Monday, December 14, 2009

Men's Hockey - Union (Dec 9), at BU (Dec 11)

This was a week of high highs and low lows, ultimate heartache followed by unbridled joy. At the end of the odd week, the team seemed to be reinvented yet again, dropping the league game in devastating fashion 5-4 to Union, then going on to take down the reigning champions, Boston University, 5-3 on the road in non-conference play.

Union
Rabbani/Malchuk/O'Grady
Kerins/Pirri/Angers-Goulet
Cullen/Polacek/Halpern
D'Amigo/Vassel/Helfrich

Kennedy/Merth
Brutlag/Burgdoerfer
Jensen/Foss

York

Originally scheduled to start at 7pm as usual, the opening puck drop was pushed back to 7:15 after Union's bus broke down in Schenectady. Leave it to Union...

Anyway, once the game got going, a few familiar sights were in order. First, the referee's arms were consistently in the air, and second, the Engineers managed to get down two skaters as Paul Kerins negated an RPI power play with a hooking penalty, then Brandon Pirri was called for interference (a penalty the referees couldn't seem to get right on either side all night), leading to a 4-on-3 that shortly became a lengthy 5-on-3, and given the Engineers' record on 5-on-3 penalty kills, basically everyone expected what was coming next. Union senior Mario Valery-Trabucco snapped up a loose puck in front and put it home for the 1-0 lead.

The Engineers killed the ensuing 5-on-4, and then a minute later got their second power play opportunity, capitalizing when Marty O'Grady took a nice feed from Pirri to tie the score at one with his third goal of the season.

The first period was fast-paced - both teams had a good number of shots - but the Engineers took control of flow during the second period (despite losing the shot battle). RPI took the lead early in the period when Jerry D'Amigo hit Alex Angers-Goulet with a beautiful pass that AAG blasted past Keith Kincaid to put the Engineers up 2-1. RPI had another two penalties to kill in the interim, but they escaped the period unscathed - including a flurry at the end of the second period after a lousy interference call against Scott Halpern in which Allen York stood on his head to keep the puck out of the net.

Chase Polacek scored his 11th goal of the season early in the third to give the Engineers a crucial insurance goal, but that 2-goal lead would vanish in a hurry thanks to Mario Valery-Trabucco. Just two minutes after the Polacek goal, Valery-Trabucco brought the puck into the zone and deftly maneuvered around Peter Merth to find some open ice, then blasted a high shot over York's shoulder to cut the RPI lead to one. Two minutes after that, he completed the hat-trick with an odd shot from a strange angle that York, in all honesty, should have had, but the shot was in and just like that, it was 3-3.

The Engineers didn't back down at that point, though. Midway through the period, another lousy interference call went against Union this time, and Polacek converted for his second goal of the night, putting RPI up 4-3.

Union pushed hard for the tying goal, eventually forcing the Engineers to ice the puck late, and Seth Appert deftly called timeout with the lead to give his defenders a breather. It worked at first, and with 1:10 left to play, it was Union's turn to call timeout with a faceoff on the RPI side of the neutral zone. Union won the faceoff, and Kincaid was pulled for the extra attacker. About 20 seconds later, Jason Walters, who had beaten York for the game-winner in the RPI Tournament, scored to tie the game at four, sucking the air out of Houston Field House.

In another 32 seconds, you could hear a pin drop. The Engineers were playing for overtime. Union was playing to win. Mike Schreiber put one past York to make it 5-4. As an RPI fan, I can't recall a turn of events that was more of a stab in the chest. Walters would take a penalty with six seconds left, and the Engineers seemed to understand just how dire a situation they suddenly faced, and a flurry at the end of the game with York on the bench almost resulted in a second consecutive last-second goal against Union, but it was not to be.

The Engineers were 70 seconds away from handing Union their first ECAC loss and putting themselves right back in the thick of the ECAC race. Once that 70 seconds had elapsed, they had lost in regulation,were below .500 both in the ECAC and overall, and out two important home points.

