TROY, N.Y. — Some people might look at No. 15 Rensselaer’s 4-1 win over No. 7 Boston University on Saturday and consider an upset, or at least a mild surprise. None of those people are RPI players or coaches, though.
“We expected to win,” said senior forward Chase Polacek, who had a goal and two assists in the game. “Probably in the past, in my first couple years on the team, we would’ve looked at it as an upset. But I think all week, we prepared and we expected to win. We weren’t looking at ourselves as underdogs. We looked at as they had to come to our rink and beat us.”
That quote is a pretty good summary of the turnaround the program has experienced in the last few years. In 2007-08 and 2008-09, Polacek’s first two seasons, the Engineers went a combined 21-50-6. Last year, they posted a much-improved 18-17-4 record and were in contention for an NCAA Tournament spot into the final weeks of the season.
Their ascent has continued this year, as the win over the Terriers capped off an impressive 9-4-3 first semester that has seen them crack the top 15 in the national polls and earn wins against three ranked opponents — BU, No. 13 Union and No. 19 Dartmouth.
“Our seniors have seen the other side of this,” said RPI coach Seth Appert, “where we’re getting beat up in games like this, where we’re not near strong enough, competitive enough or talented enough to be able to play with teams like this. So I was happy for our seniors tonight.”
On Saturday, the Engineers proved they were strong enough, competitive enough and talented enough from the get-go, as they controlled play throughout the first period. A shorthanded goal by Joel Malchuk and a power-play goal by Tyler Helfrich (both of them are seniors, by the way) gave the Engineers a 2-0 lead entering the break, and they never looked back.
“I think there have been games we’ve played against big-name teams where we’ve come out and kind of tip-toed into the water to see what was going to happen first,” Appert said. “Tonight, we came out to attack. To use that metaphor, we jumped up to the top of the high dive and just jumped right in and didn’t worry about the temperature.”
“We wanted to set the pace and play our game,” Polacek added, “and not the one-on-one, cute, skilled game that they wanted to play. We wanted to go out there and play hard, fast and physical.”
Special teams played a big role as well. The Engineers registered three power-play goals in eight chances, kept the Terriers scoreless on their five power plays and even added Malchuk’s shorty.
“Our special teams have been lacking a little bit in the past,” Polacek said. “We’ve been a really good five-on-five team, but tonight, the special teams won the game for us.”
So did goaltending, but that is not something that has been lacking in the past. Junior Allen York (8-4-3) has been one of the best goalies in the country all season, as he ranks in the top 10 in both goals-against average and save percentage. On Saturday, he saved 28 of the 29 shots he faced, including two huge breakaway chances that could’ve given the Terriers some momentum and gotten them back in the game.
“Allen York was Allen in net,” Appert said. “Some people will say he was special tonight, but I think he was just Allen. He was just doing what Allen does.”
Although both Appert and Polacek downplayed the significance of Saturday’s win — Appert said he didn’t “want it to get too overblown” — there is no denying it was a big win that should help put RPI back on the map.
“Everyone in the country knows who BU is, and people are just starting to hear about RPI again,” Polacek said. “Beating them like that is going to be good for us and it’s going to help us out along the way at the end of the year.”