TROY, N.Y. — The magic and mystique of the Big Red Freakout continued for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Saturday against Brown.
With the game 8.3 seconds away from going into overtime, Kirk MacDonald unleashed a wrist shot from the right wing. Somehow, it found its way over Bears goalie Adam D’Alba’s right shoulder and hit the back crossbar, giving the Engineers an incredible 3-2 ECACHL victory at Houston Field House.
The sellout crowd of 5,152, which included members of the 1985 NCAA championship team as well as other hockey alums, rose from their seats and started chanting “Let’s go Red” with 1:30 left in regulation.
When MacDonald’s shot went in, they went delirious.
“You could just see when he took that puck, come heck or high water, that was going to end up in the net,” RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. “I’m really happy that we were able to deliver for the fans because they came out, and they were cheering for us. It’s been a difficult year, as you can imagine, but they’ve stuck with us. We’ve got the best fans in college hockey.”
Seconds earlier, MacDonald had a similar chance. But his right-wing shot sailed over the net.
Getting the puck from Jake Luthi, MacDonald skated into the Brown zone as time was winding down. This time, he didn’t miss.
“I just kind of toe-dragged it to the middle, and opened up [a Brown defenseman] a little bit,” MacDonald said. “He opened up his legs, and I was able to get the shot through. With [under] a minute to go in the game, I think they were waiting for overtime. I had the open spaced to skate. You have to take advantage of that.”
RPI (5-12-1 ECACHL, 13-17-2 overall) improved to 17-7-4 in the Freakout, and is unbeaten in the last 15 (11-0-4). For what is believed to be for the first time, the Engineers wore their road red uniforms for the Freakout instead of the home whites.
This victory marked the fourth straight year that the Engineers have come from behind to win the Freakout. Three years ago, they rallied from a 3-0 third-period deficit to beat Clarkson, 4-3, in overtime. Two years ago, Ryan Shields scored with eight seconds left in overtime to win it, 4-3, over Brown.
Last year, with the 1954 national championship team in attendance, RPI scored three third-period goals to beat Clarkson, 4-2.
“It ranks right up there, only because it looks like we’re heading into overtime,” Fridgen said. “We know it’s been a magical game for us.”
Trailing, 2-1, after two periods, the Engineers tied it 36 seconds into the third. Kevin Croxton made a nice pass from the left wing to Nick Economakos in the slot. D’Alba committed to Croxton, leaving out of position to stop Economakos’ 11th goal of the year.
“I don’t think any senior class, or any class involved wants to be the one to end [the Freakout streak],” said Economakos, a senior. “There seems to be something special. Even if we don’t come out with our best game, we always seem to wind up with a storybook ending.”
Goalie Andrew Martin preserved the tie until MacDonald’s goal, making 14 of his 30 saves in the third. It made up for the last time RPI played Brown Dec. 3 in Providence, R.I., when the Bears (8-7-2, 13-8-3) scored twice in the third on Martin to erase a 3-1 Engineers’ lead. The game ended tied, 3-3.
“I remember coming in [after the second] and we’re down, 2-1, and I was hoping that the hockey gods were on our side,” Martin said. “We were at their barn, and they got two on us in the third to tie it. We’ve got to get two, and not let them have one and just win it.”
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.