TROY, N.Y. — After taking a three-goal lead early in the third period, the No. 11 Brown Bears held on for a 3-2 win and an upset over Rensselaer in the first round of the ECAC playoffs.
“It’s really tough,” said RPI coach Seth Appert. “Certainly didn’t expect this. In the second, we were just in the penalty box too much. We killed off eight minutes of penalties. Your best players are out there too much, you’re getting worn down and tired. That’s why there was that disparity of play in the second. We really controlled the first period but couldn’t penetrate and get one through, then obviously we controlled the third, but certainly giving that one up at the beginning of the third was a tough way to start that period off.”
Senior co-captain Aaron Volpatti opened up the scoring for Brown with the lone goal of the first at 7:05. Devin Timberlake sent the puck toward the goal from the right half-wall, where it got caught up at the feet of Bobby Farnham to the left of the net as he battled Josh Rabbani for control. Volpatti shot in from the left wing to scoop up the loose puck and sent it through the five-hole of Allen York on a twirling backhander.
RPI junior captain John Kennedy almost tied it a minute later when he jumped up into the play from the right point to one-time a pass from Garret Vassel. His shot was blocked, but it popped up into the air off the deflection over Clemente and just cleared the bar, landing an inch inside it on top of the net.
Just 2:30 into the middle frame, Bryan Brutlag nearly created a chance to tie the score. He took the puck off the stick of Volpatti just outside the Brown blue line to give himself a breakaway, but tipped it out ahead of himself in the process. Clemente hesitated in coming out of his net, and it nearly cost him, yet he was just able to poke it to the boards before Brutlag got around him to the open net.
After that, the Bears got a boost of energy and outworked their hosts for the remainder of the middle period. York had to come up big to keep the game close. A turnover off a pass from Jerry D’Amigo to Paul Kerins at the end of an RPI power play led to a two-on-one, but he stayed on his feet to challenge Jack Maclellan and made a waist-high glove save. York followed that up with a point-blank pad save on a Chris Zaires’ one-timer right at the front of the cage.
At 10:29 of the second, it looked like the Bears had finally extended their lead when a wraparound try on the right side of the net by Volpatti went in on the weak side off the skate of Timberlake, but referee Peter Feola immediately ruled no goal on a kick in. There is no video review at the Houston Field House, and had RPI managed to come back, ECAC Director of Officials Paul Stewart knows he would have had plenty of questions to answer.
RPI went down two men for 46 seconds and Brown took a two-goal lead at 12:24. Maclellan was skating in a circle alone between the circles off a pass from Jeff Buvinow and put a wrister in blocker side that York never saw. It was Brown’s only power play goal all weekend in 16 total chances.
After Mike Bergin was called for another penalty at the end of the period, Appert, who has praised the officials for their consistency all series, stood at the end of the bench to have a word with Feola and Mike Baker after his team went to the locker room.
“I just felt it odd that I thought we had the puck most of the game, but the power plays were seven to four for Brown,” Appert would say. “I thought the officials did a good job in the series and were consistent, but I was just trying to voice that a little bit that maybe ours were a little more out in the open so it was easy to call but there was a little more in close quarters (by them) that wasn’t.”
Brown took a 3-0 lead off a costly turnover only 18 seconds into the third. D’Amigo had the puck behind his own net off the end of the penalty to Bergin and he made a very dangerous play to start the transition rush even though Harry Zolnierczyk was standing feet away in front of the goal line ready to strike. Zolnierczyk tipped it off his stick to Zaires between the circles, who scored.
“We’ve been a really good second period team all year,” said Volpatti. “Once we work our forecheck really well, we give teams trouble. We’re a confident team, just focused on thinking positive about that feeling coming into the room after a big win.”
Kerins stepped up at 5:49 to ignite his team and a crowd that had the life drained from them by the third Brown tally. Brutlag left a drop pass for Patrick Cullen, who continued to take a few steps in from the blue line on the right wing, then saw a lane to send it cross-ice to the senior winger, who fired a quick shot far side that beat Clemente.
For the rest of the third, the clock was the Engineers’ only true foe. They had a total of nine shots on goal from inside the faceoff dots in the final frame, but Clemente was his team’s best player, picking up 12 of his 28 saves in the third.
Brandon Pirri drew a slash at 14:53 to give RPI one last chance on a power play, and Appert called York to the bench a minute into it to give his team a six-on-four advantage. He stayed on the bench with an offensive-zone faceoff coming up with just two seconds before the penalty would expire, and it paid off. Cullen won the draw back to senior Erik Burgdoerfer at the right point, who slid it over to Jeff Foss. Foss found the mesh with a slap shot through traffic with 3:05 left to play.
“We got back on our heels and they had us running around and I was just thankful the clock ran out,” Brown coach Brendan Whittet admitted. “It was definitely chaotic on our bench. Not that the guys doubted what we were hopefully going to do, but it was tight.”
York headed back to the bench again with 1:42 on the clock and RPI had four more chances on Clemente right at the goal mouth, but it simply was not meant to be.
Brown will travel to New Haven to take on top-seed Yale next weekend in a best-of-three ECAC quarterfinal series.