Union freshman goalie Alex Sakellaropoulos admitted to be nervous when he got to Messa Rink Friday, even though he knew junior and Niskayuna native Colin Stevens was starting the Dutchmen’s season-opening game against Bowling Green.
But 6:21 into the game, Sakellaropoulos found himself out on the ice replacing Stevens, who was injured in a collision with the Falcons’ Bryce Williamson.
Sakellaropoulos performed admirably, making 21 saves and helping the 16th-ranked Dutchmen earn a 3-3 tie against the Falcons.
“I was nervous from the get-go,” said Sakellaropoulos, who was recruited from the U.S. Hockey League’s Chicago Steel by the Dutchmen shortly after Troy Grosenick signed with the San Jose Sharks in April. “Once I stepped in the rink, I was nervous. My stomach was jittering. It was so scary out there.”
Stevens was barreled into by Williamson as he drove the net after getting a step on defenseman Mat Bodie. Williamson didn’t slow down, and crashed heavily into Stevens.
Stevens was on the ice for about five minutes. He got up slowly, gingerly skated to the bench and went to the locker room.
“When I saw him go down, I didn’t think much. I thought he was just going to get back up, just collect his thoughts and get back at it,” Sakellaropoulos said. “I looked over at coach Tapper [assistant Jason Tapp], and he said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’
“Once ‘Stevo’ started heading to the bench, it was my time to go.”
Union coach Rick Bennett said Stevens suffered an upper-body injury. He is questionable for tonight’s rematch at 7:30.
“We’re just going to have to wait until [today],” Bennett said.
Bennett thought Sakellaropoulos handled the situation well.
“If you’re going to come in [for] your first time, that’s probably the best way to come in,” Bennett said. “I think Jason Tapp will probably tell you the same thing. [Sakellaropoulos] did a great job for us. We’re proud of the effort he put out there. He gave us a chance.”
The Dutchmen knew they had to rally around Sakellaropoulos and make him feel relaxed.
“Honestly, that’s a great job by ‘Sak,’ ” said senior forward Daniel Carr, who gave Union a 3-2 lead on a power-play goal with 6:56 left in the second period. “He got put in a tough spot tonight with ‘Stevo’ going down in the first 10 minutes, and he did a great job. He stepped in and made some great saves for us. It’s rare to see a freshman goalie be a calming influence in the net, and he does that for us already.”
Williamson got a five-minute major for goalie interference, while Bodie received a two-minute minor for cross-checking. Union got a three-minute power play, and cashed in when freshman Eli Lichtenwald collected his first collegiate goal.
Matt Hatch made it 2-0 late in the first, putting home the rebound of a Kevin Sullivan shot.
Bennett was happy with Sakellaropoulos’ effort. None of the three second-period goals he allowed were his fault. Dan DeSalvo fired a shot from the slot off the left post and into the net at 6:22, the Falcons had two men down low and no Union defensemen in sight when Pierre-Luc Mercier scored nearly two minutes later and Williamson bounced a shot from behind the Union net off of a Dutchmen defenseman and past Sakellaropoulos on the power play.
“We put ourselves in that position,” Bennett said. “I don’t fault the PK [penalty kill] on that. I put the fault on what happened to lead up to that, and that was, basically, getting caught out there too long. That’s just stuff we have to learn.”
After a scoreless third period, Carr nearly won it for the Dutchmen, twice, early in overtime. His first shot, from the slot off of a Matt Hatch pass, was gloved by goalie Tommy Burke 49 seconds into OT.
Bowling Green 0 3 0 0 — 3
Union 2 1 0 0 — 3
First Period — 1, Union, Lichtenwald 1 (Pontarelli, Ciampini), 9:52 (pp). 2, Union, Hatch 1 (K. Sullivan), 18:45. Penalties — Murphy, BG (hooking), 1:46; Gostisbehere, Uni (cross-checking), 3:07; Williamson, BG, major (charging goaltender), 6:12; Bodie, Uni (cross-checking), 6:12.
Second Period — 3, Bowling Green, DeSalvo 1 (Dufour, Berkle), 6:22. 4, Bowling Green, Mercier 1 (Cooper), 8:11. 5, Union, Carr 1 (Pontarelli), 13:04 (pp). 6, Bowling Green, Williamson 1 (Berkle, Freibergs), 18:04 (pp). Penalties — M. Sullivan, BG (hooking), 9:34; Dufour, BG (tripping), 11:42; Bodie, Uni (holding), 16:19; Walker, BG (boarding), 19:08.
Third Period — None. Penalties — Walker, BG (slashing), 3:56; Mercier, BG (contact to head-roughing), 9:51.
Overtime — None. Penalties — None.
Shots on Goal — Bowling Green 8-7-8-2 — 25. Union 8-10-6-3 — 27.
Power-play opportunities — Bowling Green 1 of 2; Union 2 of 8.
Goalies — Bowling Green, Burke 0-0-1
(27 shots-23 saves). Union, Stevens (1-1), Sakellaropoulos 0-0-1 (6:12 first, 24-21).
A — 1,921. T — 2:2.
Referees — Alex Dell, Robert St. Lawrence. Linesmen — Mike Emanatian, Richard Patry.