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The setting sun outside the Houston Field House would prove a bad omen for the homestanding Rensselaer Engineers in this Saturday afternoon ECAC affair. The sun shone brightly on the home team for the first two periods, as they scored the lone goal in each, but as the third period came, that once bright sun set and darkness descended on the Engineers’ in the form of breakdowns that led to Harvard salvaging a 3-3 tie with seconds to play in regulation.
Both squads came into the weekend playing their best hockey of the season, and each took another step toward the top half of the ECAC standings with three-point weekends after Harvard’s 4-1 upset at Union and RPI’s 2-1 comeback win at home against Dartmouth on Friday.
After a slow start, with the teams feeling each other out, RPI got on the board first with the lone goal of the opening frame at 8:28. Jerry D’Amigo took a pass from Chase Polacek and skated down along the left side boards before dancing around a defender and sending a wrist shot from below the faceoff circle over the right shoulder of Harvard goalie Ryan Carroll.
After the goal, the Engineers dominated the remainder of the first. Harvard’s only chance in the first came at 15:30 when Eric Kroshus stole the puck away from RPI defenseman Peter Merth and dropped a pass to Jack Christian for a one-timer from the slot that was turned away by Allen York. He finished the game with 26 saves.
“It’s helpful having him back, because we’re a very young team,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said of Christian, a senior who made his return to action this weekend after being sidelined since 2008. “It’s been a tough road for Jack, especially with how long he was out, but I think he played great this weekend. He gives us something unique with his physicality.”
In the middle of the second period, both teams seemed to take their play to another level, exchanging top-notch offensive chances for the rest of the frame. Harvard’s Louis Leblanc took a pass from Alex Killorn on a two-on-one and shot low at the open net, but York was just able to kick out his left pad in time to make the stop. Polacek showed his Hobey Baker credentials with an incredible burst of speed when he came from three steps behind two Crimson defenseman to grab a loose puck in the neutral zone and skate in all alone on the Harvard net, where he went five-hole and Carroll was just barely able to squeeze the puck between his ankles before it found its way through.
What could have been the dagger came at 19:52 when Paul Kerins scored a carbon copy of his goal the night before against Dartmouth to give RPI the 2-0 lead. While skating into the offensive zone along the left wing, he took a pass from Brandon Pirri and fired a wrist shot from the top of the circle which deflected off the edge of Carroll’s glove and into the net.
“I’m just trying to fire pucks on the net with my feet moving,” Kerins said when asked about the similarity of the two goals. “My shot has always been one of my strengths. I’m not the strongest skater. I at least had to a bit more of a move today around my guy.”
Donato inserted Kyle Richter into the net to start the third. Carroll had 11 saves through two periods.
“It was a combination (of wanting to motivate the team and thinking the RPI goals were soft) that led me to make the switch. They were both ones that you’d like to have back. I think maybe (Carroll) was off with the early start, but I think Richter came in and did a good job to give us a chance to come back.” Richter recorded 10 saves in the third period and overtime.
The third period started in an offensive frenzy with three goals in the first two and a half minutes. Harvard wasted no time in cutting RPI’s lead in half as Leblanc was able to take the puck away from D’Amigo at the RPI blue line and then tip it to Killorn, who wristed it over the glove of York from the top of the slot for his sixth of the year at :20.
RPI answered at 1:11 after solid forechecking by the Kerins-Pirri-O’Grady line deep in the Harvard zone. Pirri was able to take a loose puck from in front of Richter and chip it across the crease to Marty O’Grady, who buried it into the empty net for his seventh of the season to retake a two-goal lead.
It lasted until only 2:30, when a shot from the left point by Harvard defenseman Chad Morin was deflected right onto the stick of Doug Rogers, who easily beat an out-of-position York from between the faceoff dots.
The score remained locked at 3-2 until Leblanc scored the equalizer with the extra skater on at 19:57. A scramble emerged in front of the RPI net after York was unable to cover the puck after making the initial stop on a shot from Leblanc. With York laying on his side and the puck between him and the goal line, Leblanc was able to tap it across just before the net was dislodged. The goal was reviewed and ruled correctly good.
“No doubt it was the right call,” RPI coach Seth Appert said afterward. “I think we played good in the third. They didn’t control the play so much as they took control of our breakdowns. We gave them the first goal, it was a bad bounce on the second goal, and then a defensive breakdown on the third goal. We did some good things, but we have to be mature and have everyone give 100 percent commitment. If people are not going to make the big play with the game on the line, then they won’t be on the ice in those situations.”
RPI travels to Brown and Yale next weekend, while Harvard hosts Princeton on Friday before facing BC in the Beanpot semifinals the following Monday.