TROY, N.Y. — When Rensselaer plays Cornell, you know what kind of game it will be — always clutching and grabbing.
The Big Red worked that to perfection Friday at Houston Field House. They held the Engineers to 18 shots on goal, kept RPI’s power play from being a factor and took over sole possession of third place in the ECAC with a 2-1 victory.
“Cornell’s a fun team to play,” said forward Vic Pereira, who scored RPI’s only goal with 12:19 left in the game. “I think our styles match up quite nicely. Whatever team usually gets the breaks comes out on top. Unfortunately, they capitalized on their opportunities, and we didn’t.”
The Engineers (11-7-1 ECAC, 17-12-2 overall) slipped into a fourth-place tie with Dartmouth, which skated to a 2-2 tie with Princeton. However, Dartmouth holds the tiebreaker edge for the final ECAC tournament first-round bye by virtue of winning the season series, 1-0-1.
RPI is three points behind Brown and Colgate, who are tied for first place. Colgate visits RPI at 7 p.m. Saturday. There are three games left in the regular season.
The Engineers’ frustration with the Big Red’s style was displayed with 1:25 left in the game when Kirk MacDonald took a retaliatory slashing penalty against Chris Abbott, who had knocked him down in front of the RPI bench.
“Rugby on ice,” RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. “It was a well-played game both ways, but there were a lot of scrums. It was tough to get open space. That’s the way they played, and that’s the way they called it.”
Cornell (11-5-3, 13-7-6), which is one point out of first place after winning its fifth straight, killed off both of RPI’s power plays. That ended a streak of 12 games, and 20 of the last 21, in which the Engineers scored a power-play goal.
In the Engineers’ 2-0 win at Cornell Jan. 17, both goals came on the power play.
“We’ve become a lot more disciplined,” Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. “We knew against them, we had to stay out of the [penalty] box, and we did that.”
Neither team scored in an evenly-played first period. But the second period belonged to Cornell. The Big Red outshot the Engineers, 8-3, and had the better of the scoring chances. Cornell attempted 16 shots, compared to just five for RPI.
A turnover led to the first goal. RPI defenseman Scott Basiuk was in the slot when he intercepted a Mike Knoepfli pass from behind the Engineers net. But Basiuk lost control of the puck. It was stolen by Mike Iggulden, who passed it to Greg Hornby at the left of the net. Hornby quickly fired it past a sliding Nathan Marsters at 13:36.
“The guy [Iggulden] whacked at it when it came off my skate,” Basiuk said. “That’s just one of the breaks in hockey.”
The Big Red got another break while on the power play early in the third period.
Basiuk was attempting a clearing pass from behind his net. The puck hit Ben Barr’s shin pad and deflected to Matt Moulson in the high slot. Moulson fired a wrist shot over Marsters’ right shoulder.
“I had it wide open, and Benny called it,” Basiuk said. “He kind of skated right into it as I was putting it down the ice. Usually, if I shoot it hard enough, it’ll go out. But it went right to [Moulson], and he fired it top shelf.”
RPI’s seven seniors will be honored before Saturday’s game. They are Barr, Basiuk, Marsters, Conrad Barnes, Mikael Hammarstrom, Kevin Kurk and Ryan Shields. …
The last time RPI won the regular-season series against Cornell was in 1998-99, when it went 1-0-1. The Engineers last won two games in the regular season against the Big Red in 1997-98.
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.