HANOVER, N.H. — ‘Tis irony defined: a Rensselaer hockey team that struggled all season long on defense instead used it for two of its finest wins of the winter.
Freshman Allen York stopped 27 shots, his defensive teammates blocked another 30 and 11th-seeded RPI booked its first ECAC quarterfinal date in five years with a 3-1 elimination of sixth-seeded Dartmouth at Thompson Arena on Friday night. The Engineers (9-25-2) used transition goals from Chase Polacek, Alex Angers-Goulet and Josh Rabbani as the icing on a defensive gem of a weekend. RPI took game one with a 3-2 overtime verdict on Friday.
“It was a frustrating year, but in the last week we told ourselves we were going to lock down defensively; we were going to focus on defense, not so much offense because the offense will come,” RPI blueliner Bryan Brutlag said. “We just focused on that all weekend. It feels good to accomplish this.”
Had it not been for its anemic power play (less than 10 recent effectiveness all year), RPI might have taken this one early and run away with it, built on York’s goaltending and the Engineers’ fine defensive-zone work.
Big Green sophomore defenseman Joe Stejskal drew a major penalty and a game misconduct barely four minutes into the contest when he hit Rensselaers Jole Malchuk from behind into the corner boards. Instead of pounding Dartmouth netminder Jody ONeill (18 saves), RPI managed just two ineffective point drives that the Big Green freshman easily handled.
“You know what? Our power play has been so bad all year, it doesn’t even phase our bench anymore,” Engineers coach Seth Appert said candidly. “That could have been a big turning point in the game, but I really liked our maturity on the bench this weekend and how we just kept plugging away and kept staying focused on things.”
Counterattack goals were the answer. Polacek scored at 12:23 of the first period following a neutral-zone faceoff. Dartmouth’s Joe Gaudet tied the game with a power-play rebound about 2:30 later, but freshmen Angers-Goulet and Rabbani put two more transition goals past O’Neill in the second period for a 3-1 lead.
Dartmouth frequently hounded York in the third period, but Doug Jones’ clanger off the crossbar with 14 minutes to play served as the hosts’ closest, and last, call.
“That’s the sign of a young team, that we have our ups and downs,” Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said. “Sometimes we don’t know what experience we’ve gained until after it. I think these guys, going through this is a great experience for them, but we’ll work on our consistency.”
RPI advances to the league quarterfinals at second-seeded Cornell beginning Friday. It will be the Engineers’ first visit to the quarters since a three-game loss at Dartmouth in 2004.
Greg Fennell covers Dartmouth hockey for the Valley News of West Lebanon, N.H.