Monday, November 16, 2009

at Clarkson/St. Lawrence (Nov 13-14)

"The dreaded" North Country trip really isn't so dreaded anymore, especially when it comes early in the season. Traditionally, Clarkson and St. Lawrence are schools that put together solid teams year in and year out, but lately, just as RPI's traditional top ECAC team status has dwindled, so have the fortunes of the Knights and the Saints. As bad as some recent RPI teams have been, they haven't been swept in the North Country - the default expectation of many long-time watchers still to this day - since the 2002-03 season. While an outright sweep remains difficult (RPI has only one since the '85 national championship), the trip isn't really dreaded as much anymore, especially when it's made before the snow falls.

Clarkson
Cullen/Polacek/Halpern
D'Amigo/Pirri/O'Grady
Angers-Goulet/Malchuk/Watts
Vassel/Kerins/Smith

Brutlag/Burgdoerfer
Kennedy/Merth
Bergin/Foss

York

The lineup that hit the ice in Potsdam was exactly the same as the one that lined up against Yale - save for the inclusion of Jordan Watts in just his second appearance of the season, in for the injured C.J. Lee. A harbinger? Perhaps.

RPI struck first after an early "feeling out" period with the Knights that included a successful albeit shortened penalty kill. Just 16 seconds after Peter Merth was released from the penalty box to put the Engineers on the power play, junior Bryan Brutlag blasted a shot from the point similar to his game-tying goal in Schenectady two weeks earlier that evaded traffic and hit the back of the net to put RPI up 1-0.

The game hinged on the second period, and it was the Engineers who would end up on top after a wild back-and-forth affair. Early in the period, just 8 seconds after a power play had expired, Jeff Foss scored his first of the season, this one also from the blue line, putting RPI up 2-0. Then, discipline problems allowed the Knights the opportunity to get back into the game. Scott Halpern took a high-sticking penalty two minutes after the Foss goal, and with about 30 seconds left in the Halpern penalty, yet another untimely penalty from senior defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer gave Clarkson a 5-on-3 advantage and they didn't waste any of their precious time, scoring 20 seconds later to make it 2-1, and then, with Burgdoerfer still in the box (2 seconds had remained on the Halpern penalty when the Knights scored), adding a second power play goal just 45 seconds later. Just like that, the lead was gone.

In previous years, that would have basically been the end of the game, especially on the road and especially in Potsdam. But as we've seen repeatedly already this season, this isn't previous years.

The "youth movement" manned up. After a Clarkson penalty about 30 seconds after the ensuing faceoff, the power play went back to work, and sophomore Alex Angers-Goulet found freshman Marty O'Grady at the top of the right face-off circle about a minute later. O'Grady blasted it in for his second goal of the season, putting the Engineers right back on top.

Four minutes later, the two-goal cushion was back in place on an even strength goal by Jerry D'Amigo, who took a feed from Burgdoerfer in the high slot before going top shelf on Clarkson netminder Paul Karpowich. It was D'Amigo's fourth of the year, and the last shot Karpowich would see on the night as he was replaced by Richie LaVeau following the goal.

Clarkson would dominate the shot count in the third period trying to pull back as the Engineers went into a defensive mode with the two-goal edge. RPI managed only five shots despite having a pair of power play opportunities in the period. Penalties to Foss, Burgdoerfer, and Chase Polacek were successfully killed off. A late hooking penalty to Brutlag resulted in a 6-on-4 chance as Clarkson coach George Roll pulled LaVeau for the extra attacker. With Brutlag in the box, this allowed the Engineers to take potshots at the open net, and Polacek put one in 36 seconds later for his 8th goal of the season and 6th in five games to seal it as RPI came away with their second consecutive 5-2 Friday night league victory.

One major downside on the night was an injury to sophomore defenseman Mike Bergin. Bergin missed nearly all of last year with an injury and has played a key role in RPI's newfound defensive prowess this year. While Bergin left and did not return, he was initially expected to play the next night in Canton. He did not. At this point it's unknown whether Bergin's injury is worse than was originally suspected or if Coach Appert was simply playing it safe by keeping him out of the lineup.

St. Lawrence
D'Amigo/Pirri/O'Grady
Cullen/Polacek/Halpern
Angers-Goulet/Malchuk/Rabbani
Vassel/Kerins/Smith

Brutlag/Burgdoerfer
Kennedy/Merth
Jensen/Foss

York

Again, same lineup, only with Josh Rabbani in for Watts, and senior Christian Jensen seeing his first action of the year, playing in place of the injured Bergin.

The Engineers largely controlled play in the first period, partially assisted by three power-play opportunities. The third time was the charm as Chase Polacek continued his torrid pace, netting his 9th of the season and extending his goal streak to six consecutive games to give RPI the 1-0 lead heading into the first intermission. That was largely the entire extent of the RPI offense for the game, as the Engineers uncharacteristically would uncork only 7 more shots for the remainder of the game.

