Monday, October 20, 2014

Women's Hockey - at New Hampshire (17 Oct)

RPI had just one game on the schedule this weekend, a Friday night matchup against New Hampshire. The Engineers failed to convert on five power play opportunities including a long 5-on-3 in the third period and ended up falling to the Wildcats 2-1.

New Hampshire

Horwood/Wash/Renn
Mahoney/Gruschow/Svoboda
Rooney/Mankey/Walsh
Tomlinson/Hylwa/Raspa

Schilter/Godin
Behounek/Banks
Middlebrook/Kimmerle

Piper

Alexa Gruschow scored a first period goal, but UNH scored two more in the opening frame then held the lead for a 2-1 victory over RPI Friday night at Whittemore Center.

Gruschow's goal came at 5:05 on a great individual effort. Winning an offensive zone draw, the RPI forward took a pass from Brandi Banks and circled the offensive zone, faking toward the front of the net before sweeping around the back and tucking in a wraparound.

Heather Kashman scored at 8:34 to tie the game at one, after a failed clearing attempt by RPI left the puck with Haley Breedlove who fired it on net. While Brianna Piper made the initial save, Kashman was able to poke the puck past her on a rebound.

Breedlove put UNH ahead at 13:16 on another defensive zone turnover by the Engineers. Kayla Mork took the puck away from Delaney Middlebrook and fed it to Breedlove in the slot who fired it off an RPI player and past Piper for a 2-1 lead.

The Engineers had several chances to tie things up including four power play chances, two of which were bench minors for too many players on the ice. Nearly a minute and a half of 5-on-3 time wasn't enough to find the equalizer in the third period and the 2-1 score held up, running the Engineers' season-spanning winless streak to 15 games.

RPI returns home next weekend for a pair of games against UConn on Saturday (3pm) and Sunday (2pm). Saturday's game is currently scheduled to be broadcast on WRPI

-----

RPI at New Hampshire
Non-Conference Game - Whittemore Center (Durham, NH)
10/17/14 - 7:00pm
UNH 2, RPI 1

BOX SCORES:
College Hockey Stats: http://collegehockeystats.net/1415/boxes/wrenunh1.o17
RPI: http://rpiathletics.com/boxscore.aspx?path=whock&id=4427

RECAPS:
RPI: http://rpiathletics.com/news/2014/10/17/WICE_1017142857.aspx
UNH: http://unhwildcats.com/sports/wice/2014-15/releases/201410174bpbg9
Video Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uk0d1BEgOK8

RECORD: 0-4-1 (0-0-0 ECAC)

-----

Upcoming Schedule

Oct. 25 - UConn (3pm)
Oct. 26 - UConn (2pm)
Oct. 31 - at Harvard (7pm)
Nov. 1 - at Dartmouth (4pm)

Friday, October 17, 2014

Losing the Streaks

For the RPI women, their school-record winless streak, dating back to last season, is now at 14 games  (0-12-2) - the Engineers haven't won since a 3-0 victory at Union on January 18.

Their opponent tonight, the UNH Wildcats, know a little something about losing streaks. They finished last season by losing their last 11 straight games, then tacked on three more to start this season to make it an even 14 in a row in the loss column. They snapped out of it last weekend with a 1-0 win at RIT and a 2-2 tie at Syracuse. Tonight is the home opener for UNH, who are a long way from their salad days in Hockey East from 2004 to 2010, when they were virtually unbeatable. Can the Engineers finally get themselves back in the win column in their only game of the weekend?

For the men, the losing streak is more of a historical one than anything else. Denver, their opponents in a pair of games this weekend in Colorado, won the first 10 games against the Engineers, and they've won 12 out of 14 all time. It's a tough task to score at Magness as both teams boast solid defensive fronts. Can RPI solve yet another early season test?

Let's find out.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

First Impressions

Now that we've had a couple of weeks and three games - one exhibition, two competitive - to get a look at this year's Engineers, here are a few first impressions on what's been seen.

