Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coach Seth Appert pulled off a surprise Friday, starting sophomore goalie Scott Diebold instead of senior Bryce Merriam, who played the majority of the games last year, for the Engineers’ season-opening game against 11th-ranked Ferris State, a team that played in the NCAA Frozen Four final last April.
It was a hunch, but it proved to be a good hunch.
Diebold made 30 saves, including a spectacular one to preserve a one-goal lead, and the Engineers went on to stun the Bulldogs, 3-1, at Houston Field House.
Diebold played in 10 games last season, posting a 2-5-1 record with a 3.22 goals-against average and an .897 save percentage. Merriam appeared in 31 games, and was 10-19-2 with a 2.36 GAA and a .908 save percentage.
“I went with my gut on Scottie,” Appert said. “He’s been great all fall. Bryce has been real strong, too. It was a little bit of a gut feel with just how good Scottie has been the last month.”
Diebold was ready for the start. He wasn’t nervous.
“It was great to the start tonight and get the season off,” Diebold said. “I know the boys were behind me a hundred percent. You could tell out on the ice, [they were] blocking shots.”
It didn’t start off well for Diebold. Ferris State’s first shot of the game was a goal by Dakota Klecha 1:32 into the first period to give the Bulldogs a quick 1-0 lead.
That would be all the Bulldogs would get, but they nearly tied it with 14:31 left in the third.
With RPI clinging to a 2-1 lead, Ferris State left wing Kyle Bonis had control of the puck as he skated behind the net. He came out to Diebold’s left. Diebold moved over, anticipating a wraparound.
Instead, Bonis passed the puck across the front of the crease to Travis Ouellette, who was stationed to Diebold’s right. Ouellette appeared to have an easy one-timer goal.
But out of nowhere, Diebold slid over and got his right pad on the puck.
“I was just trying to throw my arms in the air, trying to catch something that was going there,” Diebold said. “It was lucky.”
Ferris State coach Bob Daniels was impressed with Diebold not only on that save, but his entire effort.
“I thought he made some really strong saves,” Daniels said. “Not just the saves that he made, it was his ability to kill the puck, get a whistle. I thought he played a good game in net, and he played a good, intelligent game.”
“What I liked more is the attention to detail and the little [saves],” Appert said. “In a game that’s that hard-fought with little scoring against a good defensive team, Scottie’s going to make big saves. But if you give them an easy goal, or you give them a bad rebound goal, then that’s the difference in the game.”
The Engineers tied it with 11:59 in the first. Nick Bailen sprung Mark McGowan on a breakaway. McGowan split the Ferris State defense just before the Bulldogs’ blue line, and he fired a wrist shot over goalie CJ Motte’s right shoulder.
Ryan Haggerty gave the Engineers a 2-1 lead with 8:42 left in the second period. He skated the slot where Matt Neal had centered the puck to, and he banged a shot over Motte’s glove side.
Jacob Laliberte sealed the win when he redirected a Bailen shot past Motte on the power play with 91 seconds left in the game.
“It was a good team win,” Appert said. “It was hard fought. That’s a really good hockey team. They were in the Frozen Four last year, and they didn’t lose a ton [of players].”
The two teams meet again tonight at 7. . . .
Neal was injured early in the third period when he was checked into the left-wing boards in the Ferris State zone. Neal was on his back for a few seconds before getting up. Appert, who said the check was clean, said Neal was fine, and is hoping he can play tonight. . . .
Bailen and Guy Leboeuf each had two assists.
Ferris State 1 0 0 — 1
RPI 1 1 1 — 3
First Period — 1, Ferris State, Klecha 1 (Kane, Alexander), 1:32. 2, RPI, McGowan 1 (Bailen, Leboeuf), 11:59. Penalties — DeMartino, FS (tripping), 5:52; Bailen, RPI (holding stick), 15:09.
Second Period — 3, RPI, Haggerty 1 (Neal, Leboeuf), 11:18. Penalty — Curadi, RPI (boarding), 8:50.
Third Period — 4, RPI, Laliberte 1 (Bailen, Higgs), 18:29 (pp). Penalties — DeMartino, FS (roughing), 2:48; Binkley, FS (interference), 17:22.
Shots on Goal — Ferris State 8-11-12 — 31. RPI 6-7-9 — 22.
Power-play opportunities — Ferris State 0 of 3; RPI 1 of 3.
Goalies — Ferris State, Motte 0-1-0
(22 shots-19 saves). RPI, Diebold 1-0-0
A — 2,654. T — 2:00.
Referees — Alex Dell, Andy O’Brien. Linesmen — Mike Emanatian, Jason Shattie.