Men's hockey splits against Union, No. 18 RPI

by Sam Stockton | 2/14/16 6:30pm

The men’s hockey team split a pair of ECAC match-ups at Thompson Arena this weekend. After falling to Union College in a 4-1 contest that was closer than the score indicated, the team earned a 2-1 come-from-behind win against No. 18 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on the strength of a Troy Crema ’17 overtime goal. The split leaves the Big Green’s record at 13-11-1, 10-8-0 ECAC, good for a tie with RPI for fifth in the ECAC.

On Friday night against Union, the Big Green got off to a hot start, playing a dominant first period in which they outshot the Dutchmen 16 to 3. Despite all these chances, the score sat at 0-0 after 20 minutes.

“We played as good a first period as I’ve seen us play,” head coach Bob Gaudet ’81 said. “It’s unfortunate that it got away from us. We had a few opportunities, and we just didn’t bury them.”

A crucial factor in keeping the Big Green off the board was Union netminder Alex Sakellaropoulos, who stopped 33 of the 34 shots he faced.

“I thought we were playing pretty well offensively,” captain Brad Schierhorn ’16 said. “We got a lot of pucks to the net, a lot of bodies to the net. I think their goalie played really well and made some key stops at some key moments. He was definitely a difference maker tonight.”

Along with Sakellaropoulos’ strong netminding, the story of the game was frequent penalty calls. Fifteen penalties were assessed, and each side benefitted from six power play chances.

“It was a game where the referees were calling it really closely,” Gaudet said. “They were not flagrant penalties, and the penalties took the flow out of the game, no question.”

In the second period, Grant Opperman ’17 opened the scoring with a five-on-three goal in what would be the lone bright spot for a power play that went one-for-six, including another five-on-three opportunity.

“We had some opportunities [on the power play], and I thought we did some good things,” Gaudet said. “We had some good looks. In the third period, we were a little bit out of sorts, and it just wasn’t very crisp. Prior to that, we moved the puck really well, had some good chances, and could have had a few on the power play, but we definitely have to win the specialty teams battle to win the game.”

Just over five minutes after Opperman’s tally, Union was able to tie the game, and the two teams headed to the second intermission with the scored knotted up at one. Midway through the third period came a microcosm of the game. Corey Kalk ’18 was sent to the penalty box for elbowing, but the Big Green penalty kill was able to keep the Union power play in check. Exactly one second after Kalk was released from the box, Connor Yau ’19 was whistled for holding. On the ensuing power play, Brett Supinski beat goalie Charles Grant ’16 for the game-winning goal.

“The back-to-back penalties in the third hurt us,” Gaudet said. “We’re putting our guys on the ice a lot to kill penalties there. I thought the penalty on Connor Yau where he did get called for holding was a dive. It’s tough to have four minutes’ worth of penalties.”

In net against Union, Gaudet opted to return to Grant after going with James Kruger ’16 last Saturday night against Brown University. Grant was passed up for the start after allowing four goals the previous night against Yale University. Against the Dutchmen, Grant stopped 23 of the 27 shots he faced.

“In the month of January, he was the best goalie in my estimation in college hockey,” Gaudet said of his veteran goaltender. “We didn’t play a great game against Yale — it wasn’t Chuck’s fault. Chuck deserved an opportunity, and he played a good solid hockey game.”

Union would score two more late goals, making what was a tight game appear more like a blowout.

“With seven minutes left in the game it was a 1-1 game,” Gaudet said. “It was not a 4-1 game. It was a 2-1 game. It’s hard to win a game 1-0. We had to put some put some pucks away, and we just didn’t do it [on Friday].”

Unlike the Union game, the Big Green struggled out of the gate against RPI. The team spent much of the first period with the puck in its end and had a hard time generating scoring chances. Mike Prapavessis put the Engineers on top just over six minutes into the contest.

“The start of the game, they had the edge in play, but at about the midpoint of the first period, we played really good hockey,” Gaudet said. “We battled hard, and we found a way to get better and better as the game progressed. It came from really hard work and momentum that came from winning battles and winning shifts.”

After giving up 11 shots in the first period, the Big Green allowed just eight across the final two stanzas. The team smothered the Engineer attack and kept the puck in RPI’s end.

“We just started moving the puck quickly from our defense to our forwards,” Crema said. “Our transition game got a lot better. We dominated most of the play by keeping the puck pressure down low and making the right play at the right time.”

Going into the third period, the game appeared poised to be a repeat of the previous night with the Big Green outplaying and outshooting their opponents but trailing on the scoreboard. Again, the Big Green power play, 0-3 at the time, was unable to take advantage of its opportunities. That narrative stopped just over halfway through the third frame, when Ryan Bullock ’16 connected for a power play goal, assisted by Brett Patterson ’16 and Opperman.

“We played a little more patiently, and we didn’t try to force anything to the inside,” Bullock said. “The forwards were doing a good job possessing it down low, and Patterson slid it over. I hit it first time, and I think it went off a shin pad and found the five hole.”

The Big Green carried that momentum forward and continued to pepper Engineer goalie Jason Kasdorf with shots, but the game remained tied after 60 minutes. The team continued to dominate in the extra session, not allowing the Engineers to register a single shot.

With little more than a minute to play in overtime, Crema won a huge faceoff and headed to the front of the net, when the rebound from a Tim Shoup ’18 shot ricocheted right to him.

“I tied it up on the face off and [Tim O’Brien ’16] and Schierhorn did a great job coming in and winning the puck back,” Crema said. “It went D-to-D, and their center left me alone, so I went to the front of the net. The puck went off the goalie’s far pad, and I was there to put it in.”

While Crema understated the significance of the play, his coach was eager to build it up.

“I love the fact that we found a way to score,” Gaudet said. “[Crema] was starting to really feel it, and he was due. The play at the end was a classic hockey play — won faceoff, drive to the net, stick on the ice and ready to put it in the open net. We beat a really good team and an outstanding goaltender.”

Kruger got the win in net for Dartmouth, stopping 18 of RPI’s 19 shots.

Next weekend, the team will play its final two home games of the regular season against Colgate University and No. 15 Cornell University, with the latter game serving as Senior Day and the Class of 2016’s final regular season game at Thompson Arena.