1. Jason Kasdorf is back, and he's still the best goaltender in the ECAC.

Nowdays, everybody wanna talk, but nothing comes out when they move their lips, just a bunch of gibberish, and everybody acts like they forgot about Kaz.

He's baaaaaaaack. Last year's Engineers were picked to be one of the best teams in the league in part based on the strength of their goaltending, and they didn't end up having the source of that confidence for basically the entire year. Now he's back, and because of the (correct) concerns about where the offense is going to come from, they're supposed to be a bottom four team? Excuse our guffaws. 62 saves on 67 shots to start the season against some of the best teams in the nation.

When was the last time a team with the best goaltender in the conference finished in the bottom four? For starters, the last four teams that featured the Dryden Award winner also finished first in the league standings. You have to go all the way back to 1997, back to when Union was still Union, to find the only time since the award began that the best goaltender in the ECAC didn't finish in the top four. That year, Trevor Koenig almost singlehandedly guided the Skating Dutchmen to a 5th place finish.

We're a long way from the awards ceremony in Lake Placid, but Jason Kasdorf, much as in his freshman year, looks ready to singlehandedly win more than a few games for RPI this season. He doesn't make the Engineers the best team in the league on his own, but... child, please.

2. The sophomores are vastly improved from last season.

There was much consternation last season about the lack of impact that the freshman class was exerting on the team's fortunes. Jake Wood and Jimmy DeVito were in and out of the lineup even when they were healthy (Wood lost time to a knee injury), and ice time was very scarce for Riley Bourbonnais. The only freshman to get a serious amount of playing time was Parker Reno, and he frequently became a healthy scratch down the stretch.

Reno may yet have trouble breaking the lineup with frequency (more on that later), but after what we've seen from Wood, DeVito, and especially Bourbonnais in the exhibition and the two Icebreaker games, all three look to play far greater roles this season. Bourbonnais may well be benefiting from playing on the clear top scoring line with two seniors who need to be key propellants for the RPI scoring scheme this year in Matt Neal and Jacob Laliberte, but he certainly looks like he belongs on that line the way he's played, and it's unlikely that Seth Appert would put him there for the sole purpose of making him look good.

Meanwhile, Wood and DeVito have proven to be more of an offensive threat while maintaining their physical play. Wood especially seems fit to serve as the team's physical pest.

3. Mike Prapavessis and Viktor Liljegren are ready to be impact players as freshmen.

One a highly-touted NHL draft pick, the other committed to RPI just this past April. Both already look as though they're ready to play serious roles for the Engineers.

Prapavessis looks like the kind of two-way defenseman that RPI was lacking last season, the one to fill the role Nick Bailen played two seasons ago. Appert has made no mistake about his desire to have at least one player to fill that position, and with the addition of Prapavessis, he's got a very talented one to lead a number of options that can attack from anywhere in the zone and provide an important boost to Kasdorf's defensive efforts.

Liljegren, meanwhile, may prove to be a diamond in the rough considering how late in the game he made his college commitment. The way he's played the in the three outings we've seen thus far, he may well be a vital element on RPI's second or third lines, which at the end of the day are going to make or break the offensive structure based on how well they're able to convert scoring opportunities. He already looks solid playing between Wood and Drew Melanson.

The rest of the freshman class that we've seen so far - Kenny Gillespie is the only skater who has yet to dress in any of the three games - also shows some promise. Melanson has played on Liljegren's wing so far and he generated offensive opportunities in the exhibition game especially. Lou Nanne scored a nice put-back in the exhibition and appears comfortable on the fourth line. Both Melanson and Nanne have a tremendous amount of speed, and both could be exciting to watch in the near future as they adapt their games to the college level.

4. The defensive corps is deep.

We knew there would be a lot of experience on the blue line this season, especially with Luke Curadi, Curtis Leonard, and Chris Bradley as three of the stalwarts, but the addition of Prapavessis, and the breakthrough late last year of Craig Bokenfohr that looks to be for real early on this year leaves the Engineers with five fairly firmly established defensemen that are likely to be regular parts of the lineup. That leaves three more-than-capable players for the sixth spot in Reno, Jared Wilson, and Bradley Bell. 

