The Bears entered their weekend against ninth-place Rensselaer (9-22-1, 7-11-0) and 10th-place Union (14-14-2, 6-11-1) with confidence, coming off a hard-fought 2-1 victory over Harvard (13-8-3, 9-6-3) two weeks ago.
Despite the poor standings of Bruno’s opponents, RPI had four more conference wins than Brown and Union had demolished the Bears 7-1 earlier in the season.
Last weekend, it was finally Brown’s time: Following a 6-3 whooping of the Engineers in which the entire first line of Mark Naclerio ’16, Nick Lappin ’16 and Matt Lorito ’15 scored goals, Brown took its revenge and defeated the Dutchmen 1-0. A goal from Joey De Concilys ’15 — the senior defenseman’s sixth tally of the season — was enough to push Brown past the defending national champion.
Friday, the Bears traveled to Troy to take on the struggling Engineers, whose conference record accounts for nearly 80 percent of their wins this season. Brown got off to a rough start, allowing a goal to Jacob Laliberte after only a minute and 19 seconds of hockey. Laliberte’s goal marked the ninth time that the Bears had allowed a goal in the first five minutes of the first period, an example of how poorly Brown has started games this year.
But — as their performances in the last three weeks have shown— this was not the same Brown that struggled so mightily earlier in the season. Joey Prescott ’16 put one past goaltender Jason Kasdorf for his second goal of the season. The junior has only played in 11 of the Bears’ 25 games, but has scored twice in two wins against RPI. With eight minutes left in the period, Naclerio got his eighth goal of the year to give Brown a 2-1 lead. The junior is tied for fourth in the ECAC in points with seven.
The second period ended with the Bears still up one after both teams scored again. Matt Harlow ’15, a staple of Head Coach Brendan Whittet’s hard-working third or fourth line, got his third goal of the season before Milos Bubela answered for RPI.
The third period was all Brown: Sam Lafferty ’18 struck 51 seconds into the period for his third goal of the season. The first-year is tied for seventh in the ECAC among freshmen in points, with 10. The first-year NHL draftees — Lafferty, Tyler Bird ’18 and Max Willman ’18 — have been on the same line for the last six games, combining to produce three goals, an assist and a combined plus/minus of plus-two over that time span.
“Their growth and improvement as a line has been great these past few weeks,” Lorito said. “They all bring something different to the table and they compliment each other very well.”
RPI got a goal, making it a one-goal game for what would be the last time, as Lappin answered with a power play-goal — his eighth of the year — and Lorito scored an empty net tally — the 99th point of his career. Naclerio, Lappin and Lorito have not matched the incredible production rate of last year, when they totaled 39 goals and 57 assists. But in the last three weeks they have combined for 10 goals and five assists — an average of 2.5 points per game, just shy of last year’s 3.1 points per game pace.
“We have just been more confident recently,” Naclerio said. “We all have played together a lot throughout our years at Brown, and when we play smart and make sure we are doing the little things right, we find that we are rewarded.”
“I think we just got back to playing the right way,” Lorito said. “When things weren’t going in for us I think we started to deviate away from the things that made us successful.”
Saturday brought a trip to Union, which boasts the two top scorers in the league, Daniel Ciampini and Mike Vecchione. The first period was all Bruno, as it had a 14-9 shot advantage and a huge penalty kill late in the frame after Tyler Wood was sent to the box for a cross-check.
“Against Union overall it was a very defensive game,” Naclerio said. “Both teams blocked a lot of shots and played well defensively. I don’t think it was necessarily stopping one or two guys, but more of us as a team making sure we take care of the puck in our own end and limit their chances offensively.”
In the second period, Brown went on the power play for the first time in the game, and five seconds after the man-advantage expired, De Concilys rocketed one past goaltender Collin Stevens off the crossbar and in.
“Joe has probably been our most consistent defenseman this year,” Lorito said. “It’s nice to have him chipping in offensively but his play defensively has been solid all year and he plays a lot of minutes for us.”
Ryan Jacobson ’15 and Ben Tegtmeyer ’18 got assists — the third in six games for the latter. The first-year defender has been key in the improved play of the Brown defense over the last three weeks, tallying three helpers and a plus/minus of plus-five.
“He’s very gifted with the puck,” Whittet said. “He’s just going to get better every time he gets on the ice.”
Union predictably pressed hard in the third period, as the Dutchmen targeted Tim Ernst ’17, who was the starter in the previous two wins. The shot difference in the final frame was 16-3 in favor of Union, but the sophomore refused to yield, making crucial save after crucial save.
The 36-save shutout was the goaltender’s second shutout of the season. Over the three game winning streak, Ernst is second in the league in save percentage, only behind Saint Lawrence’s standout first-year goaltender Kyle Hayton.
“Tim played incredibly all weekend,” Naclerio said. “We relied heavily on him to make the saves he is expected to make, but he also found a way to save a few grade-A chances. Against Union we played well all game as a team, but Tim really gave us a chance to win and helped us out when we needed him to.”
This marked the first time that the Bears have swept the Union-RPI away trip since the ’03-’04 season, in which Brown was ranked as high as tenth in the nation.
“Sweeping the weekend was a big step for us this year,” Naclerio said. “As a program, we just have always said we want to be playing our best hockey at the end of the year, and I think this weekend was a big step in that direction.”
“It’s nice to get some wins at this point in the year,” Lorito said. “It’s been kind of a frustrating year up until this point but it doesn’t matter how you start — it’s how you finish and we still believe we can do something special.”