SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — Tonight’s Union-RPI game was just like any other Union-RPI game this season: it was in front of a loud full house, and it was a nail-biter. The three previous games this year between the Dutchmen and the Engineers were all 5-4 contests, with RPI winning the first one in overtime, and then Union taking the next two first with an overtime victory and then another one-goal win.
Tonight’s game in front of a sellout crowd of 2,341 was tied at one heading into the third period, but Union’s Wayne Simpson unknotted the game with a power-play goal and put his team up for good, as the Dutchmen were able to hold on for a 3-1 victory.
“Coming into this game, we knew this would be the biggest test of the season,” said Union coach Nate Leaman. “I thought we played great team defense tonight.”
“They’ve earned where they’re at,” added RPI coach Seth Appert. “It was a well played game on both ends.”
The opening frame was a fast-paced contest, with each teams playing on adrenaline. The play was evenly matched until late in the period, when the Dutchmen received 35 seconds of a five-on-three advantage. Union had some prime scoring opportunities, but the RPI penalty kill came up big, and with 31 seconds left in the Union man advantage the ECAC’s leading scorer, Chase Polacek, received a pass from Jerry D’Amigo and got a step on Union defenseman Greg Coburn, streaking down the right side of the Union zone and snapping a shot over the right shoulder of Union goaltender Keith Kinkaid for a short-handed goal.
“I love playing against Union,” said Polacek, who scored his fifth goal in four games against Union this season. “We don’t like each other.”
The Engineers took this momentum into the next period and dominated the Dutchmen for most of the second period. About five minutes into the frame, it looked like Polacek was going to score another short-handed goal when he stole the puck at his own blue line while Union was on the power play, and skated down the left side of the ice for a breakaway, but Kinkaid was able to get a piece of the puck and keep it out of the net.
“I knew I had to come up big after I let in that first one,” said Kinkaid, who recorded his third win against RPI this season.
Union stopped the ever growing Engineers’ momentum when Adam Presizniuk ripped a shot past the glove of RPI goaltender Allen York off of a faceoff win by Jason Walters from the right circle with 6:32 remaining in the period. Walters won the faceoff to Mario Valery-Trabucco, who then slipped the puck to Presizniuk, who carried the puck into the slot and fired it into the goal. On the play, Walters extended his point streak to 13 games.
“It got us going,” said Leaman. “It loosened us up and we came out to play in the third.”
With the momentum now in their hands, the Dutchmen looked to capitalize in the third period. They got their chance early on, as just 1:11 into the final frame they went on a power play when RPI’s Peter Merth was called for slashing. It only took Union five seconds to take advantage of their opportunity when freshman Wayne Simpson put Union on top.
The play was initiated by a shot from Coburn at the left point, which was then deflected by Jeremy Welsh in front of the net. The puck then bounced to Simpson waiting on the right post, where he picked up the puck and slid it into the far side of the net.
“I just wanted to get to the net,” said Wayne. “It was just sitting there basically on the goal line.”
The Engineers frantically tried to tie up the score, but Kinkaid and the Dutchmen defense stifled the RPI offense. RPI had some momentum late in the game, as they killed off a five-on-three power play, and with 1:32 to go, Appert called a timeout and pulled York for a six-on-five advantage. Even with the extra man, the Engineers were unable to put the puck past Kinkaid.
With 1:02 to go, Luke Cain sealed the victory for the Dutchmen when he dove at a loose puck in front of the RPI net and poked it into the empty net.
Both Union, who still sits on top of the ECAC standings, and RPI, welcome Harvard and Dartmouth to the Capital District next weekend for ECAC games.