HAMILTON, N.Y. — The Colgate Raiders and the Rensselaer Engineers entered Friday nights contest at Starr Rink in Hamilton with the exact same ECAC league record.
Both teams knew that they controlled their own destiny to a first round bye in the playoffs and that these two points were huge. A 3-2 win tonight for the Raiders, along with a St. Lawrence loss against Dartmouth, guarantees Colgate the fourth seed in the league and a first round playoff bye.
Key saves by goaltender Alex Evin, coupled with perfect shot blocking and a timely power-play goal. That was the story of the first period for Colgate. RPI, on the other hand, got a few chances here and there, but just could not muster the puck through a solid Colgate defense that blocked eight shot attempts in the first.
We worked a lot on (defensive zone play) this week, said Colgate head coach Don Vaughan. We give our opponents time and space, but in gapping quicker and getting in the shooting lanes, we limit those chances.
David McIntyre took a slashing penalty for Colgate, but just over a minute later, Paul Kerins took a holding the stick penalty, making it 4-on-4. The Colgate penalty expired and McIntyre stormed out of the penalty box, giving the Raiders a short power play. McIntyre picked up the puck in the neutral zone and pulled a fancy move around one of the RPI defenders at the blue line.
The other defender poke-checked the puck away, but it rolled out to Wade Poplawski at the left point. Poplawski wound up and blasted a slap shot that was tipped by Austin Smith past the glove of RPI goalie Allen York and into the back of the net. Smiths power-play goal gave the Raiders a 1-0 lead 9:02 into the game.
Early into the second, Colgates offensive unit was really taking it to the RPI defense. York made a few huge saves while short-handed to keep the game close. A few brilliant glove saves, a left toe save, and a breakaway save maintained a one-goal difference.
(York) was very good in the period, both goalies were, said RPI head coach Seth Appert. He gave us the opportunity to claw our way back into the game.
Those saves swung the momentum of the second period, as Colgate would end up taking two consecutive penalties to go down by two men. RPI set up and capitalized on its power play. Paul Kerins cycled the puck behind the net to Brandon Pirri in the right corner.
Pirri walked out and crossed the puck to Marty OGrady, who was breaking into the low slot. OGrady lifted the puck over an outstretched Alex Evin. Just seconds after the first penalty on Colgate expired, RPI knotted the score at 1-1.
After the first goal, RPI wasted no time in getting a second one. Just over a minute later, at 7:21, RPI stormed down the ice and took the lead for the first time in the game. Engineers defenseman Jeff Foss took a slap shot from the point. Foss shot went wide and behind the net.
Evin was committed to the initial shot going down to his left. When the puck bounced off the boards, it ended up coming back in front of the net to Evins blocker side. Kerins got control and had a wide-open net. He roofed the puck and put RPI up 2-1.
Midway through the period, RPIs Bryan Brutlag took an interference penalty. For the second time this evening, Colgate capitalized on the power play. Co-captain David McIntyre skated down the right side of the rink and threw the puck toward the goal crease. The pass was intended for Austin Smith, who was cutting towards the net.
The puck ended up deflecting off a couple of skates in front. The redirections fooled York and trickled over the goal line, and Smith was credited with the tally. The goal was reviewed, but there was no doubt about it, Colgate had answered and Smiths goal tied the game, 2-2 at 10:38.
After that tying goal, the game became more and more of a chess match. Both Colgate and RPI seemed to be waiting for the other to make a move. Colgates Alex Evin and RPIs Allen York seemed to match each other save for save, each coming up big for his team. Taking this tie into the third, everyone knew the next goal would be monumental.
Colgate would score that next goal.
An interference penalty to RPIs Jeff Foss midway through the third period would prove to be very costly. Thomas Larkin picked up the puck in the Raiders defensive zone and led the breakout. Larkin sent a headman pass to Brian Day, who skated the puck over the blue line. Day dropped the puck off to Nick Prockow, who carried the puck through the right end zone face off circle.
Prockow cut toward the net, turned and took a backhanded shot low blocker side that beat York and gave Colgate a 3-2 lead with just 9:36 remaining in the game.
We worked on shooting the puck, moving it around, the game winner was just a quick backhand shot, said Vaughan. Then it was just about taking care of the puck. We wanted to make sure there were no soft plays, limit the turnovers, and just get the puck deep. We have to stay focused and keep moving forward.
With just 5:48 left in the game, Evin made a pointblank save on RPIs Jerry DAmigo, followed by a big time glove save on Jeff Foss, to hold on to the one-goal lead.
That was the game, said Appert of the special teams. We played the right way and created looks 5-on-5. It was a good, even game. (Colgate) earned it tonight.
Colgate would have one more obstacle to climb before the game was over, as Larkin would take a head contact penalty with just 3:47 left. The penalty killers were running around frantically, RPI took a bunch of shots, but Colgate was able to kill it off.
Evin gloved a last second shot by Chase Polacek and Colgate rushed out to their net to celebrate the victory.
The Colgate Raiders (14-13-7 overall, 11-8-2 in the ECAC) clinched fourth place in the ECAC, a first round playoff bye, and home ice advantage in the quarterfinals. They will be back home tomorrow night, hosting Union at 7 p.m.
The Rensselaer Engineers (17-15-3, 10-9-2) will look to regroup and clinch fifth place tomorrow night at Lynah Rink in Ithaca, against Cornell at 7 p.m.