Paul Kerins was apparently pretty rattled. After the final whistle, he decided to wrestle John Simpson, grabbing hold of his facemask and tearing Simpson's helmet from his head. He was assessed a 5-minute major at the 20:00 mark and was handed a game disqualification, which meant he would be suspended for the BU game, making what was already a bad situation worse.

Boston University
Cullen/Polacek/Helfrich
Angers-Goulet/Pirri/O'Grady
Rabbani/Malchuk/Halpern
Vassel/Beauregard/Smith

Jensen/Foss
Kennedy/Merth
Brutlag/Burgdoerfer

Merriam

Kerins was not the only Engineer out of the lineup Friday in Boston. Jerry D'Amigo tweaked his MCL in the Union game (against the same team that originally injured him), and with the National Junior camp looming, Appert scratched him for the non-conference matchup despite D'Amigo's insistence that he was ready to go. Jerry's definitely a gamer, but Appert sat him for his own good. If he'd hurt himself further against BU and missed out on the national team, it would have been a bad situation.

The beneficiaries were Justin Smith and Kevin Beauregard, who got a chance to crack the lineup again. Also out was Allen York - there have been some concerns about whether he is fully healed from his upper body injury, which may have been a cracked rib rather than a sore shoulder as originally reported. Thus, freshman Bryce Merriam was given his fourth start.

Normally it seems like a lineup like this against the defending national champions might raise red flags right away, especially after such a devastating loss. That wasn't going to be the case, though.

RPI got an early power play, and Seth Appert, who had been tinkering with a five-forward power play unit since Bergin went down with an injury, decided to go all in with five scorers to try and beat sophomore Kieran Millan, who backstopped the Terriers to the title last season. Unfortunately, it backfired almost immediately, as Kevin Shattenkirk poked the puck out of the zone to Chris Connolly, who went 2-on-1 shorthanded the other direction and scored to give BU the early 1-0 lead.

After the Engineers killed a too many men penalty (getting caught the second time after getting away with it once), Angers-Goulet scored his second goal of the week in largely the same fashion as his first one, this time taking great pass from Brandon Pirri and rifling it past Millan on the Engineers' first official shot on goal of the game to tie it at one.

Just 19 seconds later, the Engineers took the lead as BU came out lax for the center-ice faceoff. The exchange was actually fairly weak - an awkward pass from Beauregard to Bryan Brutlag down low was followed by a light shot that Millan badly misplayed as it seemed to glide into the net, not even reaching the back, but it got over the line and that's all that really mattered, giving RPI a 2-1 lead on two shots. The Terriers worked hard for the tying goal in the first (the first three goals coming in the first six minutes), and BU led in shots 16-5 after one period, but the Engineers led on the scoreboard.

Early in the second, Brutlag was sent off for holding and the Terriers capitalized. They had been blasting away on the power play all night, and Zach Cohen delivered, tying the score at 2. Five minutes later, the Engineers went on their second power play of the night as Eric Gryba was sent off for holding (and then tossed a dime for complaining, incidentally pushing him to #1 all time in penalty minutes at BU), and it looked like a good chance for RPI to get back into the lead.

Second power play, same as the first. Another clearance by BU past the five forwards, another odd-man rush, this one basically a 2-on-none that Shattenkirk buried on his own to put BU up 3-2 midway through the game, the second shorthanded goal of the night for the Terriers. As the remainder of the period wore on, the Engineers were staying out of the box, and it was BU's turn to take a few penalties in succession, but as the first two power plays showed, it was more of a boon than a problem for the defending champs. RPI gave up a couple more odd-man rushes on their own power plays, but Merriam was up to the task these times. The Engineers actually won the shot battle in the second, 9-8, but yet again, the period was won by the team with fewer shots.

The third period began to unfold in a manner which seemed to indicate that RPI wasn't going to score again. Appert retooled the power play to utilize the standard defensive contingent for the final period, and that helped stop the turnovers, but the lone power play opportunity didn't produce a goal.

