Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Yale and Brown (Nov 6/7)

Aww snap. It's on.

Platitudes may someday be written about this year. If so, this may be the weekend where they'll point and say "I knew they were back." If my preseason calculations are correct, the Engineers just came out of their shell.




Coming into the weekend, conventional wisdom said that this game would not go well for the Engineers. Yale, as the defending ECAC champions expected to be among the elite teams in the nation let alone in the conference, probably should have swept right in and blown RPI away. I myself made a pre-game prediction of a 6-3 Yale victory.

The Black Friday magic, however, may be more real than we thought.

RPI did a good job early on of limiting Yale's chances and were very opportunistic. Best of all, they did what they had failed to do in early games this season - finish on their chances. Chase Polacek did just that at the 7:42 mark of the first period, striking first to give RPI the first goal of the game for the 5th time in 6 games. Off the ensuing faceoff, just 19 seconds later, it was Polacek again, this time ripping a shot that was tipped in by Scott Halpern for his first goal of the season, and just like that, RPI had a 2-0 lead.

Late in the period, the saga of Erik Burgdoerfer continued. He took a lazy and unnecessary hooking penalty in his own zone, and in the last minute of the first, Yale's Andrew Miller passed across the crease to a wide open Broc Little who was standing by at the far goalpost to bang it in on the power play and cut the lead in half heading into the first break.

Right out of the gate in the second, Little would tally his second of the game to tie it at two, and it felt like my prediction might have been coming true.

But then, Jerry D'Amigo scored a goal which changed everything. The Engineers put sustained pressure on Yale freshman goaltender Ryan Rondeau and a shot by Marty O'Grady squirted behind the net. D'Amigo, near the left goalpost, scooped up the puck, returned to the side of the net, and stuffed it in - a bit of a garbage goal just a minute and a half after the Bulldogs had tied it, but the goal sticks out at me for four reasons: in previous years, there wouldn't have been anyone in position the way D'Amigo was. If there had been, they wouldn't have been quick enough to grab the puck. If they were, they would have been hesitant to shoot. If they weren't, they probably would have thrown it right at the goaltender. It was then that I came to the full realization that this was a different team. They had a shot. York was brilliant in the second, coming up with 16 saves on 17 shots.

Later in the period came another key moment. Yale was able to get the puck past York and appeared to tie it at three, but York immediately protested that the puck had been kicked into the net. Observers with a better look than I had agreed, and eventually, so did the referees. It was a big turning point in the game, as it left the Engineers with the 3-2 lead going into the second intermission.

Any fear that the Engineers would have a third period letdown vanished early on. Patrick Cullen would score his first of the season just 1:21 into the third to give RPI their second two-goal lead of the night, and for good measure, Brandon Pirri added his fifth of the year on a well executed 3-on-1 midway through the period. Yale continued to fight for goals, but Allen York would have nothing of it, ending the night with 34 saves on 36 shots and boosting the Engineers' record on Black Friday to 6-0-1. The dangerous game ended up being the most lopsided Black Friday win since the very first one, a 7-1 thrashing of Vermont in 2003.

The Engineers scored all five of their goals at even-strength, an exciting statistic that shows how well they matched up with a tough opponent. In addition, the penalty kill was 6-for-7 and the Bergin/Foss defensive pairing was +3 on the night.




With a big win in the bag from Friday, the question on tap for the weaker Saturday opponent was identical to the previous week - would there be a letdown? Although it took some prodding in the first period, the answer ended up being an emphatic no.

RPI dominated play in the first, but appeared to be back to their old ways early as they were unable to bury their chances. That started becoming more of an issue about 14 minutes into the period, when Brown's Harry Zolnierczyk was assessed a double minor for hooking and cross-checking. 35 seconds later Jeremy Russell was off for boarding, setting up a full two minute 5-on-3. The Engineers were STILL having problems scoring when Brown took yet another penalty before the exparation of either of the first two penalties. The 5-on-3 was thus extended, and Seth Appert called timeout to set things up. When play resumed, the Engineers had no defensemen on the ice whatsoever, a contrast from their style this year of having 4 forwards and 1 defenseman quarterbacking on the man advantage. Pirri, Polacek, Paul Kerins, D'Amigo, and Cullen - the Engineers top five scorers in the lineup - were sent out to turn the attacking zone into a shooting gallery, and that they did, until Pirri notched his second goal of the weekend from Polacek and Kerins to finally turn the lopsided shot total into a 1-0 lead with about two minutes left in the period.

