TROY, N.Y. — In the last game of the ECAC regular season, two teams met to play for home ice. If Colgate won, the Raiders would have it. If Rensselaer won, the Engineers would need Yale to defeat Brown as well.
With that Yale win and 60 minutes of hockey in which they never trailed, the Rensselaer Engineers emerged victorious with the last home-ice spot in the ECAC playoffs, taking a 3-1 win over the Raiders.
Both teams were in the position to gain home ice after being left for dead, as both were in last place in the ECAC at one point in the season: the Raiders in December and the Engineers just six weeks ago.
“I’m just real happy for the seniors that they get to come back and play more games here. That’s something we wanted to do all season,” said Engineer head coach Dan Fridgen. “About four or five weeks ago we left ourselves little room for error and I give these guys all the credit in the world. They battled back and faced adversity, and they got the job done.”
The Engineers jumped on the board first on their first power-play opportunity. Marc Cavosie took the puck behind the net and left it for Matt Murley. As Murley came towards the front of the net, the puck was deflected to a waiting Carson Butterwick and an open net. Butterwick put it past David Cann for the 1-0 lead.
In the second the Engineers took a 2-0 lead as the last second ticked off an Engineer power play. A centering pass from Steve Munn came to Jim Henkel. Henkel fired a one-timer that went off of Cann’s glove.
The Raiders would come back within one goal as Etienne Morin fired a shot from inside the blue line that went over Nathan Marsters’ shoulder.
But as the second period ended the Engineers made it 3-1 when the Engineers kept the puck in the Raider end for close to two minutes and Ben Barr got one past Cann.
“We still had the fire in our bellies from last night. [We] came out and got the jump on them early and didn’t look back,” said Fridgen. “It was a well-played game from Nate right on out. Our penalty killers did a great job … We got some timely goals, and that’s all we needed.”
The Engineers scored once on the power play in four opportunities and as one expired, while holding the Raiders scoreless on six opportunities.
“We’ve struggled with our special teams play, at least with our power play,” said Raider head coach Don Vaughan. “We have trouble getting the puck through to the net. When you can’t get the puck through like that, you have a tendency to squeeze the stick a little tighter, and now we’re forcing it, and we’re not getting anything through.
“But you also have to give RPI a lot of credit. They did a good job of getting in the shooting lanes and keeping us on the perimeter, and that was the difference in the game tonight.”
The Raiders, who were in the driver’s seat for home ice as the weekend began, finish in a three-way tie for sixth place with a 10-10-2 record, but get the seventh seed due to a tiebreaker loss to Princeton. They will travel to Dartmouth next weekend for the playoffs.
“At this point in the season you have to put it behind you,” said Vaughan about the disappointment. “If you had told me back in December that we would have to win one game to secure home ice on the last weekend, I probably would have taken it. We’ve come a long way, we’re still young, we’re learning every night and I’m thrilled to be in the playoffs. I think it’s up for grabs.”
The Engineers have Yale to thank for home ice, as the Engineers passed Brown with the win and finish the ECAC season in a three-way tie for third place with a 10-9-3 record, after being in last place on January 25. The Engineers will host Princeton next weekend as the fifth seed in the playoffs.
“We’re getting real good contributions,” said Fridgen. “The defense played real well for us and we have to keep it going; the journey begins now. Compared to where we were and where we’ve been, we’ve come a long way.”