SCHENECTADY — It had been about a year and a half since the Union and RPI men’s hockey teams had played a game because the coronavirus pandemic canceled their 2020-21 season.
It looked like the two teams hadn’t been away that long.
The Capital Region rivals played a crisp, entertaining game Saturday in their exhibition matchup at Messa Rink. The Engineers came away with a 5-2 victory.
“I thought we came out the first eight minutes, and we were pretty good and then faded a little bit,” Union head coach Rick Bennett said. “At the same token, it was still good energy. The guys were positive. There’s just a lot of stuff to build on.”
Union last played March 8, 2020, in Game 3 of the ECAC Hockey tournament against Yale. RPI’s last contest was Feb. 29, 2020, against Dartmouth.
“I’m really happy with what we talk about, a response to adversity, and there is adversity in every game, good and bad,” RPI head coach Dave Smith said. “In this game, I thought that Union outworked us early, but we responded.”
Union senior captain Josh Kosack said there was a lot of excitement, but the team needs to work on chemistry.
“For three classes, it’s our first game in 20 months,” Kosack said. “I thought we started off really strong. I thought our energy was good. We faded a bit in the first period.”
While most of the players on both sides hadn’t played in a year and a half, RPI graduate student Shane Sellar had an even longer wait.
Sellar lost his senior year at Dartmouth in 2019-20 because of a torn MCL. He transferred to RPI after that season, hoping to play last year.
Sellar had an outstanding game. He led RPI with two goals and an assist. His first goal tied the game at 1-1 with 7:52 left in the first period. Sellar sealed the win on an empty-net, shorthanded goal with 1.6 seconds left in the game.
“It was awesome [to be back],” said Sellar, who had 16 goals and 24 assists in 94 career games at Dartmouth. “You kind of spend all the time in the gym working on your game off the ice, as well as on the ice throughout the summers and the long winter months we had. But it was just nice to compete against another team for the first time in a while.”
Union sophomore defenseman Nic Petruolo was all over the scoresheet.
He had two first-period penalties. He took a boarding call 1:31 into the game, and then had a holding penalty with 2:48 left in the first.
Petruolo made up for those penalties by scoring a second-period power-play goal that pulled Union within 3-2.
“Listen, I’m a defenseman at the end of the day, and I haven’t been playing a game for almost two years now,” Petruolo said. “[I’m] just getting in the swing of things, obviously, fast-paced hockey. First game of college hockey, it was nice to score a goal. But at the end of the day, I’m a defenseman. I take care of the ‘D’ zone first.”
The teams combined for 13 power-play attempts. Union was 1 for 7, while RPI was 0 for 6.
Bennett was happy with the penalty kill. Union allowed just three power-play shots.
“We had guys on the penalty kill who really bought in, kind of sold out for their teammates,” Bennett said. “What I mean by that was a lot of blocked shots.”
Kosack blocked several shots during an early third-period RPI power play. He appeared to take a shot to his ribs and was laboring.
“Our captain was our captain tonight,” Bennett said. “He made an impact on the game.”
The attendance for the game wasn’t announced, but it appeared to be about three-quarters full.
“It was really nice to see the Messa faithful back,” Kosack said. “It’s been a long journey since March 2020 when things kind of started. I really appreciate their support, even though it was an exhibition game. It was really nice to see them back in the stands.”
RPI 2 2 1 — 5
Union 1 1 0 — 2
First Period — 1, Union, Watkins (Hodge), 6:53. 2, RPI, Sellar, 12:08. 3, RPI, Linden (Addamo, Sellar), 19:17. Penalties — Petruolo, Uni (boarding), 1:31; Beaton, RPI (holding), 4:02; Herman, RPI (holding), 8:27; Klee, RPI (holding), 13:14; Petruolo, Uni (holding), 17:12.
Second Period — 4, RPI, Lacka (Leppanen), 4:15; 5, Union, Petruolo (Estes), 9:54 (pp). 6, RPI, Gagnon, 19:03. Penalties — Hallbauer, RPI, major-game misconduct (checking from behind), 7:34; Allen, Uni (interference), 8:10; Baxter, RPI (holding), 8:45; Richter, Uni (holding), 19:59.
Third Period — 7, RPI, Sellar, 19:54 (sh-en). Penalties — Johnson, RPI (elbowing), 7:56; Scheerer, Uni (holding), 11:25; Scheerer, Uni (slashing), 13:56; Seger, Uni (roughing), 16:10; Davies, RPI (boarding), 18:59.
Shots on Goal — RPI 3-9-7 — 19. Union 7-7-3 — 17.
Power-play opportunities — RPI 0 of 6; Union 1 of 7.
Goalies — RPI, Marshall (7 shots-6 saves), Miller (0:00 second, 7-6), Watson (0:00 third, 3-3). Union, Nieto (3-1), Sharib (0:00 second, 4-3), Pipes (10:04 second, 4-3), Murphy (0:00 third, 6-6).
A — N/A. T — 2:02.
Referees — Chip McDonald, Joe Carusone. Linesmen — Stephen Drain, Brian Oliver.