Brown continued to get themselves into trouble early in the second - successive penalties after an early RPI penalty resulted in a 4-on-3 situation early on - and the Engineers would score again after over a minute more of 5-on-3, technically coming at 5-on-4 just seconds after the first Brown penalty had ended. This one was Paul Kerins' second goal of the year, giving RPI a 2-0 advantage.

The Bears would get their chance shortly thereafter. Just 21 seconds after the Kerins goal, Joel Malchuk was sent to the box on a trip, and Marty O'Grady followed a minute later on a cross-check, giving Brown their own 5-on-3. New coach Brendan Whittet called timeout - the first time I have ever seen both teams use their timeout before the halfway point of the game - and Brown went to work. Just as it looked as though the Engineers would at least be able to get back to 5-on-4, Devin Timberlake scored his first of the year to put Brown on the board. The goal came with a heartbreaking one second remaining on Malchuk's penalty, meaning that O'Grady would have to stay in the box and the Brown power play would continue. With one extra defender, however, the Engineers hung tough and kept Brown out of the net.

The third period was frustrating for much of the 20 minutes. The Engineers were unable to set anything up offensively for the majority of the period as Brown gummed up the works in the neutral zone and didn't give RPI many looks. Unlike the previous week's dismal third period, however, Brown wasn't getting many scoring opportunities themselves. Still, the 2-1 lead was precarious the entire length of the period despite the fact that the referees had put away the whistles.

As time wound down, Brown got a couple of decent chances, but Allen York was up to the task, making some amazing saves late to maintain the 2-1 score. He would make 7 of his 18 saves in the final stanza. Then, with about two minutes left to play, the Engineers finally broke through on a counter-attack led by Chase Polacek, who buried a pass from Pat Cullen to establish breathing room as the Engineers went on to a 3-1 victory and the weekend sweep. It was the first sweep of an ECAC weekend since January 26 and 27, 2007, when they swept a road series at Yale and Brown, and the first home ECAC sweep since February 10 and 11, 2006, which was also against Yale and Brown.

It also marked the first time the Engineers had swept the first two games of the ECAC schedule in 12 years. The '97-'98 Engineers swept Dartmouth and Vermont at home en route to a third place finish in the ECAC.

Next up on the schedule is the always daunting North Country trip, but there is reason to be optimistic this year. Not only are the Engineers playing well, the trip comes early enough that the weather is not likely to play a huge role (aka, let's get this out of the way early), and Clarkson (sucks) and St. Lawrence both look ripe for the picking. Despite the recent unpleasantness, the Engineers haven't been swept in the North Country since the '02-'03 campaign, and in fact have won two straight in Canton, although victory in Potsdam hasn't been in the cards since '04-'05. That year was the first North Country sweep since the immortal '84-'85 season.

Other junk - The Engineers' 6-3-1 record and big win over then-#6 Yale and weekend sweep did not go unnoticed by the pollsters. RPI earned 18 votes in this week's USCHO poll, unofficially making them 23rd in the "extended rankings." Ranked teams in the league include #3 Cornell (up two after sweeping Dartmouth/Harvard at home), #12 Yale (down six after going on to tie Union on Saturday), #19 Princeton (down five after losing to SLU and beating Clarkson at home), and #20 Quinnipiac (re-entering after sweeping Clarkson/SLU at home). St. Lawrence was the only other ECAC team with votes this week (3). Ranked past opponents include #9 Alaska (tied) and #14 UMass (lost). New Hampshire (won), received 5 votes. RPI is 2-0-1 against teams who were ranked at the time of the game, 1-1-1 against currently ranked teams.

If you're playing at home, the last time the Engineers started the season with three ECAC wins in a row was 1994, when they won five straight league games straight out of the box. They then limped home to a 5-9-3 league record after that to end the season, but they did take home something shiny from Lake Placid that year. Prior to '94-'95 and '97-'98, the Engineers hadn't won two in a row to start the league season since 1980. Yes, that's right, the '85 championship team lost their very first ECAC game to St. Lawrence. Of course, they didn't lose ANY league games after that, but I'm digressing.

For the second week running, Chase Polacek was screwed out of ECAC Player of the Week, this time losing to Colgate's David McIntyre despite having better numbers and more timely goals in both games. Jerry D'Amigo also lost out on Rookie of the Week for the second week in a row despite having better numbers than the winner, and Allen York was up for Goaltender of the Week, losing out to Dan Clarke of Quinnipiac.

