TROY, N.Y. — Friday afternoon, the Engineers’ newer stars were on display. On Saturday, it was the old guard who took the lead, helping Rensselaer to a 5-1 victory over visiting Union for the fourth weekend sweep of the season and extending RPI’s home unbeaten streak to 22 games.
“I feel like we’re getting better each time we go out on the ice,” said Rensselaer head coach John Burke. “We aren’t looking past anyone, and taking each game one at a time, but it does make you feel good this is still a transition year.”
Junior captain Sarah Daniel scored twice, and seniors Jennifer Onksen and Julie Welte added a goal and an assist each to power RPI (11-1-2) and continue a remarkable first season at the Division I level.
“One thing about our team is that we have a lot of good depth,” Daniel said. “If one player isn’t performing at 100 percent, there rest of the team can keep things going and there are others that will step up and contribute.”
The Engineers scored the game’s opening goal in a Division I matchup for the first time since early November when Onksen took a feed from behind the net directly in front of the goal mouth, one-timing the shot past Union goalie Alex Zirbel, who was positioned along the post.
Union responded almost immediately. Just 39 seconds later, Union blueliner Molly Garrett passed to junior Elise Nichols, who had slipped behind the RPI defense, and wristed the puck top shelf on freshman Ashley Mayr on the ensuing breakaway to tie the score at one. The goal was Nichols’ fourth on the season.
Shortly thereafter, the game became more physical, as five minor penalties were called in the span of 2:30, four on the Dutchwomen, but neither team would be able to notch the go-ahead goal until late in the period.
With three minutes to play in the first stanza, Rensselaer forward Jamie-Lyn Stewart fired a backhanded shot with her back to the goal which rang off the right post. Sitting on the doorstep was Nicole McDonald, who lifted the puck into net to put RPI ahead 2-1.
Only 54 seconds later, the Engineers extended their lead when Sarah Daniel scored on a shot from the inside edge of the right faceoff circle for her 10th goal of the season.
The Dutchwomen refused to back down, and played determined hockey throughout a scoreless second period, forcing Mayr to make seven saves, including one outstanding save on her back during a feverish Union attack. Union outshot RPI 7-6 during the period, which was indicative of the even and back and forth action.
Early in the third period, Stewart took a pass from McDonald in the slot and fired a point-blank shot which was saved in brilliant fashion by Zirbel, who moved across the crease with the pass to position herself. The puck bounced directly back to Stewart, who was able to score after the previous save had left Zirbel unable to respond to the rebound. Freshmen Stewart and McDonald finished the weekend with 3 goals and 3 assists each. The duo directly linked up for four goals on the weekend.
The only special teams goal of the afternoon was scored by Daniel, whose shot from the right of the goal crease seven seconds into the Engineers’ fifth power play opportunity hit the net from an extreme angle, giving the Engineers a 5-1 lead.
The weekend sweep was the first for Rensselaer over Union since February 2003, when the Engineers won two over the Dutchwomen while both teams were playing in Division III.
Over the last 22 home games, Rensselaer has accrued a record of 21-0-1 the only blemish coming in a tie against Colgate in October. The last loss for the Engineers at Houston Field House was on January 30, 2004, when they lost to Manhattanville. RPI now has 11 wins in its first 14 games in Division I.
Rensselaer is on the road next weekend, taking on Hockey East teams Connecticut and Northeastern on Thursday and Friday respectively, the first two games of a nine-game road trip.
“It’s like playing pro hockey and the circus is coming to town,” Burke said.
Union has now completed a ten-game road trip and returns home to face Robert Morris in a pair of non-conference games Saturday and Sunday, the first two games of an eight-game home stand.
“We saw some good things here this weekend that will help us make some pretty significant changes in the way we play,” said Union head coach Tim Gerrish. “You always want to win, but we’re getting ourselves where we want to be and next week will be another step in that direction.”