TROY, N.Y. – The Dartmouth men’s hockey team had not won a game when trailing after two periods of play in more than two years.
That streak ended Sunday night as the 10th-seeded Big Green (10-18-4) upset seventh-seeded Rensselaer (15-16-6), 5-4, at Houston Field House. The home team held a 4-2 lead through 40 minutes of play, but three third-period goals erased that deficit and sent Dartmouth to the ECAC Hockey Quarterfinals next week at top-seeded Union.
For the second year in a row and the fifth time since 2003, the Big Green were able to shake off a Game 1 loss to win a first-round series in three, accomplishing the feat last season at home against Harvard.
Brad Schierhorn completed the comeback with his eighth of the year with just 2:14 remaining in regulation on a wrist shot into the top right corner of the net.
“After it went in, I looked up at the clock to see how much time was left. Honestly, I just thought about how we had to kill off the rest of it and hold on,” Schierhorn said in a jubilant Big Green locker room following the win. “I was just so excited to be able to put the team on top after everyone worked so hard all night.”
Schierhorn’s heroics were made possible by the outstanding play of first-liners Eric Neiley, Brandon McNally and Grant Opperman early on in the third. With RPI content to dump the puck deep and hang back, the trio was able to move up the ice and attack goaltender Scott Diebold head on.
Neiley got things started with his third of the series at the 2:10 mark, burying a one-timer from Opperman at the top of the slot. He would then set up McNally at 8:48 with a nearly identical shot and the same result, tying the game at 4-4 and quieting the usually boisterous Rensselaer home crowd.
But it was the Schierhorn goal that proved to be the biggest factor of the night. He received a perfectly placed saucer pass from Tim O'Brien between the circles and put the game winner under the bar, punching the Big Green’s ticket to the next round of the league’s postseason tournament.
“This team has something special to it. There is no quit in any of the guys in this locker room,” head coach Bob Gaudet said on his 55th birthday. “They wanted to go out and empty the tank in the third period.
“We came out ready to play that period and the goals seemed to correlate with that effort. From our goalie on out, we really wanted this one and I think it gave us a lot of confidence moving forward,” Gaudet added.
The last time the Green and White won a game when trailing after the second period was on Jan. 21, 2012 at Colgate. Dartmouth was down 4-1 after 40 minutes, but scored three in the third and won early in overtime that night in Hamilton.
On Sunday evening, the teams combined for three goals in the first period with RPI’s Ryan Haggerty notching his fourth of the series at 3:39 to kick things off.
O’Brien responded for the Big Green with an unassisted shorthanded breakaway tally at 6:38. His original attempt was denied by Diebold, but the winger followed his shot, knocking in the rebound from the side of the net as his momentum was carrying him below the goal line. However, the tie would not see its way to the intermission as Mike Zalewski gave the home team a 2-1 lead with exactly four minutes remaining.
After Chris Bradley made it a 3-1 game for RPI at 15:43, the scoring floodgates appeared to open. Junior Rick Pinkston knocked home a rebound in the low slot at 18:05 to cut the deficit to just one. But just 40 seconds later, Engineers winger Mark McGowan was able to squeak one between Grant’s pad and the post to once again push the lead back to two as the second period came to a close, setting up the historic final stanza.
Dartmouth was 0-for-3 on the power play in the game, but more importantly, its penalty kill was a perfect 4-for-4.
Goaltender Charles Grant was part of that outstanding defensive stand, finishing the night with 35 saves, including 28 in the final two periods. Diebold had 34 at the other end of the ice, but was unable to stop the surging Dartmouth attack in the final frame, resulting in the loss.
The Big Green earned the right to play Union in the next round as the only lower seed to win a first-round series. Dartmouth is now 6-3 all-time in Game 3’s.