Rensselaer brimming with renewed confidence facing upcoming road trip

Jacob Hayhurst (Rensselaer - 16). ((c) Shelley M. Szwast 2016)
Jacob Hayhurst leads RPI in scoring this season with 13 points on two goals and 11 assists over 11 games (photo: Shelley M. Szwast).

Rensselaer coach Dave Smith believes his team understands what needs to be done to win on a consistent basis.

It just needs to be executed.

The Engineers have reached four wins before December after posting just six wins a season ago.

“It was a great win for our guys,” Smith said after Friday’s 2-1 win over UMass Lowell. “We’ve have had nine practices to take the information from all the games before that. We had a couple guys back that made a difference in tonight’s game. We managed the game significantly better. We are learning and tonight those lessons were played in a really good-coached game.”

One of those players returning last weekend against the River Hawks was junior defenseman Will Reilly. The 2017 seventh-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins factored in both goals Friday and had an assist Sunday, also against UMass-Lowell. He missed the team’s previous three games.

The other player that returned this past weekend was freshmen Jakub Lacka, who had been out since the opening weekend series against Massachusetts. He has scored in his first three college games and kept his point streak going on Sunday with an assist in the 5-2 loss.

After this past Sunday’s game at home, the Engineers will be on the road for the next month in a stretch that includes seven games away from the Houston Fieldhouse.

Getting that win at Lowell Friday was important to the team knowing what the upcoming schedule holds.

“It’s huge any time you can get a win on the road, especially the first game of a series that means it’s big for the second game,” Reilly said on Friday. “For us, every game is big. We have a big road trip coming up and it will help with confidence on the road for sure.”

The road trip starts this weekend in South Bend as the Engineers take on Notre Dame in a pair of nonconference games, then three conference games and the Catamount Cup where they take on Northeastern and host Vermont.

Smith has been looking forward to this trip since the start of the season as three transfers in Shane Bear (UMass), Mike Gornall (North Dakota) and Chase Zieky (Providence) will be able to make their RPI debuts on the back half of the trip.

Gornall and Zieky are both forwards and will be helpful additions to the nation’s 55th-ranked offense at 1.82 goals per game. Smith knows they can’t just rely on the line of Jacob Hayhurst, Ottoville Leppänen and Lacka to provide all the offense. Hayhurst leads the team with 13 points while Leppänen has six and Lacka has four.

“We are a team that’s going to win with our depth,” Smith said. “Jacob Hayhurst is a big-time difference maker and I was able to, in the first period especially, get him a couple of shifts at wing and a couple of shifts at center with own line. I thought he was playing great, but our team won’t be successful if we rely on one line.

“We win games when everybody is playing well. We win games with depth.”

Bear will bring experience to the blue line. He played 33 games in his freshman season of 2017-18 with UMass before departing after eight games.

Friday’s win was also Owen Savory’s first career start in goal as he made 26 saves. Smith made sure he was put in a position to succeed and that’s why he waited a month and half to give him his first career start.

“For one, we wanted to put all of our guys in a position for success,” Smith said. “Linden (Marshall) played in 27 games last year or right around that number. My perspective as coach is that we watched Owen come in — he works hard, he’s a really good teammate and you want to make sure he has a chance to accumulate. He would tell you he was ready Day 1, but we want him to have the right experience and the understanding on what we are trying to do.”

Savory was rewarded with his second start Sunday in the rematch in Troy, N.Y.

He was comfortable with the start in Lowell as he got into games at Princeton and Quinnipiac not too long ago.

“It was amazing,” Savory said on Friday. “I think getting in a couple of games in the last couple of weeks helped. Obviously, you come in and you are a little more comfortable. Coming off our off week we knew tonight was a big game for us. We had a little bit of a break. Coming in, all the boys were really good with me and they knew I was going to stand in and do my job.”