TROY, N.Y. — All Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute needed to secure the final home-ice spot in next weekend’s first round of the ECACHL tournament was to get a win or tie over Yale on Saturday and have Colgate lost to Dartmouth. RPI and Colgate were tied for the final spot.
Dartmouth helped out RPI by beating Colgate, 3-1. Shortly after that, however, the Engineers dropped a 4-3 decision to Yale at Houston Field House.
Ergo, RPI (6-11-5 ECACHL, 10-16-8 overall) won’t be home again this season. The Engineers, who split the ECACHL season series with the Raiders, lost home ice because Colgate had a better record against the top four teams — St. Lawrence, Clarkson, Dartmouth and Cornell. RPI opens the best-of-three series Friday at Colgate.
The Engineers had to wait until the completion of the Clarkson-Quinnipiac game, which started an hour later than RPI-Yale because it was being televised by ESPNU. A Quinnipiac win or tie would have helped RPI because Quinnipiac would have finished fourth.
Instead, Quinnipiac lost, 4-1, enabling Cornell to get the last first-round bye.
So, its off to Starr Rink for the Engineers. RPI lost there, 3-2, Dec. 2. It beat Colgate, 3-2, in overtime Feb. 9 at the Field House. The Engineers also took a 2-1 decision over the Raiders in the Governor’s Cup title game Oct. 29.
“We had it in our hands tonight,” RPI coach Seth Appert said. “You want to control your own fate, and we didn’t do a good enough job of that tonight.”
Meanwhile, Yale (8-13-1, 11-15-3) earned the 10th seed, and will face seventh-seeded Harvard next weekend. Last Friday, Yale beat Harvard, 5-1.
The game was decided by the specials teams, bad goaltending by RPI’s Mathias Lange and a goal with 3.1 seconds left in the second period.
Yale’s power play was outstanding, going 3-for-9. RPI’s was not good, failing to score in eight chances.
The Bulldogs scored their first power-play goal 2:24 into the game when Sean Backman fired a shot from the left-wing boards past an unscreened Mathias Lange.
Senior forward Tommy Green tied it for RPI with 1:40 left in the first.
But 44 seconds after that, Ryan Swanson was called for hooking. Bill LeClerc made the Engineers pay, firing a shot from the left point past Lange, who was pulled from the game in favor of Jordan Alford.
“The difference in a lot of the season for us has been special teams, and goaltending,” Appert said. “We didn’t get that tonight. Our special teams wasn’t very good, and our goaltending was poor. Those two goals were poor goals, and Mathias knows that. That’s tough to recover from when you give up two perimeter, floating-type shots.”
The Bulldogs got another power-play goal, this time on a four-on-three, 1:29 into the second period as Robert Page beat Alford.
The score remained 3-1 until the final seconds. That’s when Patrick Brosnihan fired a shot from between the bottom of the left circle and the goal line. The puck deflected off an RPI player and past Alford, giving Yale a three-goal advantage.
“It ended up being the game-winner,” RPI senior forward Kirk MacDonald said. “I didn’t see where the shot came from. It sort of looked like a scramble. Three seconds left in the period, you really can’t do that. That’s just giving the game away.”
RPI mounted a comeback in the third period. It started with senior defenseman Jake Luthi beating Yale backup goalie Matt Modelski with a drive from the right point 16 seconds into the period. Freshman defenseman Christian Jensen got his first career goal with 6:51 left, giving the Engineers some hope.
The Engineers continued to pressure Modelski, who made some acrobatic saves. Alford was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:22 to go, but the Engineers couldn’t get the tying goal.
And now, it’s off to Colgate for the first playoff meeting since the 2000 semifinal in Lake Placid, which the Engineers won, 3-1.
“It’s tough,” RPI defenseman Garett Vassel said. “We had right in front of [us]. Sometimes, it slips away from you.”
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.