Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Men's Hockey - at Quinnipiac (1/8), at Princeton (1/10)

With ECAC play all that faces the Engineers going forward, last weekend's games represented the beginning of "go time" for RPI, especially with a nationally televised game on Sunday. They got the second half of the season kicked off in style, playing their game exactly the way they wanted to on their way to their first ECAC road sweep in three years, knocking off #12 Quinnipiac 4-1 on Friday before taking down Princeton on ESPNU on Sunday by the same score.

Quinnipiac
Cullen/Pirri/O'Grady
Angers-Goulet/Polacek/Smith
Helfrich/Kerins/Brutlag
Lee/Malchuk/Watts

Bergin/Merth
Kennedy/Foss
Jensen/Burgdoerfer

York

The big news before the game was pretty obvious with a quick glance at the lineup. First, Jerry D'Amigo was not in the lineup. Coach Appert gave him a little time off after leading the United States to the gold medal in the World Junior Championship - the extra day off between games this weekend helped make things work out just fine. He would join the team in New Jersey after spending a few days at home in Binghamton.

The second one - yes, that is Bryan Brutlag playing right-wing on a line with Tyler Helfrich and Paul Kerins. He played right-wing occasionally in high school, and he's a very offensive-minded defenseman anyway, so Seth Appert decided to play to his depth and get Christian Jensen into the lineup as well, using Brutlag's offensive prowess while dressing seven defensemen.

The first period appeared to be one in which the Engineers succeeded merely in surviving, although subsequent events later in the week sort of made it look like it was all part of the plan. RPI was badly outshot, 14-5, by the Bobcats, who came into the game on a 4-game ECAC losing streak after starting off the league season 7-0-0. Both teams went 0-for-2 on the power play in the first period.

The second period looked like it wasn't getting off well at all as Erik Burgdoerfer took RPI's third penalty of the night just 3 minutes in. That's when the fireworks started for the Engineers. The ensuing faceoff was in the RPI zone, but after it was won by the Engineers, they immediately broke out the other way. Only 10 seconds after Burgdoerfer hit the penalty box, Jordan Watts had scored his first goal of the year on a great pass from Chase Polacek to give RPI a 1-0 lead on a shorthanded goal.

Shortly before Burgdoerfer's penalty expired, Peter Merth went off on a slashing call. The 5-on-3 was only 7 seconds long, so there wasn't much worry about losing the lead while down two men, but it did create an extended penalty kill that threatened to erase the good done by the shorty. And that's when it happened again. 42 seconds into the Merth penalty, the Engineers got another breakout going the other way, and this time Polacek's pass was to Marty O'Grady, who fired it past Quinnipiac freshman Eric Hartzell to give RPI a 2-0 lead, with both goals coming after the last time the Engineers had had 5 men on the ice. Giving up one shorty is bad enough, but two on essentially the same continuing power play opportunity is pretty devastating, and the Bobcats didn't seem to get their step back after that in the 2nd.

That's not to say they didn't have the opportunity. Brutlag would take a 3rd minor, which was killed, and then Mike Bergin was hit with a 5-minute major and a game misconduct that according to RPI fans at the game was somewhat scurrilous. But still, the RPI penalty kill stood tall. With just seconds left in the major, Quinnipiac took a penalty of their own, and after the Bergin penalty expired, the Engineers would score their 3rd special teams goal of the period, their first power play goal. Chase Polacek took a shot that most observers thought went in, but it was waved off by the referee. Play continued, as Paul Kerins scooped up the rebound and shuttled it to Joel Malchuk, who scored his fourth goal of the season to make sure the Engineers walked away from the sequence with a goal regardless of whether Polacek's initial effort had been in or not. It also gave RPI a 3-0 lead and further demoralized the Bobcats, who spent more than half of the period with the man advantage (with 13 more shots) and had absolutely nothing to show for it.

