SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Coming off two big wins over Rensselaer the last two weeks, including Friday’s 5-0 victory in Troy, Union figured it would have another fun time at the Engineers’ expense Saturday at Messa Rink.
But the Dutchmen never counted on the Engineers to play with passion and intensity. By the time Union recovered, it was too late.
RPI scored the game’s first three goals and held on for a 3-2 ECACHL victory.
The victory snapped two skids for the 11th-place Engineers (2-4-3 ECACHL, 6-10-6 overall), who knocked the Dutchmen (3-7, 10-10-2) back into last place. First, they ended a five-game losing streak. More importantly, they ended Union’s 5-0-2 run against them.
“We took it to them [Friday] night,” Union forward Matt Cook said. “We took them more lightly than we should have. They came in, and took it right to us.”
Union coach Nate Leaman was blunt with his assessment.
“Our team wanted an easy game,” Leaman said. “They wanted it easy. RPI came out with a lot more intensity than we did.”
RPI’s players were also tired of hearing about Union’s recent dominance in the series.
“[Friday] night, we realized we were pretty close, even though it was a 5-0 game,” said RPI forward Kirk MacDonald, who had a goal and an assist. “We played pretty well, and pretty smart. It was just a matter of intensity and playing with a little more passion and heart.”
RPI’s intensity picked up even more late in the first period when it killed off a five-minute major hitting from behind penalty to Andrei Uryadov, who was also ejected from the game. Shortly after it expired, Jonathan Ornelas, who served the penalty, came out of the box and beat goalie Justin Mrazek with a shot from the left circle at 16:13.
“After we were able to kill the five-minute [major], we felt we were on a good roll,” RPI defenseman Jake Luthi said.
The Dutchmen got themselves into penalty trouble a couple of minutes later. Brendan Milnamow was called for holding at 18:27, and Lane Caffaro went off for cross-checking 50 seconds later.
That proved costly with a half-second left. Seth Klerer dug out the rebound of his own shot and pushed it past Mrazek.
“It’s the same old story,” Mrazek said. “We’re undisciplined, we’re in the box and we have to rely on the PK [penalty kill] all the time. We have to end this at some point.”
It didn’t get much better in the second period for the Dutchmen.
MacDonald made it 3-0 3:46 into the second. He was allowed to skate into the Union zone, and then used defenseman Mike Wakita as a screen as he fired wrist shot past Mrazek’s right pad.
The Dutchmen weren’t doing much offensively. They almost went the entire period without a shot on goal.
But they scored on their only shot of the period. Jason Walters skated down the right wing and slid a pass to Matt skating down the slot. Cook redirected the puck past goalie Jordan Alford with 4:30 left.
“We didn’t have enough urgency to get pucks to the net,” Leaman said. “We were just turning pucks over in the wrong spots. When we were getting our opportunities, we were missing the net.”
Josh Coyle made it a one-goal game midway through the third period on a strange play. He was behind the net when he lost control of the puck as he tried to skate out front. Somehow, the puck ended up in the net. It appeared that it slipped underneath the back of the net.
Mrazek made two key glove saves late in the third, stopping MacDonald on a breakaway and Oren Eizenman on a turnaround shot in front of the net.
Union pulled Mrazek for an extra attacker with 1:14 left, but couldn’t get the tying goal.
“I’m most pleased with our upperclassmen, and how they handled the situation,” RPI coach Seth Appert said. “We build all week long, and you have meetings and we did a lot of things to turn this week the ship in the right direction. When you feel you go out and play a pretty good game, yet you lose, 5-0, it’s very easy at that point to say, ‘This isn’t working, I’m going to go my own direction.’
“Our seniors did not do that. Our upperclassmen did not do that. They bought in. They stayed very true to how we wanted to play. The freshmen and sophomores followed right behind.”
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.