The Union-Rensselaer series has turned into a rivalry, make no bones about it.
The two schools are 15 miles apart, despite which there have always been some who said this was not a rivalry. Don’t tell that to the teams or the fans.
In the last two years Union has gone 2-0-2 against Rensselaer, and Saturday, the Dutchmen looked to extend the Engineers’ futility streak to five games.
Ryan Shields made sure that it didn’t happen. The junior scored twice, both in the third — the game winner and an empty netter — and assisted on another goal, earning himself his first victory over Union as an Engineer, and earning the Engineers an important ECAC win, 4-2.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Shields. “To get a win against Union is a big deal for us.
“We’ve been talking about it all week, that all the juniors haven’t beaten them yet. We were sick of it, losing to these guys, and hopefully this gets us rolling again.”
Shields broke a 2-2 tie in the third period when he hammered one past Kris Mayotte. Mikael Hammarstrom led the rush down the right side of the ice and put one into the slot. The puck deflected off of Kevin Croxton’s stick onto Mayotte and the puck dropped in front of him. Nathan Gillies tried to clear the puck, but put it right on Shields’ stick and he went high and broke the tie.
“I was at the right spot at the right time, and I shot it as hard as I could and hoped it went in,” he said. “It caught (Mayotte) off guard and I don’t think he even knew I had it. I just threw it in there as hard as I could.”
Shields added an empty-netter, and the junior class of Rensselaer picked up its first win over the Dutchmen.
“It’s that old cliche where you get the monkey or refrigerator off of your back,” said Engineer coach Dan Fridgen. “It’s just doing the little things and being consistent for 60 full minutes instead of letting up.”
The Engineers never trailed in the game after going up 1-0 in the first period. Shields centered a pass across the slot; Croxton was crashing the net and deflected it past Mayotte.
The Dutchmen came back at the beginning of the second period with a power-play goal. Randy Dagenais took a soft wrister that found space between Kevin Kurk and the left goalpost.
The Engineers regained the lead with a power-play goal of their own later in the period. A Danny Eberly slapshot was deflected off the shaft of Vic Periera and changed direction enough to fool Mayotte, who had gone down while the puck went up.
In the third period the Dutchmen worked hard to get an opportunity. Gillies found Joel Beal open in front for a quick tip-in to tie the game at 2-2.
Shields then scored the winner.
“When they got that goal both times, we didn’t get rattled, we kept our composure and continued to chip away at things and we got a couple of bounces,” said Fridgen. “In those situations they skated real hard and we were up, and the most focused in the games that we’ve played to date.”
Shields’ line with Croxton and Hammarstrom accounted for seven points on the evening.
“They certainly came up big tonight,” said Fridgen of the line. “But I thought we had a real solid team effort tonight. We finally played a complete 60 minutes of hockey.”
“We got put together at the end of the Brown game and we clicked,” Shields said of his line. “We had a good week of practice and we seem to know where we are on the ice.”
While the Engineers and Fridgen celebrated, the Dutchmen and coach Kevin Sneddon were less than pleased.
“The bottom line is that I thought we were outworked for the entire 60 minutes,” said Sneddon, “and outmuscled more than anything.
“I thought it was a good way to start the third period and I thought it was going to be hard to score on them. We really needed to keep up the momentum and then we had a missed assignment on the backcheck and they worked hard to get the rebound. They wanted it more, they were more hungry.
“I was disappointed in some of the efforts of our guys, and I’m not going to play guys that aren’t going to show up and play as hard as they can.”
Union (6-6-3, 3-3-1 ECAC) will host Iona Sunday evening, while the Engineers (7-8-1, 2-4-1 ECAC) host Boston University on Tuesday.