The second period was the Allen York show. York stood on his head, stopping an amazing 21 shots during the period as the Saints delivered an absolute onslaught but were unable to put the puck in the net. The Engineers were clinging to their 1-0 lead heading into the final 20 minutes.

St. Lawrence would finally break through in the third period. After killing an early penalty, Brutlag was back in the box at the wrong time, going off for interference. 16 seconds later, SLU defenseman Jeff Caister finally put the Saints on the board, and when it rains, it pours. Just under two minutes later, senior Mike McKenzie - with his father, renowned TSN hockey analyst Bob McKenzie, in the stands - put the eventual game winner behind York. Appert would pull York with about two minutes left to play and the Engineers would get a power play on top of that with a minute and a half left, but even with the 6-on-4 advantage, RPI just could not get anything done. SLU managed to keep the puck in the RPI end for the final 25 seconds of the game, unable to put it in the empty net but taking the night, 2-1. SLU netminder Kain Tisi, despite allowing only 1 goal, had only 14 saves on the night. York finished with 35.

After heading into the third period with the lead, no matter how slim and no matter how marginal given the practical rout of the second period, it does feel a little disappointing to have let the sweep slip away, especially considering that it could have meant a 4-0 ECAC start and 2 more precious points. There are a lot of silver linings to take away from the game, however. The Engineers were more than game despite injuries to offensive threats in Tyler Helfrich (who should be back for the holiday tournament) and C.J. Lee (who will also probably be back by then) and a key defensive element in Mike Bergin. The RPI defense held up for the most part under intense pressure all game. In both games, the defensive letdowns were only for short portions of the game - two quick goals by the opponents both times. That leaves a lot of the rest of the game to make them up, and this team has a bunch of guys who can score.

Lost points? Disappointing. This team? Hardly.

That said, this weekend definitely exposed a few issues that the team will have to work through in the future. Fortunately, it seems like they're not altogether earth-shattering.

"The sixth period" - Four straight weekends now, the Engineers have had major struggles in the third period on Saturday. It could be that they're too fast for their own good and they're tired by that point. Whatever it is, it is making for some dangerous living on occasion. They pulled through against AIC and Brown. They didn't against Army and SLU.

Brutlag/Burgdoerfer - Brutlag, this past weekend, was similar to the way we've seen him in his first two years: getting caught behind the play and taking bad penalties when he tries to make up for it. Up until this weekend he was doing pretty well, let's hope it's an anomaly. Burgdoerfer, though, is making me wonder if Jensen or Mark Zarbo might deserve a crack at his spot every now and then. Burgdoerfer's physical, which is important to have most of the time, but he's constantly out of position and is just as constantly taking very, very bad penalties at the worst possible time. Case in point - on RPI's last EIGHT goals, he's either been in the box or on the ice. Come on, Erik! Get with it!

Here's one thing to remember though - we're shooting for a first-round playoff bye, right? To achieve that, over the last seven seasons since the present playoff setup went into effect, teams have required an average of just over 26 points, give or take a few decimal points. So that's the magic number. How do we get to 26? Average 3 points on each of your five home weekends (15 points), average 2 points on each of your five road weekends (10 points) and then just don't get swept by your travel partner. It's not hard and fast - some years have required only 25 points, and others have required up to 29 points. The Engineers took 27 points in 2004 and still had to play a first-round series. But it's a rough guideline to go by at least - and RPI's got an extra point in the bank so far. (If you're wondering, it's a touch over 18 points to at least stay home for the first-round.)

Other junk - After a North Country split, the Engineers basically stayed the same in the USCHO.com poll. They took 16 votes, down 2 from last week. #5 Cornell (down two, lost to Yale and beat Brown), #9 Yale (up three, beat Cornell and tied Colgate), #13 Quinnipiac (up seven, swept Harvard/Dartmouth), and #19 Princeton (no change, beat Dartmouth and tied Harvard) give the ECAC four ranked teams for the second consecutive week. Colgate appears with 43 votes after their 3-point weekend with Brown and Yale, and Union took 9 votes after their North Country sweep.

As mentioned, Chase Polacek has a six game goal-scoring streak, but yet again he was snubbed for ECAC Player of the Week. No Engineer player was even nominated for any awards. Hmm.

Nationally, Polacek is 5th in points (16), 2nd in goals (9), 5th in power-play goals (4), and 4th in short-handed goals (1, his empty netter from Friday). Brandon Pirri is 2nd in the nation in points by a freshman (12, trailing Merrimack's Stephane Da Costa's 15). It's early in the season still, obviously, but these two Engineers are starting to put together seasons that could have them as contenders for the Hobey Baker Award and the national Rookie of the Year Award, respectively if they can keep it up.

Considering ECAC games alone, there are an unusually high number of Engineers on the leaderboard in stats. In points, we see Polacek (T-2nd, 8), Pirri and D'Amigo (T-16, 5, both tied for 2nd behind Harvard's Louis Leblanc for frosh points), and Cullen and Angers-Goulet (T-25, 4). Allen York is 5th in GAA (1.76) and 4th in save percentage (.941).

