Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute gave everything it had against Union in Game 1 of their ECAC Hockey tournament quarterfinal series.
But once again, the Dutchmen’s power play came through, while the Engineers’ didn’t.
Power-play goals by Wayne Simpson and Greg Coburn helped stake the top-seeded Dutchmen to a two-goal lead, and they survived an Engineers’ surge to take a 3-2 victory Friday before a standing-room only crowd of 2,350 at Messa Rink.
The top-seeded and eighth-ranked Dutchmen (21-7-7) take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. They can clinch the series and berth in the tournament championship round next weekend in Atlantic City, N.J., with a win tonight in Game 2. Faceoff is 7 p.m.
A win by 10th-seeded RPI (12-23-3) would send the series to a deciding Game 3 at 7 p.m. Sunday.
Union had a first-round bye last weekend, while RPI eliminated Clarkson in three games in the first round of the tournament. The Dutchmen overcame a Matt Tinordi goal 42 seconds into the game, three straight penalties in the first period, a tenacious RPI effort over the final 35 minutes and Alex Angers-Goulet’s short-handed goal midway through the third period to beat the Engineers for the fourth time this season.
Afterward, Union coach Rick Bennett breathed a sigh of relief.
“That was a team that was a bit rusty [because of] a bye,” Bennett said. “It looked like a team that was still at the library, playing a team that was battle-tested.”
The Dutchmen know they were fortunate.
“I think we got off of our game,” said senior center Kelly Zajac, who had two assists to pull within four points of Adam Presizniuk for first on the Dutchmen’s all-time Division I career points list. “We took a lot of penalties today. That’s very uncharacteristic of us.”
Tinordi caught the Dutchmen in bad line change as he skated into the Union zone. He fired a shot from the right circle over goalie Troy Grosenick’s glove to give RPI a quick 1-0 lead.
“It was a broken play on a line change,” Tinordi said. “[Mark] McGowan had the puck at center ice, and he had great composure late in his shift to make a heads-up play to see me coming up the ice. I just tried to keep my feet moving and shoot the puck, and it went in.”
Union then took three straight penalties — Matt Hatch for interference at 1:04, Max Novak for charging goalie Bryce Merriam at 4:23 and Mat Bodie for elbowing at 9:54. But the Dutchmen killed off those penalties.
“We killed them off, and got pucks in deep,” Zajac said.
Novak atoned for his penalty by tying the score. After he came out of the penalty box, Novak took a Matt Hatch pass and skated down the right wing, just like he did on his penalty. This time, he fired a shot from the right circle that beat Merriam at 6:32.
“I was trying to drive the net hard, and I really ran out of space there and hit the goalie,” Novak said. “Hatch then made a nice chip to me along the boards, and I was able to put it in the back of the net.”
Union didn’t take long on its first power play of the game.
Nine seconds after Mike Bergin tripped Hatch behind the RPI net, Kyle Bodie was along the goal line to the left of Merriam. Bodie centered a pass to Simpson inside the right circle, and Simpson one-timed a shot between Merriam’s pads with 6:41 left in the first.
Less than two minutes into the second period, Union got its second power-play goal. Coburn won a battle for the puck at the left post and put it underneath Merriam and into the net. At first, referee Chip McDonald blew his whistle, and then signaled a goal. A video review confirmed that the puck was in before the whistle.
“They made some nice plays, credit to them,” RPI coach Seth Appert said. “But we didn’t execute it the way we need to execute in some of those situations.”
After that goal, the Engineers began taking the play to the Dutchmen. Another bad Union line change led to a Patrick Cullen breakaway with 14:45 left in the second. But Grosenick stoned him with a nice pad save.
“I just [have to] find a way to stop the puck,” Grosenick said. “It was just the flow of the game. Sometimes, guys are going to get breakaways. You’ve got to make the save. That’s my job. At the end of the day, you just have to find a way to make the save.”
A holding penalty against Joel Malchuk midway through the third period gave Union its fourth power play of the game. This time, it was RPI who took advantage as Angers-Goulet rifled a shot, from the same spot Tinordi scored, at 10:32.
Merriam was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:21 left in the game, but the Engineers couldn’t get a good shot on Grosenick as the Dutchmen held on.
“We sat back on our heels,” Zajac said. “We had a lot of turnovers at the blue lines. That leads to a lot of chances. They had the momentum most of the second period and the third period, as well.
RPI 1 0 1 — 2
Union 2 1 0 — 3
First Period — 1, RPI, Tinordi 6 (Leboeuf, Cullen), :42. 2, Union, Novak 7 (Hatch, Julseth-White), 6:32. 3, Union, Simpson 17 (K. Bodie, Zajac), 13:19 (pp). Penalties — Hatch, Uni (interference), 1:04; Novak, Uni (charging), 4:23; M. Bodie, Uni (elbowing), 9:54; Bergin, RPI (tripping), 13:10; Leboeuf, RPI (slashing) 19:52.
Second Period — 4, Union, Coburn 5 (K. Bodie, Zajac), 1:43 (pp). Penalties — Leonard, RPI (roughing), 2:17; Dolan, RPI (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:04; M. Bodie, Uni (unsportsmanlike conduct), 17:04.
Third Period — 5, RPI, Angers-Goulet 2 (Bergin), 10:32 (sh). Penalties — Malchuk, RPI (holding), 9:51; Zajac, Uni (hooking), 11:00; Leboeuf, RPI (holding), 13:57.
Shots on Goal — RPI 6-12-5 — 23. Union 13-10-4 — 27.
Power-play opportunities — RPI 0 of 4; Union 2 of 5.
Goalies — RPI, Merriam 10-18-2 (27 shots-24 saves). Union, Grosenick 17-5-3 (23-21).
A — 2,350. T — 2:18.
Referees — Chip McDonald, Peter Feola. Linesmen — Jim Briggs, Richard Patry.