DURHAM, N.H. — Senior co-captain Steve Saviano scored two goals and junior linemate Justin Aikins added to his team-leading point total with the game-winning goal, as No. 4 New Hampshire came from behind in the third period to defeat Rensselaer, 4-3, at the Whittemore Center.
The goal was Aikins’ fifth of the season. He also recorded his 15th assist on the year, putting him in a tie for tops in the nation in that category.
Aikins was told late Friday afternoon by coach Dick Umile that he was being bumped up to the Wildcats’ first line.
“I practiced with them yesterday. It’s a treat to play with those guys (Saviano and Sean Collins). Definitely a lot of fun,” said Aikins.
Rensselaer had its five-game unbeaten streak snapped, and fell to 7-4-2 (2-1-1 ECAC). The Engineers were coming off a win at UMass-Lowell on Friday, as well as a huge weekend sweep of No. 8 St. Cloud State at home. With the victory, New Hampshire improved to 9-3-1 (5-2-1 Hockey East).
The game was marred by over 100 minutes in penalties, including six 10-minute misconducts.
“I thought the guys battled for a full 60 minutes tonight against a good Rensselaer team that has been playing well,” said Umile.
“I thought it was a hard-fought battle both ways. Give UNH credit. They turned it up in the third,” said Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen.
While a UNH power play was ticking down in the Rensselaer end, referee Tim Benedetto raised his arm for another Engineer penalty. With sophomore goaltender Jeff Pietrasiak off for the extra skater, freshman Brett Hemingway found Preston Callander camped out in front of Rensselaer senior goalie Nate Marsters. Callander tapped in the pass for his fourth of the year early in the first period.
UNH had a goal disallowed at 10:30, as it was ruled that Saviano kicked the puck in on a rush with Collins. Play was delayed a few minutes later, as Marsters had the puck trickle down his right leg pad on a UNH shot, much to the heckling of the New Hampshire fans.
With the Wildcats in the midst of killing off a two-man advantage for the Engineers, a shot came in from the blue line off the stick of sophomore defenseman Scott Romfo. Pietrasiak appeared to hold the short side, but Benedetto immediately signaled it a goal, Romfo’s first of the season, in spite of Pietrasiak’s protests and despite the fact that the goal light never came on.
The referee giveth.
Collins outraced a Rensselaer defender in the early stages of the second period, and as he so often does, faked the defenseman on a stop-and-go, and fed hometown mate Saviano, who wristed a shot past a partially screened Marsters to give the lead back to UNH, 2-1.
Two “Fours” had a hand in getting the Engineers even at 2-2.
On the power play, Nick Economakos (Rensselaer’s number 4) sent a shot in on Pietrasiak that banked in cleanly off Mike Lubesnick (UNH’s number 4) and past a stunned Pietrasiak for his third goal of the season.
With the Wildcats down at the start of the third period, 3-2, courtesy of a Conrad Barnes goal with just 19 seconds left in the second period, Saviano scored another one of his highlight-reel goals that UNH fans have grown accustomed to.
Picking up a loose puck to the left of Marsters with UNH on the offensive, Saviano skated ’round and ’round a few Rensselaer defenders, never losing possession of the puck, and finally getting himself in position to roof one up and over Marsters into the twine to tie the score at 3-3.
“He’s a crafty and elusive player who likes to dipsy-doodle with the puck,” said Fridgen of Saviano. “He’s very good around the faceoff circle. He’s the type of player that if you play the puck instead of him … … well, he’s pretty good with the puck.”
“We just wanted to get some momentum going. We have two big games next weekend (at Clarkson and St. Lawrence Friday and Saturday before traveling to No. 7 Massachusetts the following Thursday). This was a good night to do it,” said Saviano.
With the Engineers having already recorded a controversial goal, Rensselaer looked to take one of New Hampshire’s away for good measure.
On some pretty tic-tac-toe passing from Saviano to Collins to Aikins, the shot by Aikins appeared to go in and out of the goal area, as the crowd let out a roar. Not so fast, my friend. The referee and linesman conferred, and after some discussion allowed the goal to stand.
The referee giveth again.
“I think it hit the pad on the inside of the post and bounced in,” said a less-than-convinced Aikins.
With Marsters pulled for an extra skater, the Engineers put forth an onslaught of good scoring chances. Pietrasiak made a game-saving stop with his stick on the ice on a shot by Barnes with less than 30 seconds to go to preserve the win.
“We got a couple of good whacks at (the puck) there at the end,” said Fridgen. “It’s a game of millimeters sometimes.”
Rensselaer hosts ECAC foe Yale Friday, while UNH travels to the North Country of New York to take on Clarkson. Both contests are at 7 p.m.