Amherst, MA. – It was a night to celebrate last season, the most successful in the history of University of Massachusetts ice hockey program, but tonight belonged to the freshmen. On both teams. The game totaled eight goals, five came from first year players. Not a shabby NCAA debut for RPI’s Zack Dubinsky and Ryan Mahshie and Massachusetts’ Cal Kiefiuk, Zac Jones, and Reed Lebster. Add to that Jones and Kiefiuk each had an assist, while Tristan Ashbrook notched an assist for RPI.
Tonight was the banner raising to the rafters in the Mullins Center. While the Minutemen were lined up along their blue line, the RPI Engineers were under the stands listening to the 3,628 Massachusetts fans in attendance cheering. As the 2018-19 Hockey East Regular Season Champion and 2019 National Runner-Up banners were being lofted upon high, Engineer players were psyching themselves up. Screams such as “Let’s ruin this celebration!” (among other unsuitable for print phrases) echoed through the tunnel.
And for the majority of the opening period the Engineers outplayed the Minutemen. The Engineers got the game’s first power play when Minuteman captain Niko Hildenbrand was called for Hitting From Behind at 13:28. Defenseman Will Reilly snapped a shot off from below the left face-off dot but Filip Lindberg was able to turn it aside. The sophomore Finn was tested again when a shot from the point was deflected by countryman and RPI forward Ottoville Leppanin in front of the Massachusetts net.
RPI drew first blood when freshman Dubinsky sniped the puck over the shoulder of Lindberg from the bottom left circle at 19:33. That’s how the first would end, 1-0 RPI, with the Engineers outshooting the Minutemen 12-9 for the period. “The puck popped in an open spot for me and I buried it,” said Dubinsky. “It felt good to get that one out of the way.”
The Minutemen came out like gangbusters in the second period. A quick two on one opportunity by John Leonard and Bobby Trivigno that goalie Owen Savory turned away and led to a quick rebound attempt by Matthew Kessel that Savory was ablate to cover up.
Solid stick work at the RPI blue line by freshman Kiefiuk, led to a blocked pass by the freshman who raced away from RPI defender TJ Samec for the breakaway goal. A snapshot from the forward beat Savory left side tying the game at 1-1. Samec received a two minute slashing penalty for his attempt to thwart Kiefiuk at 2:11. “I just rushed out at my guy at the point,” said Kiefiuk about the play that led to his game-tying first NCAA goal. “It just took a good bounce off me, after it happened it was surreal, obviously the place was pretty loud. It felt good to get the first one out of the way.”
Kiefiuk then had a solid bid down low that Savory snuffed out. RPI’s Mike Gornall raced down the other end for a shorthanded chance that Lindberg saved. Back down the other end his counter part in the #8 jersey, Trivigno had 2 successive shots turned aside by Savory. It was a frantic second period.
Massachusetts was applying the pressure as the period reached the midway point. Captain Mitchell Chaffee had two chances to the left of Savory and Oliver Chau had one of his own to Savory’s right. The keeper made phenomenal kick saves to keep the puck out of his net.
Shortly after Chaffee carried the puck back into he RPI zone, he fed Zac Jones for a blast that Savory stopped but Chaffee banged home the rebound to give the Minutemen the 2-1 lead at 10:48. Chaffee and Jones struck again at 11:57 when Chaffee circled into the RPI corner and dished out to Jones who snapped the puck past Savory for his first career goal. UMass had a 3-1 lead going into the third period and outshot the Engineers 19-5 for the middle frame.
Despite trailing, RPI didn’t quit. A three on one opportunity led to Patrick Polino burying a rebound past Lindberg at the side of the net. The Minutemen wasted little time in answering. :17 seconds later Kiefluk set up Lebster on a two on one with a deft pass that the Lebster buried past Savory making it 4-2 Minutemen.
With a face-off win in the Minutemen zone Mahshie sniped a shot from the left face-off dot over Lindberg’s glove at 11:48. The Engineers were trying to make good on their pre-game hype talk, they hung around around until 18:44 when Chaffee popped in his second goal of the evening on an empty net shot attempt. UMass would win 5-3, outshot RPI 39-23, and lose the face-off battle 30-43.
Afterwards RPI coach Dave Smith was disappointed in the result but was buoyed by his team’s resilience. “I thought we were one shot away from tying it,” said the third-year coach. “We saw some good hockey by us, but some quiet moments that cost us the game in the second period. Our goaltending was good. We learned a lot about ourselves tonight in a positive way.”
Massachusetts coach Greg Carvel was the opposite of Smith. He was a little disappointed in his team’s overall play but happy with the win. “It took a little while to get the rust off,” said Carvel. “I thought we responded very well in the second period, we had more shots on net, I thought we really had taken the game over.” Carvel also credited the play of RPI. “I felt like every time we turned the puck over or missed a check RPI did a good job of creating offense and scoring goals.”
“I thought for about thirty minutes tonight we were pretty good,” added Carvel.
RPI travels to Hartford, CT. to take on UConn at the XL Center on Saturday at 3:35pm. UMass is off until Tuesday when they travel to Matthews Arena and take on the Northeastern Huskies at 7:00pm.