TROY, N.Y. — The Colgate Raiders spoiled Senior Night for Rensselaer, holding off a tenacious late rush by the Engineers to earn a 3-2 victory on Saturday night at the Houston Field House.
Colgate, which entered the contest in a tie with Brown atop the ECAC, toppled Rensselaer for the third time in the season, taking sole possession of first place with only one weekend remaining in the regular season while assuring itself a first-round bye.
Picked in preseason polls to finish eighth in the conference, the Raiders have an opportunity to win the regular-season crown for the first time since 1990.
“I’m really proud of the way we played tonight,” said Colgate head coach Stan Moore. “I don’t know if I want to comment on the future. You know my conservative nature. But I’m very proud of the effort we put out tonight.”
Colgate jumped on Rensselaer early, scoring in the first minute of the contest. Captain Rob Brown’s seeing-eye pass set up Adam Mitchell for an easy one-timer, giving the Raiders a 1-0 lead.
“The first goal that they got, I thought we were in practice because it was a tic-tac-toe play and we weren’t very solid defensively in our own end,” said Engineer head coach Dan Fridgen. “They certainly exposed that.”
Though Rensselaer’s Vic Pereira evened the score with a nasty wrist shot high to the glove side of Colgate netminder Steve Silverthorn, the Raiders answered less than two minutes later. Darryl McKinnon took a pass at the side of the net from ECAC points leader Jon Smyth and drove towards Engineer goalie Nathan Marsters. The center’s power-play stuff gave his team a 2-1 lead at the end of the opening period.
Smyth made it two consecutive power-play goals when he buried a one-timer on the two-man advantage. Rensselaer, which finished 0-4 on its own chances with the extra attacker, found itself trailing 3-1 thanks to chippy play.
“Their special teams outplayed our special teams tonight,” said Fridgen. “Against a team like that we can’t put them on the power play as many times as we did. And if you’re going to, then you’ve got to kill it off. I thought we could have created more chances and finished them while we were on the power play.”
The Engineers appeared to cut the lead in half midway through the second period when the puck trickled underneath Silverthorn, who was attempting to smother the rubber. But referee Joel Dupree ruled that his whistle had sounded, and disallowed the tally.
“It wasn’t what I saw, it was what I heard,” explained Moore. “Whistle, goal, no goal. It’s essentially that. If the whistle goes and the puck goes in the net, it cannot stand as a goal. If the ref was out of position you could fault that, but I’m on the other side of it.”
Meanwhile, Fridgen utilized curt language to voice his displeasure with Dupree’s decision.
“Nothing surprises me,” he said.
The Engineers emerged from their locker room in the third period on a mission. In front of a large crowd cheering for those who had wowed them for four years, the home team and its veterans did not disappoint.
“As the game wore on and as urgent as it became for us to tie the game up, that’s when we started to play some hockey,” said Fridgen. “It’s just unfortunate for the seniors on their evening that not everyone came to play in that first period.”
Rensselaer cut the Colgate lead to 3-2 when defenseman Blake Pickett took advantage of a scrambling Raider defense and blasted in an open rebound goal. The Raiders appeared to be on their heels, surrendering 11 shots in the final frame while generating only four of their own.
“I think we could have made it a 4-1 game at one point in time, but we got it to 3-1,” said Moore. “The goal that was scored to make it 3-2 was disappointing. There was poor defensive coverage and we couldn’t get the puck out of our zone.”
As the clock ticked closer to zeros, however, it appeared that the stingy Colgate defense, while collapsing and giving up possession time, would not lightly provide another prime opportunity.
“We talked about staying underneath the puck without anyone trying to make the home run play,” said Moore. “Instilling pride in grit and grind defensive play is a daunting task. Taking what we thought might have been a more offensive night, we ended up finding ourselves being very proud of our defensive efforts. I thoroughly enjoy the grit and grind of a close game like that. I think you learn a lot about yourself as a player and as a team.”
In the final minute, Rensselaer threw countless shots towards the Colgate net, only to see them turned aside by Silverthorn. The Raider goaltender fought off the determined Engineer attack to win his 15th game of the year.
“We certainly had the chances out there,” said Fridgen. “I thought that they made some big saves when they needed to make the saves, and obviously that was the difference.”
Having been swept at home by Cornell and Colgate, Rensselaer must now win on the road against Princeton and Yale to have a shot at a top-four spot in the league.
“I’m not so sure, if you take a look at our road record,” Fridgen said of Rensselaer’s chances. “We’ve been playing really well on the road. We’ve been playing playoff hockey against good hockey teams in Cornell and Colgate. I thought in both instances we didn’t have a sense of urgency until we were behind. We need a sense of urgency right from the drop of the puck.”
The Raiders, meanwhile, return home to host Clarkson and St. Lawrence in their final action before a much-deserved week off. Colgate needs only two points in its last two games to earn the first seed in the playoffs.