Forwards Nolan Graham and Kevin Croxton put on a show for the few brave fans who made the trip to Houston Field House on a snowy Friday night.
Graham, a senior, had a career-high five-point game, including his first goal in 14 games, and the freshman Croxton had his third two-goal game of the season as Rensselaer captured a 5-2 nonconference victory over Minnesota-Duluth.
There were 2,544 tickets sold for the game. But just 464 fans made it through blizzard conditions to see the Engineers (8-11-1) snap a three-game losing streak.
Graham, who also had four assists, recorded RPI’s first five-point game since Nov. 18, 2000, when Matt Murley had four goals and an assist in a 9-2 win over Massachusetts.
Croxton, who also had an assist, leads the Engineers with 10 goals and 10 assists. It was his second straight two-goal effort.
“Those guys played well,” RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. “They had chemistry going. They scored some big goals for us. They just worked hard to generate their opportunities.”
While Croxton has been a consistent player — he has had at least one point in 10 of his last 12 games — Graham has struggled. He hadn’t scored since Oct. 26 against Army, and hadn’t recorded a point in nine of his last 13 games.
With the scored tied, 1-1, late in the first period, Graham had two opportunities off UMD turnovers to score. He missed the first, but made the second. He stopped Neil Petruic’s clearing attempt at the blue line, and then fired a slapshot over the glove of goalie Isaac Reichmuth with 5:21 left.
“It was certainly good to get the puck in the back of the net for once,” said Graham, who assisted on Ryan Shields’ goal 31 seconds into the game that gave RPI a 1-0 lead. “I’ve had some chances, and it’s been a little frustrating at times. It feels good to have a night like this.”
Croxton scored the next two goals. On his first one, at 18:54 of the second period, he took advantage of UMD defenseman Todd Smith backing up down the left wing.
“They had a second guy coming back, and he was yelling at him that he was supporting him,” Croxton said. “I thought it was one of our guys. I took a look, and saw it was a one-on-two. I just tried to take it to the other side because he had support from the middle. I just got lucky with a shot to the short side.”
Croxton made it 4-1 with a power-play goal at 10:28 of the third. The Bulldogs (8-7-4) cut it to two on Jay Hardwick’s goal 1:11 later, but Nick Economakos’ empty-net goal at 18:35, on assists by Graham and Croxton, sealed RPI’s win.
“We didn’t play very well defensively,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “We were loose. We gave up some pretty good opportunities, and they capitalized. Good players are going to do that.”
The two teams meet again Saturday at 7.
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.