AMHERST, Mass. — Massachusetts junior forward James Marcou tied a career high with four assists while sophomore defenseman Matt Irwin tallied a career-best two goals as the Minutemen overcame a 1-0 first period deficit with four power-play goals to defeat Rensselaer 5-2 in a penalty-filled season-opener for both teams Thursday.
The two squads combined for 24 penalties in the contest, and RPI had the majority as the Engineers were whistled for 14 infractions, seven of which occurred in the second period. The Minutemen scored on both of their 5-on-3 opportunities and finished the game 4-for-10 on the power-play. The Engineers ended the evening 1-for-7.
“There’s no question that the power play was the difference in the game,” Minutemen coach Don Cahoon said. “We scored four power-play goals and two were 5-on-3. We need to find a way to play a whole lot better in even-strength situations and there are a lot of aspects that need to be improved. Fortunately, the power play was in tune tonight.”
“I don’t think at this point in the season you have had enough time to work to be that comfortable and to kill that many penalties,” Rensselaer coach Seth Appert said. “We got mentally frustrated as the game got later. Certainly their power play is very good, and James Marcou is a special hockey player.”
Rensselaer got into penalty trouble early on in the game and gave UMass back-to-back man-advantage opportunities, however the hosts could not capitalize as the penalty killers did a good job of limiting looks at the net.
After trading penalties midway through the frame, the Engineers applied consistent pressure on their second power play of the night and created multiple quality scoring chances. With a combination of great play and a little luck, UMass goaltender Paul Dainton was able to keep RPI off the scoreboard for the time being with some spectacular saves.
Although Rensselaer was unable to score on the opportunity, the Engineers kept the puck bottled up in the offensive zone well after the hooking penalty to UMass’ Michael Lecomte had expired. The persistence paid off at 16:33 when Tyler Helfrich lifted a shot from the top of the crease to make it 1-0 RPI.
The Engineers held on to the 1-0 advantage heading into the locker room, as Rensselaer outshot UMass 16-6 in the first period with eight shots coming on the power play.
“I thought in the first period we attacked well, we put pucks behind [UMass], outworked them, and won loose puck battles down low, which plays to the strength of our forwards,” Appert said of his team’s first-period performance.
The parade to the penalty box showed no sign of stopping in the second period, and it finally paid dividends for the UMass power play unit. Consecutive penalties to the Engineers within 14 seconds gave the Minutemen their first 5-on-3 opportunity just 2:36 into the frame.
UMass tied the contest at one less than 30 seconds after obtaining the two-man advantage on a goal from Casey Wellman. Justin Braun’s pass from the point found Wellman all alone at the bottom of the right face-off circle and Wellman made the opportunity count, lifting a backhander over the right shoulder of Rensselaer’s Allen York at 3:02.
The Minutemen took the lead at 7:56 with their second power-play tally of the contest. All alone at the point, Braun sent a shot along the ice that beat York five-hole.
Rocco Carzo made it 3-1 UMass roughly two minutes later with his first collegiate goal. James Marcou made a terrific pass across the zone to Carzo at the right face off circle, and Carzo was able to get a shot off as he fell to the ice that beat York at 9:58.
“In the first period we were playing along the perimeter and looking for someone else to do it, so we came in during the intermission and talked about taking it to the net and get opportunities,” Marcou said of the shift in the performance of the power play. “We started shooting it more and crashing the net and it seemed to work.”
Rensselaer cut its deficit in half just before the end of the period with a goal six seconds after a Massachusetts tripping penalty in its own zone. Rookie Jerry D’Amigo, who had some good looks earlier in the game, finally found the back of the net at 17:48 off a faceoff win by Helfrich.
“Jerry was one of our best forwards on the ice tonight, especially in the first half of the game,” Appert said. D’Amigo finished the game with five shots on net and at plus-1.
Irwin closed out the scoring in the contest with a pair of carbon-copy power-play goals in the third period. Irwin’s first goal came 20 seconds into the third on another 5-on-3, blasting a shot from just inside the left faceoff circle on a feed from the goal line by James Marcou. The tandem hooked up again at 9:24 during a 4-on-3 opportunity.
“James is a pretty creative kid,” commented Cahoon on Marcou’s power-play performance. “It’s not surprising, he’s hard to contain in that situation. He made some dishes and created some golden opportunities for guys around the net that didn’t go in. That’s his gift, and we try to give him the opportunity to bring it forth as best we can.”
Dainton finished the evening in net for UMass with 28 saves, 15 coming in the first period alone, while York stopped 21 shots for Rensselaer, including 12 in the second stanza. The Minutemen were 4-for-10 on the power play while the Engineers were 1-for-7.
Cahoon was pleased with the performance of his junior goaltender: “Paul looked like he was comfortable tonight, he looked confident tonight, and he seemed to be following the puck. He gave me a sense of security and confidence; I have to believe the rest of the players felt the same way.”
Rensselaer returns home on Saturday to face New Hampshire at 7 p.m., while Massachusetts is off until Friday, Oct. 16, when the Minutemen will host defending national champion Boston University at 7 p.m.