TROY, N.Y. — The weather outside was miserable. But inside Houston Field House, it was toasty warm for Rensselaer and bitterly cold for Union.
Kirk MacDonald gave Rensselaer control of the game with two first-period goals Friday, and the Engineers rolled to an easy 5-1 win over their Capital Region rivals, warming hearts of most of the 3,506 fans who braved sub-zero temperatures to watch the game.
“I think we played hard for 60 minutes,” Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen said. “Give a lot of credit to the guys in the locker room. They came out for 60 minutes and stayed real focused.”
The teams meet again Saturday night at 7 at Union’s Frank L. Messa Rink at Achilles Center. The Dutchmen (2-6-1 ECAC, 7-10-3 overall), who have lost eight straight and are winless in their last nine, won’t be sleeping in this morning.
Union didn’t show any desire or smarts. It gave Rensselaer (5-3-1, 10-8-2) nine power-play chances, and the Engineers scored three times. Even when Jason Visser scored 25 seconds into the second period, it wasn’t enough to light a fire under the Dutchmen.
“I thought we put on an embarrassing performance tonight,” Union coach Nate Leaman said. “We didn’t come. We didn’t compete. We weren’t sharp mentally. We took really poor penalties. There’s no excuse for it.
“It’s going to be a long film session [this] morning. We have to compete. We didn’t compete. Competing comes from within. It’s something that we all have to have a little gut check and see if we have what it takes to compete.”
Rensselaer scored one early in the first period, and one late. A Visser high-sticking penalty 27 seconds into the game gave the Engineers a power play. They capitalized 59 seconds later when Kevin Croxton sent a pass from behind the net to MacDonald, who fired it past goalie Kris Mayotte.
MacDonald made it 2-0 with 22.8 seconds left. Just after Rensselaer killed off a Union power play, Ben Barr sent MacDonald in on a breakaway. MacDonald fired a wrist shot between Mayotte’s pads.
“[Mark] Yurkewecz blocked a shot from the point at the end of the power play. That was a great play by him,” said MacDonald, who leads the team with 10 goals. “Benny made a great feed to me. I went five-hole and buried it.”
After Visser’s goal, Rensselaer regrouped and got another power-play goal. Matt McNeely scored at 11:01 to make it 3-1.
“We take more bad penalties,” Leaman said. “When you take bad penalties, you’re going to put them on the power play. They get the momentum of the game, and they capitalize. We must have taken at least six or seven poor penalties tonight. We talked all week about playing a smart game when you get into these [rivalry] games. Tonight, we did not play a smart game.
“We didn’t have a lot of heart.”
A bad change by Union enabled Kevin Broad to score on a breakaway with 3:17 left in the second. Matt Vagvolgyi skated to the Union bench just as Broad got open in the neutral zone. Chris DiStefano tried in vain to catch Broad after he took Scott Romfo’s pass, but to no avail.
“The two times that [the breakaways] happened was right off of them going on the power play,” Fridgen said. “We went from a penalty kill to a five-on-five situation and caught them. I thought those were huge goals for us.”
Croxton scored Rensselaer’s final power-play goal at 6:23 of the third period.
Rensselaer president Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson spoke to the fans between the second and third periods to thank them for their support, as well as the players and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., during the crisis involving Proposal 65. The proposal, which would eliminate athletic scholarships for eight Division III schools that play a Division I sport, will be voted on Monday.
Union freshman defenseman Jason Ortolono made his debut. Ortolono was expected to miss the season after suffering a knee injury last summer.
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.