There was a stretch in the second period Tuesday night when Rensselaer looked like the better team at the Houston Field House. That stretch lasted a brief two minutes — the other 58 belonged to Massachusetts.
The Minutemen skated to a 6-0 win over the Engineers behind a 24-save effort from junior goaltender Dan Meyers and a relentless offensive attack, which produced five different goalscorers; senior winger Chris Davis scored twice for UMass.
Following a penalty to senior defenseman John Wessbecker, playing his first game since last Nov. 30 against Cornell, the Engineers worked the puck around the UMass zone, creating open look after open look at Meyers. Senior defenseman Topher Bevis lost his stick early in the shift, worsening UMass’ problems.
Meyers protected UMass’ 2-0 lead with five saves before the Minutemen finally cleared the puck. After the initial clear, RPI tried to work the puck up ice, but the rush halted once it gained the zone. UMass sophomore center Mike Lecomte controlled the puck along the left half-wall in the UMass zone and used the boards to find junior Will Ortiz streaking through the neutral zone.
Ortiz moved toward the crease and drew RPI goaltender Mathias Lange with him, freshman Danny Hobbs followed the play parallel to Ortiz. With the slot wide open, Ortiz quickly turned and slid a pass through to Hobbs who slapped it into the vacated left side of the net. The goal was the first of Hobbs’ career and increased UMass’ lead to 3-0.
“[Dan Meyers] was really strong and a real difference maker in the game,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “We got caught with [an RPI player] coming out of the penalty box and a broken stick, RPI put an incredible amount of pressure on us for an extended period of time.
“He made two or three really good saves during that shift that was the difference in the game because had [RPI scored], it would have changed the complexion of the game,” Cahoon continued. “As it turned out we got through that shift and went down and made it 3-0.”
In the first period, the Minutemen wasted little time turning their offense on the Engineers. Early on, however, Lange kept the game scoreless despite UMass chances off RPI turnovers and winning loose pucks. The Minutemen outshot RPI 20-8 in that frame, but not until the 16:15 mark did they break the scoreless tie. Wessbecker fired a shot from the right point at the RPI net, after a deflection, the puck drifted to Davis who slid it past Lange for his first goal of the season.
Throughout the game, RPI looked overmatched by the Minutemen. Even when an Engineer play executed well, UMass quickly recovered. Shortly after Davis’s goal, sophomore James Marcou and skated through the neutral zone with Cory Quirk by his side and RPI defensemen Bryan Brutlag and Erik Burgdoerfer in front of them. Marcou quickly shifted toward the slot once gaining the zone and Burgdoerfer lost his balance.
A brief hesitation by Marcou allowed an RPI forward to regroup and knock him off the puck. However, no RPI player moved toward the puck to clear the zone and UMass sophomore defenseman Doug Kublin streaked in from center ice and fired on goal. Lange, screened by the commotion from the hit on Marcou, watched it sail over his head and into the net.
Like Hobbs, Kublin’s goal was the first of his career. Both players saw extended ice time Tuesday night in different roles in the UMass lineup. Hobbs featured on UMass’s second power-play unit along with fellow freshman Casey Wellman. Wellman also scored the first goal of his career, which made it 5-0. Much like last year, the UMass underclassmen provide great depth and options for Cahoon.
“For the young guys, it’s always good when they contribute like this,” Cahoon said. “We know some guys are going to get their points, so it’s good to see the young guys contributing.
“We try to get as many people involved as we can. Of course, we have go to people who we turn to in the most critical of situations, but sometimes the game breaks where you’ve got some fatigued players and you need fresh players. So we have to rely on the younger guys, and, thankfully, they’ve learned enough to go out there and do the job.”
The win improved UMass to 2-1 heading into its Hockey East opener against No. 4 New Hampshire Friday. Meanwhile, RPI (0-4) looks for its first win of the season against in-state rival Union Friday night in Albany at the Times Union Center.
With UMass leading 6-0 following a Lecomte goal at 16:08 of the third period, play moved toward the physical end of things. Following an open ice hit on captain Brett Watson by RPI’s Garett Vassel, Davis skated toward Vassel behind the UMass goal and checked him into the boards. Davis received a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for his action.