Nationally, RPI's numbers are fairly pedestrian. The Engineers possess only the 30th best scoring offense (2.67 GPG) and the 14th best scoring defense (2.25 GPG). They are 12-for-63 on the power play (19%), which is good for 25th in the nation - much better than in recent years, of course. On the penalty kill, RPI is 55 for 69 (79.7%) and could use a bit of improvement.

Quick turnaround for the Engineers this week - they don't play this upcoming weekend, but they do have a rare Wednesday game at Niagara this week. The Purple Eagles (0-8-2) are one of only three teams in the nation that has not secured a win yet - Brown and Dartmouth being the other two, although they haven't been playing as long as Niagara. In their defense, the Purps did have a fairly rough early season schedule, with games against ranked opponents in Michigan, Cornell, and two against UMass. Still, they took only one point this past weekend in a two-game set with Robert Morris, so by any measurable standard, this should be a game that the Engineers should win. It will be interesting to see if Bryce Merriam gets the start, or if we see some dinged up Engineers take a breather. I don't expect to see Helfrich or Lee return. This could be a good opportunity to give some other guys the opportunity to see some ice time - Buffalo native Mark Zarbo hasn't played a shift yet this year, and neither has Christian Morissette.

Just to keep things flowing evenly, I'll file a report on Wednesday's game at the same bat time, same bat channel.

ECAC Standings
1. Quinnipiac - 8 pts
2. Colgate - 7 pts
3. Cornell - 6 pts (4 games, 3 wins, +11 GD)
4. RPI - 6 pts (4 games, 3 wins, +7 GD)
5. Union - 6 pts (4 games, 2 wins)
6. Princeton - 5 pts
7. St. Lawrence - 4 pts (4 games, 2 wins)
8. Yale - 4 pts (4 games, 1 win)
9. Harvard - 3 pts
10. Brown - 1 pt
11. Clarkson - 0 pts (4 games)
12. Dartmouth - 0 pts (5 games)

Since the ECAC schedule continues next weekend with 9 games (no RPI/Union games, one game on Saturday between travel partners Brown and Yale), I'll probably switch to winning percentage as a better representation of the state of the league while RPI and Union hold up to three games in hand over some teams. As it is, points and winning percentage arrangements are exactly the same right now.

RPI at Clarkson
ECAC Game - Cheel Arena (Potsdam, NY)
11/13/09 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: RPI 5, Clarkson 2
BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats: http://www.collegehockeystats.net/0910/boxes/mclkren1.n13
USCHO: http://www.uscho.com/box/?date=20091113&vis=rpi&home=ckn&gender=m
RECAPS
RPI: http://www.rpiathletics.com/news/2009/11/13/MHOCK_1113092234.aspx
Troy Record: http://www.troyrecord.com/articles/2009/11/14/sports/doc4afe4d35433bc214335521.txt
Watertown Daily Times: http://www.watertowndailytimes.com/article/20091114/SPORTS01/311149945/-1/sports
RECORD: 7-3-1 (3-0-0 ECAC, 6 pts)

Reale Deals
1. D Bryan Brutlag, 1 goal, 1 assist
2. F Alex Angers-Goulet, 3 assists
3. F Marty O'Grady, game-winning goal, 4 shots, +2

RPI at St. Lawrence
ECAC Game - Appleton Arena (Canton, NY)
11/14/09 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: St. Lawrence 2, RPI 1
BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats: http://www.collegehockeystats.net/0910/boxes/mrenstl1.n14
USCHO: http://www.uscho.com/box/?date=20091113&vis=rpi&home=ckn&gender=m
RECAPS
RPI: http://www.rpiathletics.com/news/2009/11/14/MHOCK_1114095331.aspx
Troy Record: http://www.troyrecord.com/articles/2009/11/15/sports/doc4aff8f7c6f392149752291.txt
Albany Times-Union: http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=865971
RECORD: 7-4-1 (3-1-0 ECAC, 6 pts)

Reale Deals
1. G Allen York, 35 saves (21 for 21 in 2nd)
2. F Chase Polacek, 1 goal, 4 shots
3. F Brandon Pirri, 1 assist, 3 shots

Upcoming Games
18 Nov - at Niagara
27 Nov - Bentley (RPI Holiday Hockey Tournament)
28 Nov - Union/Lake Superior State (RPI Holiday Hockey Tournament)
04 Dec - #5 Cornell
05 Dec - Colgate

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MEN’S HOCKEY

Rensselaer went 1-1 on its North Country trip last week, topping Clarkson (5-2), before falling to St. Lawrence (2-1). Sophomore Alex Angers-Goulet (St. Augustin, PQ) had a team-best three assists in the victory over the Golden Knights.

RPI is back on the ice on Wednesday, when it visits Niagara for a non-league contest (7pm). Live stats can be found at http://www.purpleeagles.com/livestats/mhockey/xlive.htm and can also be seen live on a pay-per-view basis with B2 Networks at http://www.b2livetv.com/. The game will also be broadcast courtesy of WRPI radio on 91.5 FM or log on to www.wrpi.org and click on sports.

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