Early returns suggest that Wilson is a step ahead of the others right now, but Bell dressed as a seventh defenseman against Minnesota - and based on what we know about Reno from last season and how he looked in the exhibition, he's far from a throw-in or simply an injury replacement. The RPI faithful can be confident that RPI's eight-deep defensive set (nine if you include Phil Hampton, who's converting to a reserve center position) is among the best in the league.

5. The penalty kill looks sharp.

8-for-9 in the Icebreaker, with the one blemish basically a function of a faceoff loss and about the only mistake Kasdorf made all weekend. During the flow of the penalty kill, with the other team set up in the RPI zone, the penalty killers did a tremendous job of shutting down shooting lanes, keeping the puck to the outside, clearing, and forechecking down a man. Their efforts against Notre Dame were especially crucial to the Engineers' victory. A good penalty kill is an important compliment to strong, physical play. If it keeps up, it's another feather in the cap.

6. Scoring by committee is going to be a necessity, and there's some work still to be done there.

Bear in mind that RPI was taking on top-level competition last weekend, especially on Sunday, but it's very apparent that there isn't going to be a player like Ryan Haggerty last season who takes the team on his back and scores an inordinate number of goals himself. There's no question that upperclassmen like Neal, Laliberte, and Zach Schroeder are going to need to shoulder more of the burden than others, but consistent scoring from the second, third, and even fourth lines are going to be necessary if the Engineers are going to contend.

That said, while the seeds of committee are clearly being sown, there's a lot more that needs to be seen from the first and second lines in terms of attack. Even Liljegren's third line will need to be improved in the coming weeks. When RPI had the puck in the attacking zone, there was an increased feeling that the team wasn't relying specifically on one line, but at times they didn't exactly look dangerous. The first line still needs to lead the way, and the production needs to pick up below it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Men's Hockey - Icebreaker Tournament (10-12 Oct)

The Engineers got their season out of the gates with a difficult assignment - the annual Icebreaker tournament, which always features some of the top teams in the nation. The way it played out was probably one of the toughest paths possible, featuring a game against the homestanding Notre Dame Fighting Irish followed by the consensus favorites for the national championship, the Minnesota Golden Gophers. RPI picked up an upset victory in the first round by knocking off the Irish, 3-2, but learned they have a long way to go to challenge the very best in the nation, playing well but falling 3-0 to Minnesota.

Notre Dame
Neal-Laliberte-Bourbonnais
McGowan-Bubela-Schroeder
Wood-Liljegren-Melanson
Nanne-Miller-DeVito

Leonard-Bokenfohr
Curadi-Prapavessis
Wilson-Bradley

Kasdorf

Lines and pairings for the Engineers against Notre Dame were similar to the ones put forward for the exhibition matchup the previous weekend. Milos Bubela was reinserted into the lineup on the second line, moving Lou Nanne to the fourth line.

After a back-and-forth, fast-paced 10 minutes to start the game as both teams got their competitive legs underneath them, a penalty to Jared Wilson was the first item of note on the box score, producing a penalty kill that RPI got behind them with little fuss. Notre Dame would, however, score the game's first goal shortly after killing a penalty of their own with very little problem, getting a tally from Mario Lucia to take a 1-0 lead with just under three minutes left in the game.

RPI wasted very little game time getting the goal back. After a cross-checking call against the Irish with 11 seconds left in the first period, freshman Viktor Liljegren scored the Engineers' first goal of the season, and the first of his career, on the power play just 42 seconds into the second period to knot the game up at one.

Five minutes later, it was Jacob Laliberte scoring his first of the year on a redirection of a shot by Matt Neal to put RPI ahead for the first time. After that, it was the Engineers' penalty kill that saved the day, scotching power play opportunities for Notre Dame off penalties to Drew Melanson and Jake Wood.