Quinnipiac would break through about 5 minutes into the 3rd period with an even strength goal, but for the most part it was the only hiccup in the RPI mojo. The referees swallowed the whistle, and the RPI defense continued doing what it had been doing for the first 40 minutes of the game - allowing shots, but few good scoring opportunities. Bryan Brutlag would get his first goal as a forward with a minute left to play, sliding it into the empty net to give RPI the 4-1 win over first-place QU despite being outshot 37-15. This wasn't just a function of bad goaltending like the Michigan game, however. The Engineers maintained puck control and waited for the right times to pull the trigger. The name of the game was quality, not quantity.

By the way - the Bergin penalty definitely made Appert look like a genius for dressing 7 defensemen. Flexibility, thy name is Bryan Brutlag.

Princeton
Cullen/Polacek/Angers-Goulet
D'Amigo/Pirri/O'Grady
Helfrich/Kerins/Brutlag
Lee/Malchuk/Watts

Bergin/Merth
Kennedy/Foss
Jensen/Burgdoerfer

York

Sunday, it was time for RPI's star turn on national television, and the People's Line was reunited for the occasion. The game marked the first time since October that the Engineers had 100% of their roster available to play - no injuries, no suspensions, nobody off in Canada growing their star exponentially.

Second verse, same as the first. With most of the same lines and lineup (Smith came out for D'Amigo, and Cullen moved off the People's Line to take Smith's place), the plan was basically the same as it had been two days earlier in Hamden - quality shots, not quantity shots, and lockdown defense for the win.

Two early power plays for RPI went by the wayside with no goals for the Engineers, but they maintained almost complete puck control throughout both of them, a harbinger of good things to come if they continued to get the opportunity on the man advantage. After killing a penalty of their own, the Engineers got their third power play chance midway through the period, and the third time was the charm. Brandon Pirri took a decent shot that Zane Kalemba (last year's Dryden Award winner as the league's top goaltender) got a piece of, but Jerry D'Amigo was sitting there on the back door to scoop up the rebound and stuff it in the open net to put RPI up 1-0. Princeton outshot RPI 6-3 in the first period.

The Engineers killed back to back penalties early in the 2nd period to maintain the 1-0 lead, and then once RPI got a power play of its own, it was back to work. The ESPNU announcers were openly wondering at this point why RPI was not taking shots, but they cycled the puck well throughout, maintaining good possession just as they did in the first period. Almost in response, Mike Bergin uncorked a rocket shot from the blue line that beat Kalemba through the five-hole to make it 2-0 Engineers.

From there, it was time for RPI to weather the storm as the referees decided to make calls practically every two minutes, and it seemed like there was always one team on the power play. After the Bergin goal, there were three RPI penalties and one Princeton penalty, but no scoring. Just like the Quinnipiac game, the Engineers spent half of the 2nd period on the penalty kill, and although they didn't get any shorthanded goals (not that they weren't coming close on occasion), they again kept their opponents off the scoring sheet.

Princeton would take a penalty with 11 seconds left in the second period that would give RPI a fresh-ice power play in the third period, and Marty O'Grady connected with a rebound put-back off a Bryan Brutlag shot (who returned to the point during power plays this weekend), putting the Engineers up 3-0 in the third, a solid lead that they didn't appear likely to give back.

A penalty to CJ Lee about a minute-and-a-half later would provide Princeton with their last power play opportunity of the game, and Allen York came up big. During the kill, Chase Polacek got himself a shorthanded breakaway opportunity, but he lifted it over the crossbar when he tried to go high on Kalemba. Princeton would get on the board about 30 seconds after the power play expired, making it 3-1 and shifting some of the momentum in their favor. For much of the remainder of the game, Princeton enjoyed much better possession than they had in the first two periods, and they were blasting away at the RPI defense and Allen York. Earlier in the season, that might have been cause for RPI to break, but not anymore. York continued to stand tall in net, keeping the Tigers out of the cage.

