TROY, N.Y. — The Battle of Route 7 opened a new chapter Friday afternoon at Houston Field House as Rensselaer came back from a two-goal deficit with five unanswered goals, defeating Union 5-2 in the first Division I game between the two long-time rivals.
Rensselaer (10-1-2) was led by freshmen Jamie-Lyn Stewart and Nicole McDonald, who each had two goals and two assists to guide RPI to victory.
“The momentum really picked up after the first goal,” said Stewart, “and with that, we started having more chances, and we started turning those chances into goals.”
For RPI, it was their 10th win as a Division I team, in only their 13th game.
“[Union] is a scrappy team,” said Rensselaer head coach John Burke. “We were off for about a month and it showed early. They took advantage of some problems we had early and those are things we need to work on.”
Union (2-11-0) struck first, on the power play and with time winding down in the first period. As Rensselaer freshman Melissa Boik drew a second penalty deep in the defensive zone, Union freshman Dale Chaput threw the puck on net and past RPI netminder Rosina Schiff with seven seconds remaining in the period, giving the Dutchwomen the momentum goal heading into the first intermission.
While the first period was mostly a tenuous battle for possession, the second period produced fireworks from beginning to end. The resulting penalty to Boik from the Union goal carried over into the second period, and Union would take advantage. Elisa Nichols picked up a loose puck behind the RPI net and quickly shoveled it to sophomore Ashley Kilstein, whose one-timer found the back of the net to put Union up 2-0.
Rensselaer reduced the score to 2-1 midway through the period. After coming up empty on their first four power plays, the Engineers struck quickly on number five, with freshman Nicole McDonald meandering her way into the slot with possession off the advantage’s opening draw, skating around two defenders, and jamming the puck to the five-hole of Union goalie Alex Zirbel to put RPI on the board.
“We haven’t really gotten through a game where we weren’t scored on first,” McDonald said. “But once we get that one goal, the goals can start flowing from there. It’s just the big push that gets the team going.”
From there, the Engineers took control of possession, holding the zone for extended shifts and forcing Union back on their heels. The pressure was enough to produce another goal for RPI, leveling the score. Boik took a shot from the outside that was initially saved by Zirbel, but the puck caromed directly to freshman forward Jamie-Lyn Stewart, who quickly kicked the puck onto her skate and rifled it into a wide open net for her fourth goal of the season.
Rensselaer maintained the pressure off the tying goal and went up 3-2 in much the same fashion as the tying goal. Stewart was again the beneficiary of a rebound, this time off a shot by McDonald, and was able to navigate traffic in front of the net to put the Engineers ahead for the first time.
The Dutchwomen began the third period as they did the second, with a power play opportunity on fresh ice, but were unable to duplicate the success they had previously found, as RPI continued to dominate gameplay throughout the period. Goals by Melanie Guillemette and McDonald 42 seconds apart midway through the period increased the Engineer lead to three, effectively sealing the victory.
Union moved their team from Division III to Division I in 2003. The Capital District rivals played twice while Rensselaer remained in Division III, skating to a 4-4 tie in Troy in October 2003, while Union won 4-1 in Schenectady in October 2004. This was the first game between the schools since Rensselaer’s accession to Division I in 2005. The teams will be travel partners next season when RPI joins the ECAC Hockey League.
“Right now, for us, this is a non-league game,” said Union coach Tim Gerrish. “We’d like to win, but it’s more important for us to get playing again and be ready to play in the league, and we’re advancing toward that.”
Both teams return to action Saturday afternoon at Houston Field House.