Another penalty by Wood in the early third period looked to give the Irish their fifth power-play chance of the game, but a penalty to Lucia six seconds later ended it before it even began. Notre Dame did end up making the most of the ensuing 4-on-4, tying the game at two with a goal by Jordan Gross. But as the 4-on-4 continued, and with Wood about to exit the penalty box, RPI earned what would eventually be the game winning goal from junior Mark Miller, who put back a shot by Zach Schroeder to put the Engineers ahead for good.

Jason Kasdorf, in his first official game for RPI in almost a full calendar year, stopped 14 of 15 Notre Dame shots in the third period to seal the victory, as the Irish spent much of the last 10 minutes of the game with the puck down in the Engineers zone. He made 31 saves on 33 shots overall.

The victory set up an early Sunday championship game against #1 Minnesota, who had been 4-3 winners over Minnesota-Duluth earlier on Friday. There were no games played on Saturday due to the Notre Dame football game taking place on campus that day, which would have completely dominated the tournament's conclusion otherwise.

Minnesota
Neal-Laliberte-Bourbonnais
McGowan-Miller-Schroeder
Wood-Liljegren-Melanson
Nanne, DeVito

Leonard-Bokenfohr
Curadi-Prapavessis
Wilson-Bradley
Bell

Kasdorf

Bubela, who didn't see an awful lot of ice time on Friday, was pulled out of the RPI lineup against the Golden Gophers. The Engineers dressed just 11 forwards, two of which (Nanne and Schroeder) are from families with Minnesota hockey alums in their ranks. In Bubela's place, Bradley Bell suited up for his first official action as an RPI Engineer, skating as a seventh defenseman.

From the very outset of the game, it was apparent that Minnesota was the dominant team. The Golden Gophers controlled basically every aspect of the game from start to finish, and it was a testament to how well RPI played in response that the final score was not worse than it ended up becoming. Some observers said the Engineers looked like they were a step behind the #1 ranked team in the country, it was probably more accurate to say that Minnesota was a step ahead.

The Gophers collected just one goal in each of the three periods, getting points from Seth Ambroz in the first, tournament MVP Hudson Fasching in the second, and Connor Reilly in the third. The first two goals were on redirects in front that were primarily a function of Minnesota's superior puck control, the third was a power play goal immediately after the first faceoff of the man advantage, a booming shot from the point that Kasdorf probably would have preferred a second chance at, quite possibly the only goal of the weekend that he gave up that he could have done better with.

The Engineers took their chances throughout the game and put a respectable 22 shots on Minnesota goaltender Adam Wilcox, but many of their opportunities were not high-percentage chances, and Wilcox gave up few rebounds. Despite Wilcox's shutout, it was Kasdorf who was named the game's third star after a second consecutive 31-save effort, this time making 31 saves on 34 shots, including a couple of breakaway saves against some of the best shooters in the country.

For the next three weekends, the Engineers will have only a single opponent in a weekend series. It starts with another long road trip, this one to the NCHC's Denver, and follows with the home openers against Bentley and the annual home-and-home against Union.

RPI at #12 Notre Dame
Icebreaker Game - Compton Family Ice Arena (South Bend, IN)
10/10/14 - 7:30pm

RESULT: RPI 3, Notre Dame 2


RECORD: 1-0-0

RPI vs. #1 Minnesota
Icebreaker Game - Compton Family Ice Arena (South Bend, IN)
10/12/14 - 12:00pm

RESULT: Minnesota 3, RPI 0


RECORD: 1-1-0

Upcoming games
17 Oct - at #16 Denver
18 Oct - at #16 Denver
24 Oct - Bentley
25 Oct - Bentley
31 Oct - #2 Union

Women's Hockey - Vermont Home-and-Home (11/12 Oct)

After a rough start to the season against North Dakota and Bemidji State, RPI looked to rebound in a home-and-home series against the Vermont Catamounts. The Engineers gave up a 2-1 lead, allowing three goals in the third period to fall 4-2 on Saturday, but managed to salvage a 2-2 tie out of the weekend on Sunday.