Midway through the period, the tying goal came from an unexpected source - Erik Burgdoerfer - but the goal was generated by Joel Malchuk, who sacrificed his body for the goal. Malchuk made a quick dish along the boards and was absolutely obliterated for his effort. The referee's arm went up for what was probably going to be a boarding call, but Burgdoerfer flicked a quick wrister over Millan's shoulder to tie the score.

Four minutes later, it was another unexpected source scoring what would prove to be the game winning goal - Christian Jensen. With six minutes left in the game, Jensen abandoned the blue line to scoop up a loose puck and deposited it in the net to give the Engineers a 4-3 advantage.

A very untimely penalty by Jeff Foss with about three-and-a-half minutes left provided for some tough play late, but the penalty kill held up to finish off a 5-for-6 night on the kill. The Terriers pulled Millan for the extra attacker, but Tyler Helfrich got the puck out of the zone and behind the defense. He casually skated the puck all the way over the goal line, sealing the big bounce-back win for RPI.

BU is having a very difficult year - they have only 4 wins all season just one year removed from being on top of the college hockey world. By that metric, the Engineers win was not all that impressive. But they're still the champs. It was still a road game. RPI was still without some key players. They made adjustments and bounced back from a tough loss and bounced back from giving up the lead in the second period. The win snapped a four game slide. And more than anything, it's a big win heading into the winter break, a positive note to end the first half of the season on instead of going in stewing about losing to Union and having a long losing streak. All good things.

It's two weeks off, then it's off to Detroit for the Great Lakes Invitational, essentially the Beanpot of Christmas tournaments. The yearly tournament is comprised of Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, and a single invitee. The Engineers are that invitee for the second time in program history, the first coming in 1986 as they lost in the championship game. It'll take place at a true hockey mecca, Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings, the CCHA Final Four, and the 1985 Frozen Four, where 25 years ago, the Engineers won their second national championship. It's home for captain John Kennedy (Saginaw), and, oh yeah, the Frozen Four is in Detroit this year (albeit at Ford Field).

It's another traditionally tough team lined up for RPI as they have the Michigan Wolverines in the first round. Michigan is probably the most consistently good team in the nation (they haven't missed the NCAA tournament since 1990 - that's a longer streak than RPI's streak of NOT going to the tournament, which is long), but they haven't been consistently great (only two national titles during that stretch despite 10 Frozen Fours). They have been having a horrible season by their standards, though. They have an almost identical record to RPI at 9-9-0, and nine losses is more than half of total losses for the season for the Wolverines in each season since their streak started. They're currently unranked for the first time since the mid-90s. They could be ripe for the picking, and especially if the Engineers get some of their hurt personnel back, they could have a shot at making the title game.

The team is at .500, but they still have room to grow, there's no doubt. They've shown consistently that they are never out of a game, but now they need to have more finishes like the BU game and less like the two Union games. It's all about finishing, and many of these recent losses haven't been individually problematic. Some of it has been bad puck luck, some of it has been bad timing. We'll see if they can pick up the pace in the second half.

See you in the Motor City! Have a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a dignified winter solstice.

Other junk - Ranked teams in the ECAC this week are #4 Cornell (up one despite being idle), #8 Quinnipiac (down one after tying Holy Cross and beating American International), #9 Yale (down one despite being idle), and #18 Union (up two after stealing one from RPI). Again, Colgate (7 points, idle) was the only other ECAC team to earn votes. Non-conference opponents past and present include #13 Michigan State, #15 UMass, #16 New Hampshire, #17 Alaska, and Michigan (23 votes).

Chase Polacek's point-scoring streak is now at 13 after registering 2 goals and 2 assists in last week's games. He has 10 goals and 12 assists during his current stretch. With 26 total points, Polacek is now 2nd in the nation in scoring, trailing only Michigan State's Corey Tropp (27). His 12 goals are tied for 7th nationally (Tropp's 16 leads), and his 14 assists have him tied for 8th (James Marcou of UMass is 1st with 21). Brandon Pirri's 18 points (7 goals, 11 assists) is 5th in the nation among freshmen.

