Union-RPI postgame report
The 59th annual Rensselaer Holiday Tournament championship game between Union and RPI on Saturday ay Houston Field House is destined to go down as a classic.
It's a game that also helped the two teams learn something about themselves. I will discuss that later.
But the drama of the final four minutes of regulation and the overtime period has made this rivalry even more special. Yes, I know the RPI fans still believe that Clarkson is the main rival. But you have to admit that there is something special going on between the Capital Region foes.
For starters, Jason Walters scores a power-play goal with 3:51 left in the third period, giving Union a 4-2 lead. That goal deflated the RPI fans, and some of them started heading for the exits.
Before they could reach the doors, Paul Kerins scored 45 seconds later to help the Engineers pull within one. They were back supporting their team again.
With 1:36 left, RPI coach Seth Appert pulled goalie Allen York for an extra attacker. Just over a minute later, deja vu struck as Union's Stephane Boileau was called for tripping. On Oct. 30 at Messa Rink, Boileau was called for interference late in the game with Union clinging to a 3-2 lead. Bryan Brutlag scored on the power play to tie it, and Chase Polacek won it in overtime.
And guess what happened? Kerins scored a power-play goal just before time expired, tying the score, 4-4, and sending the game into overtime.
"Again, same thing, same team. It happened again," Boileau said. "It was a nightmare."
And it didn't get much better in the overtime for Union. Team captain Mike Wakita was called for elbowing 1:08 into the period. The Dutchmen, a team that didn't have its top four scorers in the lineup because of suspensions and skating on fumes, had to kill the penalty off. And they did.
That set up the dramatic finish. Boileau skated down the right wing, and he saw Walters coming down the slot. Boileau sent the puck to the net. Walters, who was one of three players suspended for Friday's game against Lake Superior State, tipped it past York for the 5-4 Dutchmen win to clam the tournament title.
I asked Walters after the game if he felt he had to make amends to his teammates for missing Friday's game. He said no, but I believe his answer said otherwise.
"I and the other [six] guys that had to sit out and take full responsibility for what we did," said Walters, who was named the tournament MVP. "We understand what coach [Nate Leaman] did. We don't disagree with it.
"But at the same time, when you come back and, after the guys got to the finals, you want to leave your mark and let the other guys know that you left it all out there."
The Dutchmen did that, and that leads to what they learned about themselves.
Missing from Saturday's game were Adam Presizniuk, the team's second-leading scorer with four goals and seven assists; John Simpson, third on the team with two goals and seven assists; and Brian Yanovitch, who is tied for fourth with four goals and four assists.
Leaman dressed just 11 forwards instead of the usual 12. Andrew Buote and Luke Cain, two other forwards who were suspended Friday, were back in. The Dutchmen had seven defensemen, one more than normal.
"It turned my stomach all week," Leaman said. "If you look at my track record, it's something that I've never done. It was a minor infraction of our team rules, but what hurt the situation is I was away with my wife [who gave birth to the couple's first child last Sunday]. We weren't able to deal with it until I got back."
Union jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. But having three forward lines started to take its toll. Leaman said a couple of the players were getting sick between periods.
"We told them ... don't bury your heads. Just go back out and get it," Leaman said. "I was proud that the guys did. I thought we faced a lot of adversity in the game. But we created a lot of our own adversity. First, we created the adversity with the guys missing the game. That's a lot of adversity to overcome.
"Then the penalties in the third period, we created those ourselves. Those were, in my estimation, good calls. I'm glad we battled through the adversity, but that's something we can't do to ourselves."
But the Dutchmen proved that they can win, even without their top scorers.
"The bottom line is I want our team to be we the team it can be in March," Leaman said. " I thought the message had to get sent to our guys that we're committed to each other, and we're going to hold each other accountable to what we agree to."
As for the Engineers, they showed a lot of heart in coming back from several deficits.
"There's a lot of belief in that room," RPI coach Seth Appert said. "We're building that belief in what we can do together. At the same time, we need to continue to improve, and continue to be disciplined with not only our penalties, but with our systematic play."
Said Kerins: "We had great leaders before. But with the guys that came in this year, our talent level is much higher now. Our ability to score goals has increased quite a bit."
All-tournament teamKerins, Polacek and Union's Kelly Zajac were the forwards named to the all-tournament team. The defensemen were Union's Mike Schreiber and Lake Superior State's Simon Gysbers. The goalie was Union's Keith Kinkaid.
I will have videos from the game, including some of the goals and all the postgame reaction. I will post them later.
The three stars of the game:
1) Jason Walters —Two goals, including the game-winner, and two assists. He was named the tournament MVP.
2) Paul Kerins, RPI — Scores two dramatic goals.
3) Stephane Boileau, Union — Had three assists, and none bigger on Walters' game-winner.
That's all from Houston Field House. I'll be back Monday with my College Hockey Slap Schotts.
Good Night! Good Hockey!