NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Tonight’s game before another sold out crowd of 3,486 at Ingalls Rink was a perfect example of how nothing in the ECAC is predictable.
RPI has struggled to solve the puzzle that is Union all season, salvaging only an early season win in overtime in their four matchups thus far. Yet a night after Yale controlled play handily against that same Union team, RPI again had the Elis number, as they shutout the nation’s leading offense, 4-0, to take the season series. The Yale loss, coupled with other results around the league, drops Yale into a three-way tie for second place behind Cornell while the Engineers move up into a tie for fifth.
After trying several different line combinations the night before, Yale coach Keith Allain made the decision to keep the swap between the centers on his top two lines permanent. Andrew Miller skated with Sean Backman and Brian O’Neill while Mark Arcobello took the faceoffs between Denny Kearney and Broc Little.
There was a scary moment for Rensselaer fans only a minute and a half into the game when Jerry D’Amigo stayed down for several minutes behind his own net after taking a hit from Jeff Anderson. D’Amigo was helped off the ice by two teammates while keeping weight on both legs and returned to action midway through the period. The game was called extremely tight as a result of the early hit, and that would end up being the difference, as RPI controlled the special teams battle.
“I called out some of our top forwards last night and I thought they were really good tonight,” RPI coach Seth Appert said of his team’s play. “Chase Polacek was special tonight. Overall, it was probably our most complete effort of the season. I thought we were very tough tonight. Our captains were extremely physical; (John) Kennedy, (Peter) Merth, and (Bryan) Brutlag had wrecking ball type hits that sent a message to their teammates. For Allen York and our D-core to keep the number one scoring team in the country off the board was a real strong effort.”
Each team struggled to get into the flow early on, but it was the Engineers who broke through first at 8:16 of the first period when Brutlag beat Nick Maricic glove side from between the faceoff circles. Paul Kerins and Brandon Pirri were credited with the assists. Kerins would then leave the game after only thirteen minutes when he injured his right knee taking a boarding call from Mike Matczak.
“I think we play similar styles and we seem to get jacked up to play these guys because they are so highly touted and Coach makes sure to let us know they are the top team in the league in goals,” Kerins articulated after the game as he stood on crutches. “We want to be the best against the best and I think that’s worked against us at times, like last night where we didn’t come out ready to go, because I guess it wasn’t as sexy a game as it was tonight.”
Maricic made back-to-back starts for the first time since November 13-14 at home against Cornell and Colgate. The goaltending situation has been the biggest question mark for Yale all season, but Maricic seems to finally be rising above the pack to claim the top spot.
“We just as a staff thought he gave us the best chance to win,” was all Yale coach Keith Allain would say afterwards though, as he commented it still is not safe to anoint Maricic the starter.
He made several good stops to keep the game close the rest of the way through the first, in which RPI took control and outshot the Elis 11-5. Five of those RPI shots, which were all legitimate scoring chances, came on back-to-back power plays late in the period, during which Maricic had all kinds of trouble with Engineers’ forwards around the net, but stood tall. He finished the game with 22 saves, many of the spectacular variety.
Yale did not come out of the locker room with anything resembling the offensive firepower they displayed last night against Union. They finished the game 0-for-7 on the power play, and Rensselaer goaltender Allen York made 22 stops to record his first shutout of the season.
The home club looked ready to turn the tables in the second period, in which they outshot RPI 12-4, as they began to gain territorial advantage and control the play on special teams. They were unable to solve York though, who stayed in excellent position throughout the game. The save of the game came on the Bulldogs’ power play with under half a minute remaining in the second. Sean Backman wound up for a slap shot from the top of the near circle with the upper far corner of the RPI net in his sights, but York came up with a brilliant sprawling glove save through traffic.
Chase Polacek gave RPI a two-goal lead just three seconds after the expiration of a Yale penalty at 18:23 of the second. D’Amigo found the puck on his stick in the near faceoff circle and sent a pass to an unmarked Polacek on the other side of the crease, where he was able to slip it past an out-of-position Maricic for his 18th of the season. Polacek added two assists in the third to reach 100 career points as only a junior and move into a tie for the lead in the chase for the national scoring title.
“I think (Polacek) is a legitimate Hobey finalist,” Appert said. “I think what’s impressive when you look at Chase is that he doesn’t have a lot of eight-point weekends. He has been on the scoresheet it seems one or two times every night and to me the measure of a great player is consistency of excellence.”
D’Amigo put the game away with his first career short-handed goal 2:12 into the third. He skated in on a two-on-two rush with Polacek, who pulled the puck back between his legs to guard it from a defender before feeding it down low to D’Amigo in front of the net, where he beat Maricic over the left shoulder as he went to his knees.
RPI made it 4-0 at 4:47 with their first power-play goal of the game. Polacek sent a pass down low to D’Amigo, who found Brandon Pirri on the opposite side of the Yale net for the easy tap in. It was Pirri’s first goal since the RPI Holiday Tournament final against Union on November 28, although he had recorded 17 assists over that span.
“It would take a greasy one like that,” Pirri said. “I whiffed on it too and it just bounced off the goalie’s pad and barely got in. It was a good feeling breaking that and goals come in bunches, so I’m excited to see what happens now.”
A visibly upset Allain had little to say after the loss.
“I don’t know if it was as much about them. We just weren’t good enough tonight in any facet of the game. We didn’t have a very good first period. We came back and were better in the second and then they get that goal late after we’ve just had a nice penalty kill and we didn’t respond very well to that. Obviously, our power play wasn’t very effective and we just got worn down at the end.”
Asked if the win put his team in the conversation for a first-round bye, Appert commented that he thought they were still fighting to get there.
“That’s our goal and the boys have talked about that but we still have to get past some immaturity to get there.”
He also fell short of saying his team had Yale’s number by commenting on their play out west over the break.
“I was really impressed (with how Yale played against my alma mater Ferris State and Wisconsin at the Badger Showdown). Ferris State is one of the top 10 teams in the country and Yale obviously dismantled them a little bit. And Yale outshot Wisconsin about 40-20 the next night. Wisconsin put 50-some shots on Duluth last night. It seems like they are outshooting teams 50-20 every night. It just shows you how good Yale is and how good our league is.”
Yale hosts Dartmouth and Harvard next weekend, while RPI welcomes North Country foes St. Lawrence and Clarkson to Troy.