 13:45.

Third period — 2, Union, Emelifeonwu 2 (Kosack, Farris), :57 3, RPI, Reilly 3 (Zieky, Leppanen), 16:40 (pp). Penalties — Burgess, RPI (tripping), 2:52; Robertson, U (tripping), 15:56.

Shots on goal — Union, 14-3-10 — 27. RPI, 9-12-5 — 26.

Power-play opportunities — Union, 0 of 4. RPI, 1 of 3.

Goalies — Union, Hanson, 1-7-0 (26 shots-25 saves). RPI, Savory, 2-2-0 (27-25).

T — 2:05. A — 3,108.

Referees — Robert St. Lawrence, Jason Willliams. Linesmen — Jason Shattie, Michael Wrobel.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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