The Engineers' homestand ended with the Union loss at a pathetically dismal 1-4-0. They will not be back at Houston Field House until January 22-23 (Dartmouth/Harvard) and there are only six home games left on the entire schedule (they are 6-5-0 at home, 3-4-1 away from home). Seven of the next nine games are outside of Troy.

Sophomore Christian Morissette has apparently left the Engineers. He was not listed on the team roster released this week and has been removed from the roster on the RPI website. He did not appear in any games this season. If Morissette has indeed left, he finishes at RPI with a career line of 8 games and 1 goal, all in his freshman year.

With Morissette's departure and first points of the season from Jensen and Beauregard, the only skaters on the team with no points are defenseman Mark Zarbo (1 game) and forward Jordan Watts (3 games).

Speaking of Watts, there's no confirmation of this, but he may be nursing an injury. As evidence, Watts was with C.J. Lee standing on the RPI bench during the recent Skate With the Engineers event, and the appearance of Kevin Beauregard, widely presumed to be the last man on the forward depth chart in the BU game with D'Amigo and Kerins both unavailable.

Injuries
F Jerry D'Amigo (MCL sprain) - sat out against BU
F C.J. Lee (wrist) - has missed eight of the last nine
F Jordan Watts (lower body?) - ?
D Mike Bergin (concussion) - has missed eight straight games
G Allen York (upper body) - sat out against BU, may have hampered recent appearances

ECAC Standings
1. Quinnipiac - 14 pts
2. Cornell - 13 pts
3. Union - 11 pts (7 games)
4. Colgate - 11 pts (9 games)
5. Yale - 10 pts
6. St. Lawrence - 9 pts
7. Brown - 7 pts
8. RPI - 6 pts
9. Princeton - 5 pts
10. Harvard - 4 pts (8 games, -10 GD)
11. Clarkson - 4 pts (8 games, -12 GD)
12. Dartmouth - 2 pts

By Winning Pct. (points/possible)
1. Union .786 (11/14)
2. Quinnipiac .778 (14/18)
3. Cornell .722 (13/18)
4. Yale .714 (10/14)
5. Colgate .611 (11/18)
6. St. Lawrence .562 (9/16)
7. Brown .438 (7/16)
8. RPI .429 (6/14)
9. Princeton .278 (5/18)
T-10. Clarkson and Harvard .250 (4/16)
12. Dartmouth .143 (2/14)

#20 Union at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
12/9/09 - 7:15 pm
RESULT: Union 5, RPI 4

BOX SCORES
RECAPS
VIDEO
RECORD: 8-9-1 (3-4-0 ECAC, 6 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Chase Polacek, 2 G, 1 A
2. F Brandon Pirri, 3 A
3. F Tyler Helfrich, 2 A

RPI at Boston University
Non-Conference Game - Agganis Arena (Boston, MA)
12/11/09 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: RPI 5, Boston University 3

BOX SCORES
RECAPS
RECORD: 9-9-1 (3-4-0 ECAC, 6 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Alex Angers-Goulet, 1 G, 1 A
2. D Christian Jensen, 1 G, +1
3. D Erik Burgdoerfer, 1 G, +2

Upcoming Games
29 Dec - vs. Michigan (Detroit, MI)
30 Dec - vs. #13 Michigan State OR Michigan Tech (Detroit, MI)
08 Jan - at #8 Quinnipiac
10 Jan - at Princeton
16 Jan - at #18 Union
--
MEN’S HOCKEY

RPI went 1-1-0 last week, falling to Union, 5-4, before defeating Boston University, 5-3, at Agganis Arena. Senior Christian Jensen (Watchung, NJ) had the game-winning goal against the defending national champion Terriers.

The Engineers head into the holiday break with a record of 9-9-1, including a 3-4-0 ECAC Hockey mark. RPI returns to action on December 29 against Michigan in the 45th Annual Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit (7:30pm). The Engineers face either Michigan Tech or Michigan State the following day in the consolation/championship game (4pm/7:30pm).

Ticket information for the event can be found at http://www.collegehockeyatthejoe.com/gli.aspx. Both games will be broadcast live courtesy of WRPI radio on 91.5 FM or log on to www.wrpi.org and click on sports.

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