With another winless weekend, the Engineers have not picked up a win in an NCAA contest since January 18 (14 games), when they beat Union 3-0.

Saturday

Mahoney/Gruschow/Svoboda
Horwood/Wash/Renn
Rooney/Mankey/Walsh
Raspa/Hylwa

Behounek/Banks
Middlebrook/Schilter
Kimmerle/Godin

O'Brien

Two goals in less than two minutes flipped the lead from RPI to Vermont, and a total of three goals in the third period led the Catamounts to a 4-2 victory over RPI in Troy Frday night.

Brittany Zuback scored on a 3-on-1 rush in the first period to open up the scoring. RPI erased the deficit in the second with a goal by Ali Svoboda, then later in the frame took a 2-1 lead behind a Mariana Walsh goal out of a scrum in the Vermont crease.

The positives were not long-lasting for the Engineers, as back to back power play goals by Zuback and Amanda Pelkey flipped the 2-1 RPI lead to a 3-2 Vermont lead before the 3:30 mark of the third. Pelkey notched another goal later in the third, soundly beating several RPI players on her march down ice to turn the 3-2 lead into a 4-2 lead which held up through the end of regulation.

RPI finished the afternoon with 33 shots, while the Catamounts put 38 shots on net.

Sunday

Mahoney/Gruschow/Svoboda
Horwood/Wash/Renn
Rooney/Mankey/Walsh
Raspa/Hylwa

Behounek/Banks
Middlebrook/Schilter
Kimmerle/Godin

Piper

Whitney Renn and Lauren Wash scored for the Engineers, but another pair of power play goals by Vermont's Bridget Baker cost the Engineers a chance at a win in another game in which they were outshot by Vermont.

Once again, Vermont scored first, with Baker picking up a rebound on the power play and putting it past Brianna Piper to give the Catamounts a 1-0 lead.

Renn evened things up a few minutes later, with a little confusion and controversy after what started as an inconclusive play was ruled a goal when the officials declared that a Vermont defender had pushed Renn into Vermont goalie Madison Litchfield, sliding Litchfield and the puck into the net.

After a scoreless second period which saw the teams trade several penalties, Wash gave RPI its first lead of the season at 3:54 of the third, putting a backhand shot past Litchfield to make it 2-1.

That lead too would evaporate later in the third when Baker scored her second power play goal of the afternoon, picking up another rebound much like her first goal.

The Engineers were outshot every period on Sunday, including 14-4 in the first period and 36-20 overall on the afternoon. They will look to turn things around next Friday in Durham against a New Hampshire squad that has had it's share of difficulties over the past season.

-----

RPI vs. Vermont
Non-Conference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
10/11/14 - 3:00pm
Vermont 4, RPI 2

BOX SCORES:
College Hockey Stats: http://collegehockeystats.net/1415/boxes/wrenver1.o11
RPI: http://rpiathletics.com/boxscore.aspx?path=whock&id=4425

RECAPS:
Vermont: http://uvmathletics.com/news/2014/10/11/WHOCKEY_1011140121.aspx

RECORD: 0-3-0 (0-0-0 ECAC)

-----

RPI at Vermont
Non-Conference Game - Gutterson Fieldhouse (Burlington, VT)
10/12/14 - 2:00pm
RPI 2, Vermont 2 (OT)

BOX SCORES:
RPI: http://rpiathletics.com/boxscore.aspx?path=whock&id=4426
College Hockey Stats: http://collegehockeystats.net/1415/boxes/wrenver1.o12

RECAPS:
RPI: http://rpiathletics.com/news/2014/10/12/WICE_1012142605.aspx
Vermont: http://uvmathletics.com/news/2014/10/12/WHOCKEY_1012144051.aspx

RECORD: 0-3-1 (0-0-0 ECAC)

-----

Upcoming Schedule

Oct. 18 - at New Hampshire (2pm)
Oct. 25 - UConn (3pm)
Oct. 26 - UConn (2pm)
Oct. 31 - at Harvard (7pm)
Nov. 1 - at Dartmouth (4pm)

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Boys are Back

It's on.

