SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — In a thrilling playoff matchup between bitter rivals, the Union Dutchmen (21-7-7) edged the Rensselear Engineers (12-23-3), 3-2, in the first game of the ECAC quarterfinals Friday night in Schenectady, N.Y.
In front of a rowdy crowd comprised of both Union and RPI supporters, it was quickly evident that the playoff excitement was not lost on the players.
“I thought both teams were physical; it was a competitive game,” said RPI coach Seth Appert.
RPI got off to a quick start as sophomore Matt Tinordi found some open ice along the right side. Streaking into the Union zone, he fired RPI’s first shot over Troy Grosenick’s right shoulder to give the Engineers a quick 1-0 lead only 42 seconds into the contest.
“That was a nice shot; he put it right where he needed it,” said Union assistant captain Kelly Zajac.
Grosenick, who made 21 saves in his 17th win of the season, was unfazed.
“That’s the game of hockey; it doesn’t matter when you let in a goal, you have to let it roll off your back,” said the sophomore.
The tide turned quickly, however, when Max Novak scored the seventh goal of his freshman campaign. Streaking down the right side, Novak cut sharply toward the net, wristing a shot short side over Bryce Merriam’s glove to tie the game with 6:32 elapsed in the first period.
Having scored at least two power-play goals in three of their last four meetings against RPI, Union’s power play converted once more at 13:19 of the first. After Zajac chipped the puck deep into RPI zone, Kyle Bodie held the puck to the left of Merriam’s net and it to an open Wayne Simpson waiting in the slot, who one-timed it past Rensselaer’s netminder to open up a 2-1 Union advantage. Wayne Simpson’s goal was his fifth career playoff tally, which places him first among active Union players.
Union opened the second period with 1:53 of power-play time carrying over from the first and converted once more to increase their lead to 3-1. After Merriam stopped a shot to his left, a flurry of Union players descended to the net. Following the play was junior defenseman Greg Coburn, who took several whacks at the puck trapped against Merriam’s right leg pad before slipping it over the goal line just as the official blew the whistle. Sent immediately to the scorer’s box for review, what would ultimately be the game-winning goal was ruled to have crossed the line before play was whistled dead.
“They [the officials] got the final say, so yeah, it went in,” said Merriam after the game.
“It was a broken play,” explained Coburn. “The goalie had it on his pad there and I just kept whacking away at it.”
The controversial call seemed to awaken the Engineers, who played a dominant second period. Peppering Grosenick, RPI outshot Union 12-10 in the frame. Despite the team’s resurgent play during the second half of the game, Appert explained that his team would not take away any moral victories from tonight.
“We need to be better on puck battles,” he told the media. “Realistically, that was probably the difference.”
In the third, the Engineers carried over their aggressive style of play. After a penalty to RPI captain Joel Malchuk, senior forward Alex Angers-Goulet broke free of the Union defense and rushed down the right side toward Grosenick. From the hashmarks, the St. Augustin, Que., native sent a sizzling shot toward the top left corner of the net, beating Union’s netminder. The goal was his second of the year, coming at 10:32 of the third period.
“I used their defenseman as a screen. I just wanted to shoot high on him [Grosenick]. It wound up going in,” said Angers-Goulet.
Despite some opportune chances, RPI could not convert on a game-tying goal, as Union tightened up defensively.
“I was proud of the way we finished the game; we’re going to try to gain momentum for tomorrow,” said Rensselaer junior C.J. Lee.
Appert offered praise to RPI’s regional rivals.
“[Union is a] tough team to come back on; they’re good defensively, good systematically. They’re well-coached.”
Union and RPI will face off in game two of the best of three quarterfinals Saturday night at Messa Rink in Schenectady, N.Y.