Union freshman forward Kelly Zajac had a great scoring chance earlier in Saturday’s ECAC Hockey game against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, but he was unable to get the shot off.
But Zajac had no such problem in overtime.
Zajac fired a shot past RPI goalie Allen York’s glove with 1:41 left in overtime, giving the Dutchmen a dramatic 2-1 win over the Engineers before a standing-room-only crowd of 2,286 at Messa Rink.
The win gave the Dutchmen (7-8-1 ECACH, 14-12-2 overall) a sweep of the weekend series after they won, 3-0, Friday at Houston Field House. The Dutchmen are 8-1-1 in their last 10 league games against the Engineers (5-10-1, 6-20-2).
Union moved into a three-way tie for sixth place with Clarkson and St. Lawrence. All three teams are a point behind fifth-place Quinnipiac.
Zajac led a two-on-one rush down the right wing. With Dutchmen co-captain Matt Cook going to the net and RPI defenseman Bryan Brutlag back, Zajac cut to the slot and, with traffic in front, fired the winning shot past York.
“I made the same play in the second period,” said Zajac, who ended an 18-game drought without a goal. “I pushed the puck too far ahead of me there. I came down again, and I told myself I wasn’t going to make the same mistake. I cut across, and I shot it. . . . I saw the ref point to the goal. It was pretty exciting.”
Zajac’s goal was his second game-ending tally of the season. On Nov. 29, he scored with two-tenths of a second left in regulation to give Union a 5-4 win over Army.
“He’s a guy that’s been snake-bitten,” Union coach Nate Leaman said. “He’s a very good player. Invariably, he’s a freshman, and he kind of hit the wall a little bit. But he’s been battling through it. That goal tonight is really going to spark him.”
RPI coach Seth Appert was seething after the game, and wanted a goalie interference penalty called on Cook. RPI center Chase Polacek came back to help out. Cook and Polacek came together in front of the crease, and both collided with York just before Zajac shot.
The Engineers were penalized twice for running into Union goalie Corey Milan in the third period, adding to Appert’s frustration.
“It’s terrible,” Appert said. “We’re waiting for a power play. Our guys, I think, are still in their gear, waiting for the 1:41 man advantage for goalie interference on the winning goal. They called that two times on plays that didn’t matter in the third period in a game that was an absolute war.”
Naturally, Leaman disagreed.
“I watched the tape,” Leaman said. “It wasn’t our guy that went into him. The referee was right there. That’s the bottom line.”
Even York disagreed with his coach. York didn’t think there was any interference.
“It was our player that hit me first,” York said.
Zajac’s goal ended a game that was offensively challenging for both sides. With 10 minutes left in the third period, the shots on goal were 15-13 Union. The only goals scored in regulation were by Union defenseman Mike Wakita early in the second period, and Polacek early in the third.
York stopped Adam Presizniuk on a penalty shot 5:57 into the game. Presizniuk, who was pulled down by defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer as he drove the net, tried to put a backhander past York. But York flashed out his glove and made the save.
“All I was thinking was take away the shot,” York said. “I was going to make him deke. I came out as far as I could. I think that threw him a little bit.”
RPI 0010 — 1
Union 0101 — 2
First Period — None. Penalties — Burgdoerfer, RPI (hooking), 5:57; M. Angers-Goulet, RPI (roughing), 5:57; Walters, Uni (roughing), 5:57; Walters, Uni (interference), 8:03; Valery-Trabucco, Uni (tripping), 14:15; Wakita, Uni (boarding), 16:14; Polacek, RPI (hooking), 16:25.
Second Period — 1, Union, Wakita 2 (Schreiber, Valery-Trabucco), 4:30. Penalties — Brutlag, RPI (holding), 5:39; Cain, Uni (cross-checking), 9:28; Matheson, Uni (interference), 16:16.
Third Period — 2, RPI, Polacek 8 (Helfrich, Cullen), 3:21. Penalties — Colling, RPI (roughing), 10:42; Schreiber, Uni (holding), 10:10; Rabbani, RPI (interference), 11:45; Watts,, RPI (roughing), 13:51; Kennedy, RPI (boarding), 16:54; Malchuk, RPI (embellishment), 18:10; Milnamow, Uni (hooking), 18:10.
Overtime — 3, Union, Zajac 5 (Boileau, Harr), 3:19. Penalties — None.
Missed Penalty Shot — Presizniuk, Union, 5:57 first.
Shots on Goal — RPI 6-4-4-1 — 15. Union 3-7-10-2 — 22.
Power-play opportunities — RPI 0 of 6; Union 0 of 6.
Goalies — RPI, York 1-6-0 (22 shots-20 saves). Union, Milan 14-12-2 (15-14).
A — 2,281. T —2:20 .
Referees — Bryan Hicks, Chip McDonald. Linesmen — Leo Boylan, Joe Testa.