COLUMBUS, Ohio — James Sixsmith scored for the Crusaders when this game was just a minute old and the Engineers never fully recovered as Holy Cross beat Rensselaer, 4-2, in the consolation game of the Ohio Hockey Classic in Nationwide Arena.
Sixsmith also had the empty-net goal at 18:12 in the third, and Sixsmith and Dale Reinhardt — who had two assists — led all Crusaders in scoring.
“I thought we should have come out a lot hungrier,” said RPI head coach Dan Fridgen. “The first shot was a routine shot and unfortunately it went in. Those things are going to happen, and now you’re playing catch-up hockey.”
Two of the Crusaders’ four goals came on the power play, a reversal of fortune from Thursday’s 4-0 loss to Ohio State, during which Holy Cross allowed two extra-man tallies.
“We did a lot of things wrong last night that I thought we improved upon, one-on-one battles, being smarter staying out of the box,” said Holy Cross head coach Paul Pearl. “Obviously, our power play clicked, and that’s a big thing for us, tournaments or not tournaments. We need goals on the power play.”
On the first Crusader goal at the one-minute mark, Matt Burke separated Engineer Oren Eizenman from the puck near the boards in the Holy Cross zone, and the puck squirted out to Dale Reinhardt, who passed up to Sixsmith streaking up on the left wing. Sixsmith fired from the left circle and beat Mathias Lange long for the 1-0 lead.
Cal St. Denis made it 2-0 at 14:33 in the third with Holy Cross’s first power-play goal, the recipient of a long rebound off the boards behind the net when Marc Bianchi shot from the right point through teammate Jim Tsleikis’s legs to the backboard. The puck came to St. Denis at the left post.
“That was actually our third lineup that doesn’t play much power play,” said Pearl, “but we had the other two guys out there fairly recently, and Cal got a nice goal there off the bounce off the backboard.”
The two-goal lead lasted for less than two minutes, as the Engineers answered with a power-play marker of their own at 17:03. Holy Cross goaltender Ben Conway made the initial save on Jake Luthi’s shot from the top of the slot but couldn’t recover to stop Kevin Broad’s rebound, and it was 2-1 after one.
For the entire first 10 minutes of the second period, the Crusaders didn’t register a single shot against Lange, but the Engineers weren’t capable of solving Conway during that stretch.
“We really didn’t get going until we were behind,” said Fridgen. “Then, I thought we really took the play to Holy Cross, and not to take anything away from their goaltender — he played well — but I thought at times we made him look really good.”
The Crusaders earned their second power-play goal at 14:43 in the second to make it 3-1, with Tyler McGregor scoring just eight seconds after Engineer Reed Kipp went to the box for interference, but again RPI answered almost immediately, after MCWilliams intercepted a Holy Cross clearing attempt and shot. Conway stopped the blast but gave up the rebound to Kurt Colling, whose unimpeded wrister beat Conway high on the left side at 15:34. The goal was Colling’s first collegiate goal.
Trailing 3-2 with two minutes to go at the end of the third and on the power play, the Engineers pulled Lange in favor of the extra skater but gave up the empty-net goal to Sixsmith, who out-maneuvered an RPI defender to score from the left circle.
“I thought RPI’s got a very good team and they’re fast,” said Pearl. “We knew tonight, having played them before, that the way we were going to get some opportunities…was in transition, and I thought we did an excellent job.”
“The frustrating thing is that I think out of the six periods we played,” said Fridgen, “I thought there were maybe two periods of the six that we weren’t as sharp as we wanted to be, and unfortunately those were the periods that came back to haunt us.
“I thought we did a real good job catching up last night. Tonight, we had our opportunities, and I thought we had the better of the play in both [games] and it just didn’t show up in the scoreboard.”
The Cruaders finished the night 2-for-5 on the power play to the Engineers’ 1-for-5. Conway made 39 saves, Lange 20, as RPI outshot Holy Cross 41-24.
The Crusaders (10-4-1, 7-2-1 AHA) return to league action Jan. 6-7 with a home-and-home series against Sacred Heart. The Engineers (8-8-3, 2-1-3 ECACHL) are at home against ECACHL foes Dartmouth and Harvard Jan. 6 and 7 respectively.
“Every game the circumstances might be a little different,” said Fridgen, “however, now that the nonconference games are finished and we get into league play here, we really need to learn from these nonconference games.”