Monday, November 23, 2009

at Niagara (11/18)

Conventional wisdom had it that this was a classic "trap game" for the Engineers to have to contend with just a few days after a decent showing in the North Country and starting off the ECAC schedule with a 3-1-0 record. Conventional wisdom turned out to be right, but not nearly in the way anyone had expected as RPI was drubbed 4-1 by a then-winless Niagara team last Wednesday night.




Take a good look at that lineup. Yeah, what a mess. Let's run down the list. Tyler Helfrich missed his 7th straight game with an ankle injury, C.J. Lee his third straight with a still unknown malady, and Mike Bergin his second in a row after suffering a Grade I concussion in Potsdam. Furthermore, offensive sparks Patrick Cullen and Alex Angers-Goulet were left behind in Troy as healthy scratches for the game as Seth Appert attempted to provide both sophomores, and really, the rest of the team, with a wake-up call. Cullen and Angers-Goulet have been mired in what some would call a sophomore jinx, but Appert is also of the opinion that they simply were not playing hard enough - “Healthy scratch for their wildly inconsistent play," he told the Troy Record. "Nothing to do with discipline, they’re just not playing hard." He described Angers-Goulet as "soft as puppy poop" in the North Country and said Cullen was too consumed with scoring goals and being on the power play.

All of the scratches led to a very short-handed Engineers squad - "The People's Line" of Jerry D'Amigo, Brandon Pirri, and Marty O'Grady was the only usual line heading out intact on Wednesday. Additionally, juniors Mark Zarbo and Kevin Beauregard each saw their first action of the season, for Beauregard, it was only his second career game.

With the hodge-podge lineup, expectations were significantly lowered from the get-go and even those were not met. After a less than stellar first half of the first period, Niagara got on the board first with a goal from freshman Brent Vandenberg, but neither team played particularly well in the first 20 minutes. Shots were 6-6 after one.

After Vandenberg was sent off for a dangerous hit on D'Amigo, the Engineers went on their third power play of the game, and it didn't take long for Paul Kerins to net his third goal of the season, from Chase Polacek and Bryan Brutlag, to tie the game at one. For a moment, it appeared as though the Engineers might turn the tide in their favor and start rolling.

That's when the penalty kill decided to start laying a giant egg. Kerins went off for hooking six minutes after scoring, and just seconds later, Jeff Foss took a delayed penalty for boarding that gave Niagara an extra attacker. Vandenberg scored for the second time to make it 2-1. Kerins came out of the box, and Foss went in to begin his penalty. A minute later, another Niagara power play goal made it 3-1 Purple Eagles.

The penalty killing problem carried over into the third period. During an RPI power play, Justin Smith was called for tripping, and after the 4-on-4 ran out, the Purple Eagles scored on their 3rd consecutive power play, making it 4-1 and pretty much putting a seal on things the way the Engineers had been playing at even strength since the back-to-back Kerins and Foss penalties in the 2nd. By that point Niagara was 3-for-5 on the power play, while RPI was 1-for-4. Both teams would get another power play chance before the end of the game, but no more scoring was in store as the Engineers had one of their worst played games of the season - though it was not terribly surprising given the personnel that they had available and playing.

Some of the "bedwetters" have crawled out from under the rocks where they were hiding following back-to-back losses to St. Lawrence and Niagara over the course of five days. One person on the RPISPORT-L list even brought up the tired line of questioning Coach Appert's ability.

Needless to say, I'm not terribly concerned about the Niagara game, and in two weeks, it'll scarcely be remembered at all. If there was a game to use for an "attention grabber" for guys who needed a healthy scratch to remind them that playing time isn't an absolute right, this was it: on the road, non-league, in the middle of the week. This was an expendable game. In two weeks, Cornell and Colgate are coming to town - that promises to be the most difficult home weekend yet. When do we want these lessons to be learned? In a throwaway road game in the middle of the week, or in crucial ECAC games at home?