The men's grueling start to the season begins tonight, as they take on #12 Notre Dame in the annual Icebreaker Tournament, straight outta Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend. On Sunday, they get either Minnesota-Duluth, a team that was just barely outside of the first USCHO poll (by a single vote) or the #1 team in all the land and the pretty clear favorites for the national championship, Minnesota.

The women get their first home game on Saturday when they take on Vermont, and then they turn around and head up to Burlington on Sunday for the back-end of a home-and-home series. That makes for an even more rare men/women doubleheader on a Sunday.

Hockey is fully back, and it's time to get flying.


No Comment

Here's the worst thing that happened on Tuesday when Union head coach Rick Bennett was addressing the media on the semi-lengthy suspensions handed out to three Union upperclassmen.

From a video shot by the Daily Gazette:

Reporter: Is this a legal matter involved here?

Bennett: No comment.

There's no worse response to a request for a statement of fact - or worse, a yes or no question - than "no comment." None. All it does is make everyone wonder why you won't say yes or no.

If it wasn't a legal matter, it would be easy enough to simply say so. Therefore, if it's not something that can be immediately denied, there's obviously some truth to it.

Saying "no comment" is always a comment - the comment is that you don't want to answer the question. Depending on the nature of the question being responded to, it can quickly lead to some obvious assumptions as to what the answer is.

Let's look at a couple of examples from the recent ECAC past.

A few years ago, Brown head coach Brendan Whittet was being asked about the officiating in an RPI-Brown game at Houston Field House - during the playoffs, I believe. There was a question about the validity of a goal that the Engineers scored, and Whittet responded with "no comment."

It was a response that made sense for everyone. Reporters understood immediately that Whittet was really saying. "Yeah, I thought that goal was nonsense, but I'm not going to complain about it here because coaches get suspended by the league for showing up referees." Whittet gets his point across without having to sit out a game.

The difference here is that Whittet was being asked for a statement of opinion, not a statement of fact.

Even Bennett himself has properly used "no comment." Last year after the Mayor's Cup brawl (popularly known in the Secret Underwater Lair as the "FU at the TU"), Bennett was asked why he went after Seth Appert in the post-game press conference, and he said "no comment."

It works here because he was being asked to divulge information that, unless he's already told someone else, no one else would know. If someone decides not to bear personal knowledge for public scrutiny, "no comment" ends up shutting down the only path to that knowledge.

Whether the suspended Union players are involved in a legal matter is not something that would be limited in that fashion. They either are, or they aren't, and if one can't answer a binary question, anyone with any degree of curiosity about the situation (like, say, reporters) will immediately consider why either answer would draw stonewalling. If they aren't, why would that be something that would be covered up? The opposite question, of course, is easy to answer.

Here's the way Bennett should have handled things if he didn't want to tip his hand here.

Reporter: Is this a legal matter involved here?

Bennett: This is a matter of three players that did something that was in violation of team rules and they have been assessed consequences for their violations, which they fully understand was detrimental to the entire program. They're taking accountability for what they have done and as a program we're moving on from what they did.

Assuming that a legal matter was indeed involved, and getting involved in legal matters is indeed a violation of team rules, this response isn't untrue. If you look closely, you'll notice it doesn't answer the question, but it looks and sounds far less evasive.

Bottom line, if you can't (or don't want to) flatly state the truth, dazzle them with BS. Don't ever look like you're dodging a simple question.

Instead, the response of "no comment" just fans the flames even more, and makes reporters want to dig under the wall - and when they find out what's going on, whether it's a big deal or not, suddenly it's not just the incident in question that is a problem. The cover-up becomes just as important.