Polacek is now tied for third in the nation with 14 points, trailing only Michigan State's Corey Tropp and Minnesota-Duluth's Jack Connolly, who both have 15 points. Brandon Pirri is tied for 26th in the nation with 10 points, tied for 3rd among freshmen behind Michigan State's Derek Grant (12) and St. Lawrence's Kyle Flanagan (11).

When it comes to goals, Polacek's 7 have him tied for second nationally behind Tropp's 8. Pirri's 6 have him tied for ninth overall and tied for first in the nation for freshmen with AIC's Adam Pleskach (remember him? 2 of those 6 came against us) and Merrimack's Stephane Da Costa.

The Engineers earned their 6th win and 4th point of the season on November 7 after 10 games and 2 league games. It took 22 games (January 23) and 7 league games (December 6) last year. It is the fastest the team has reached six wins since 1999-2000, when the team won 6 straight to start the season culminating with a win over Cornell on November 5. The season starts earlier today than it did back then.

Finally, Bob Brinkworth was honored during the second intermission on Saturday night as his number 8 was added to the Hockey Ring of Honor. He received a warm reception from the crowd and the team returned to the bench to cheer his induction. He indicated that he was proud of the current team and expected great things from them in the near future, as do we all. It wasn't quite the raucous greeting that Joe Juneau received at his induction, but Brinkworth, despite all of his amazing records, was definitely not the celebrity that Juneau was. It was definitely history over celebrity, but he is still more than deserving of the honor.

Here are the ECAC standings after two weeks - only the most recent of which had more than one game. Technically, there's a four-way tie for 1st (including RPI!), four-way for 5th, two-way for 9th, and two-way for 11th, but I've unofficially broken ties using games in hand as the first tiebreaker, goal differential for the second, goals scored (GF) for the third, and total wins for the fourth. Gives a more accurate look at things this early in the season.

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

#6 Yale at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
11/6/09 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: RPI 5, Yale 2
College Hockey Stats: http://www.collegehockeystats.net/0910/boxes/mrenyal1.n06
USCHO: http://www.uscho.com/box/?date=20091106&vis=yu&home=rpi&gender=m
RPI: http://www.rpiathletics.com/news/2009/11/6/MHOCK_1106095652.aspx
Troy Record:

Albany Times-Union:

Yale Daily News:

RECORD: 5-3-1 (1-0-0 ECAC, 2 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Chase Polacek, 1 G, 2 A
2. G Allen York, 34 saves
3. F Jerry D'Amigo, 1 G, 1 A, 4 shots, +2

Brown at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
11/7/09 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: RPI 3, Brown 1
College Hockey Stats: http://www.collegehockeystats.net/0910/boxes/mbrnren1.n07
USCHO: http://www.uscho.com/box/?date=20091107&vis=bn&home=rpi&gender=m
RPI: http://www.rpiathletics.com/news/2009/11/7/MHOCK_1107090528.aspx
Troy Record:

Albany Times-Union:
Providence Journal:

Post-game Press Conference:
RECORD: 6-3-1 (2-0-0 ECAC, 4 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Chase Polacek, 1 G, 2 A
2. F Paul Kerins, 1 G, 1 A
3. F Brandon Pirri, 1 G, 4 shots

Upcoming Games
13 Nov - at Clarkson
14 Nov - at St. Lawrence
18 Nov - at Niagara
27 Nov - Bentley (RPI Holiday Hockey Tournament)
28 Nov - Union/Lake Superior State (RPI Holiday Hockey Tournament)



Rensselaer went 2-0 last week, topping sixth-ranked Yale (5-2) and Brown (3-1) to open ECAC Hockey play. Junior Chase Polacek (Edina, MN) recorded a six-point (2 goals, 4 assist) weekend, which included having a hand in all three of the Engineers' goals against the Bears.

RPI is back on the ice this weekend when it visits North Country-rivals Clarkson and St. Lawrence on Friday (7pm) and Saturday (7pm), respectively. Live stats can be found at http://www.ecachockey.com/livestats/clarkson/landing on Friday and http://www.ecachockey.com/livestats/stlawrence/landing on Saturday. Both games can be seen live on a pay-per-view basis with B2 Networks at http://www.b2livetv.com and will 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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