SCHENECTADY -- First game, first shift, first shot. Since Thanksgiving weekend.
First ringing post.
Because Union sophomore Joseph Campolieto had missed 21 straight games due to injury, he had plenty to be thankful for last Friday, when the coaching staff put him in the lineup as the seventh defenseman to open the first round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs against Colgate at Messa Rink.
Less than five minutes in, the first time he had put skate to home ice in a game since Nov. 3, Campolieto blasted a shot from the point that beat goalie Mitch Benson, but didn't beat the cold, hard reality of a metal pipe with no give.
Other than that and one play on which his lack of game fitness revealed itself, though, Campolieto was glad to be back, and was a welcome returnee to the lineup who should add some spark to the blueline as the Dutchmen (19-11-6) head into a best-of-3 quarterfinal series at Cornell on Friday.
"He was pretty fired up," said sophomore goalie Darion Hanson, Campolieto's roommate, after the game.
"We were all giving him a little crap before the game, especially Liam Morgan," Hanson said with a laugh. "You should see some of the stuff he said. And it was not positive, I can tell you that. He got in some good ones. But he [Campolieto] was excited, and I thought he played well. We're happy to have him back."
The 6-foot, 185-pound Campolieto was a regular presence in the lineup as a freshman, playing in 33 games, and was being counted on for his all-around game, which includes speed from the backline.
He had three goals and four assists last year, and led the team with a +13 in plus-minus rating.
In the week after Union got back from the Nov. 23-24 Friendship Four tournament in Northern Ireland, Campolieto took a hit in practice -- " a weird hit, kind of a freak accident," he said -- that not only kept him out of the lineup for over three months, but kept him off skates entirely until less than a month ago.
"From December until January 5th, I wasn't able to do any sort of activity," he said. "Nothing. Just bed rest. January 5th, I had a doctor's appointment, and I was told I was allowed to walk on the treadmill, and worked my way up to five miles a day.
"When it first happened at the beginning of December, it took a toll on me. It was tough for me to even watch our games. I wanted to be on the ice with the team so badly."
During that span, the Dutchmen occasionally clunked their way through an inconsistent season in which they could beat anybody in Division I on some nights, and throw in a dud the next.
They come into the Cornell series with the longest winning streak of the season, at four games, while folding an important piece of the defense back into the rotation.
"I only caught him one time where he was on the wrong side of the puck [Friday]," head coach Rick Bennett said Wednesday afternoon. "And all it takes in a playoff series is one time. But that's going to happen. He's doing the best he possibly can, and I thought he did a really solid job in the two games this weekend.
"He brings speed. He can hit. He does bring an offensive side to him, like when he jumps in the rush. He can be that fourth guy in the rush for us. His transition to offense can help us, and I think you're going to see more of that as we continue, just because he's getting in better shape."
"He was joining the rush, moving his feet," sophomore wing Jack Adams said. "Having that speed and that versatility back in the lineup is a huge asset for us."
It was't until Feb. 18 that Campolieto was cleared by his doctor to skate, then another two weeks before he was cleared for full contact.
He skated on his own for one week before skating with the team in practice with the no-contact jersey on.
"Obviously, I was very eager in February to get back," Campolieto said. "It was weird. I was a little slower than I normally am [against Colgate]. My cardio's not 100 percent back. But I think I got back into it fairly easily. It came right back to me.
"[Associate] coach [Jason] Tapp did a good job of easing me back into the game, because I was the seventh defenseman. I didn't play my normal shift amount. I remember that play that Rick's talking about. He discussed it with me, also. I just have to get my speed back, because that is something I would normally do and normally would've made the play, but I was just that little step behind."
The shot is still there, even if the legs and lungs need to catch up a little bit more.
Besides the post-banger on Friday, Campolieto had another good scoring chance in Saturday's series-clinching win over Colgate.
"Oof. I was a little rattled about that one. That would've been so great, first shift, bury a goal," he said. "But that's alright."
"He was just snakebit," Hanson said. "I could see he wanted it so bad. He had one in the Saturday game, too, a shot from the point that got tipped and went off the ice and went just wide, and he just looked up to the stands. He wanted it pretty bad, and so did I."
RPI goalie Owen Savory is one of three finalists for the ECACH Rookie of the Year award.
He joins Casey Dornbach of Harvard and Peter DiLiberatore from Quinnipiac as finalists, with the winner announced at the awards banquet prior to the league championship weekend in Lake Placid.
A freshman goaltender out of Cambridge, Ontario, Savory played in 25 games this season, including 23 as a starter. He posted a 5-15-3 overall record, with a 2.46 goals against average and a .926 save percentage. Stopping 739 shots in 1438:00 minutes, he had one shutout – a 43-save performance against then-No. 18 Union College in the Mayor's Cup on Jan. 29.
That game ended 0-0 after one overtime period, and the Dutchmen won the Mayor's Cup on a shootout.
Ranking 10th nationally in save percentage, Savory is second among rookie netminders.