Bear in mind that the Engineers should mostly be back to full strength by their next game this Friday. Helfrich is fully expected to be back in the lineup, Bergin will more than likely be back, and Cullen and Angers-Goulet have served their penance and will be back in the lineup. Lee is still a question mark, but having four of the five back in the lineup will be a huge boost compared to the last two games that RPI has played.

Other junk - RPI, much to my surprise, lost only half of its votes in the poll this week, falling to 8 from 16 last week. Ranked ECAC teams are #7 Cornell (down two after beating Princeton and losing to Quinnipiac), #9 Quinnipiac (up four after sweeping Colgate/Cornell), #11 Yale (down two after losing to UMass and beating Brown in OT), and #20 Colgate, ranked for the first time this season. Princeton (fell out from #19 after being swept by Cornell/Colgate, 18 votes) Union (idle, 16 votes) and St. Lawrence (beat Harvard and lost to Dartmouth, 2 votes) also received votes.

Individual Engineers fell in the national statistics following the one goal effort. Polacek's lone assist gives him 17 points, but he fell from 5th to 11th in that category. His 9 goals are now 7th in the nation. Brandon Pirri's 12 points is now 6th in the nation in points by a freshman, down from 2nd.

Next up is the 59th annual RPI Holiday Tournament, still the longest running in-season tournament in college hockey (a year longer than the Beanpot). On Friday, they face Bentley (1st appearance) and on Saturday will take on either Union (6th appearance, 2-8 all time) or Lake Superior State (3rd appearance, 3-1 all time, 1997 champs). RPI will play at 7 pm on Saturday regardless of whether they beat Bentley or not, meaning that, like last year, the championship game may actually be played before the consolation game. Realistically, the Engineers would probably like a shot at Lake State on Saturday night - they face Union at the Field House a week and a half later anyway, and beating a CCHA team is always helpful when it comes time to jockey for position in the computer rankings later in the season.

Hopefully, the Engineers have a chip on their shoulder from last year, when Bentley embarrassed them at home, 4-3 in overtime. The Falcons are doing fairly decent in Atlantic Hockey this season, but this is still a game RPI needs to be winning, especially at or almost at 100% health for the first time in a month.

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

By Winning Pct.
1. Quinnipiac 1.000
T-2 Colgate, RPI, and Union .750
5. Cornell .667
6. Yale .600
7. St. Lawrence .500
8. Princeton .417
9. Harvard .286
10. Clarkson .250
11. Dartmouth .143
12. Brown .100

RPI at Niagara
Non-Conference Game - Dwyer Arena (Lewiston, NY)
11/18/09 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: Niagara 4, RPI 1
College Hockey Stats:
Troy Record:
Albany Times-Union:
Niagara Gazette:
RECORD: 7-5-1 (3-1-0 ECAC, 6 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Paul Kerins, 1 G, 7 shots
2. F Chase Polacek, 1 A, 2 shots
3. D Bryan Brutlag, 1 A, 1 shot

Upcoming Games
27 Nov - Bentley (RPI Holiday Hockey Tournament)
28 Nov - Union/Lake Superior State (RPI Holiday Hockey Tournament)
04 Dec - #7 Cornell
05 Dec - #20 Colgate
09 Dec - Union


Rensselaer went 0-1-0 last week, dropping a non-league contest at Niagara (4-1) on Wednesday. Senior Paul Kerins (Weston, ON) notched the lone goal for the Engineers.

RPI is back on the ice this weekend, when it hosts the 59th Annual RPI Holiday Tournament at the Houston Field House. The Engineers open against Bentley on Friday (7pm) and will face either Lake Superior State or Union on Saturday (7pm). Live stats for all four tournament games will be available at and can also be seen live on a pay-per-view basis with B2 Networks at The game will also be broadcast courtesy of WRPI radio on 91.5 FM or log on to and click on sports.

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