TROY, NY – There was at the same time nothing at all spectacular and nothing at all horrible about the first game of the season for the Rensselaer Engineers and the Minnesota State-Mankato Mavericks at the Houston Field House on Friday night. For the record, the Mavs took a 1-0 victory on the rebound of a shot caused by an RPI turnover when Cameron Cooper finally found the combination of accuracy and open net that had eluded all others for over 58 minutes of mediocre hockey.
It wasn’t sloppy, but it wasn’t crisp. Neither team was able to finish, though there were by no means a plethora of “Grade-A” chances. Oh…and no one was able to convert on the power play, which included two separate four-on-three occurrences. RPI went 0-for-11 while MSU went 0-for-6.
The referees, Scott Whittemore and Bill Bredin, called 19 penalties for 38 minutes in a game that was not all that physical or chippy. The most physical part of the game was when Minnesota State captain Tyler Elbrecht broke his left arm/wrist in the corner behind the RPI net in the 2nd period, a play on which none of those 19 minors were assessed. Elbrecht left the game in an ambulance; there is no official prognosis yet.
That injury was probably and unfortunately the most impactful part of the game, positive or negative, for either side moving forward. It was reflected in the mood of the post-game press conference, where RPI coach Seth Appert, though being clear he was absolutely disappointed in the loss, was optimistic about the effort, saying only that he was “certainly disappointed that we turned the puck over too much and we gave them too many easy offensive chances.”
The winning coach, Minnesota State’s Troy Jutting, on the other hand looked worn down in the way only losing one’s captain in the 2nd period of the season can make a coach look as he sipped his post-game coffee and managed only the proverbial “I thought it was a good effort” before lamenting about “the couple injuries where we lost kids so early.”
No question that if both coaches had been told that one of them would win an ugly 1-0 game but also lose his captain in the season opener, both would have chosen to take the L.
It’s hard to say that the Engineers played a game good enough to win, but they have as many shots on goal (36) as the Mavericks had shots attempted. What Appert alluded to was true however in that RPI generated the better chances, yet did themselves in by giving pucks away to Mankato rather than making them earn it.
One major culprit was pre-season All-ECAC First Team defenseman Nick Bailen, who played nonchalantly on several occasions moving the puck out of the RPI zone, including on the play which led to the game-winning goal. This happened too many times last season as well. Bailen is an offensive defenseman, but he needs to step it up and be more of a leader in the defensive end for a youthful RPI defensive unit behind he and Mike Bergin.
In addition to several opportunities to bang home loose pucks in front of MSU’s Austin Lee, RPI had two prime scoring opportunities.
Near the end of the first period, Brock Higgs took a pass while streaking through the middle of the neutral zone and got ahead of the defense. He took the puck to the backhand at the edge of the crease and only Lee’s left toe was in the way of a goal, but Higgs was unable to get any lift on the puck and could not put it home.
Then, in the third, one of freshman Ryan Haggerty’s game-leading six shots caught the inside of the pipe instead of the back of the open net on a weak-side rebound attempt.
It should not be left out that freshman Scott Diebold had a very solid performance in net for RPI with 19 saves, including a post-to-post stop on Michael Dorr off a two-on-one and a splits toe save on an Eriah Hayes breakaway. Including his exhibition shutout against Acadia last weekend, Diebold played his first 118+ minutes in an RPI sweater without allowing a goal. Not bad.
NOTES: Austin Lee had 36 saves in his first career shutout for MSU…RPI’s Pat Koudys changed his number from 2 to 4, which was vacated by graduating Bryan Brutlag…Bryce Merrian was in uniform and looking quite limber in pre-game stretches for the Engineers…and Johnny Rogic was a healthy scratch for RPI.