D'Amigo and Polacek would seal it late on the power play as Princeton interrupted their own momentum with a lack of discipline in the attacking zone. D'Amigo made a blistering pass through the slot that Polacek one-timed from near the boards and into the net, a really pretty goal that made it 4-1, which would end up being the final score as the Engineers enjoyed their first road sweep since late January 2007. As it turned out, it was also the first Capital District road sweep since that same weekend in 2007, as Union similarly swept the Bobcats and Tigers.

There are so many good things to say about the Engineers' play this weekend. They netted 5 power play goals, including going 4-for-8 on Sunday in Princeton, and the penalty kill was a perfect 13-for-13. Allen York made the easy saves but he also made the tough ones. Quinnipiac fans spoke of how unbeatable York looked on Friday, and he managed to make some acrobatic saves to keep Princeton frustrated on Sunday (although some of them were acrobatic because he wandered out of his net to go after the puck at the wrong time... one of his only flaws this weekend). Ever since his Union collapse, York has been absolutely brilliant in net for the Engineers, a great sign going forward. Check out the video from ESPN in the links section for an interview with York.

Other junk - The weekend road sweep was good enough to make RPI the 20th best team in the nation according to one of USCHO.com's 40 poll voters; yup, one vote for RPI this week. Ranked teams in the ECAC are #5 Yale (up one after beating Dartmouth), #9 Cornell (down one despite being idle), #13 Union (up four after sweeping Princeton and Quinnipiac), and #17 Quinnipiac (down five after being swept by RPI and Union). No other ECAC teams with votes this week. Ranked nonconference foes are #7 Michigan State (up two), #19 UMass (down three), and #20 New Hampshire (re-entering). Alaska (82 votes) and Michigan (3 votes) also received votes.

Finally, RPI players are getting some long overdue recognition in league awards. Marty O'Grady was named ECAC Rookie of the Week for his 2-goal weekend (the shorty against QU, the power play goal against PU). He was also recognized for his contributions to the RPI penalty kill.

Allen York was the no-brainer choice for ECAC Goaltender of the Week, recognized for leading RPI to two victories while allowing only one goal in each game, making 66 saves on 68 shots for a .971 save percentage and allowing no power play goals in 13 opportunities.

With Watts' goal against Quinnipiac, the last remaining skater on the team with no points is Mark Zarbo, who has only made a single appearance this season (Niagara).

Chase Polacek leads the ECAC in a slew of categories, including points, assists, power play points, and short handed points. Brandon Pirri leads the league in freshman scoring, with Jerry D'Amigo tied for second with Harvard's Louis Leblanc.

With 32 points, Polacek has tied his team-leading point total from last season. With 13 games remaining in the season, he is on pace to become the first Engineer with 40 points in a season since Matt Murley and Marc Cavosie both did it in 2001-02. At his current clip, he would finish with 50 points, exactly the same total Cavosie had that season. Oh yeah, Cavosie was a Hobey Baker finalist that season. He also left after that season, but that's neither here nor there. We hope.

Oh, Hobey Baker! Yeah, the fan vote is back, and Polacek is the only Engineer on the ballot. So... you know what to do. http://www.hobeybaker.com/voting/

As far as the team is concerned, the Engineers have the 5th best offense in the ECAC, tied for the 2nd best defense (with Union, trailing Cornell), and have the 2nd best penalty kill (Cornell) and 2nd best power play (yes, Cornell). It's a far cry from last year where RPI finished 10th in offense, and next to last in defense, penalty kill, and power play.

Oh, what a difference a year makes on the power play. Last season RPI scored a grand total of 17 power play goals at a putrid 8.7% clip, next to last in the nation. This year? It's still early January and the Engineers already have 28 power play markers, a 22.6% success rate, and the 11th best power play unit in the country.

It's on to Schenectady this weekend for one huge game against Union. It's the fourth meeting between these teams this season, but it's easily the biggest game in the history of RPI-Union, bigger even than the playoff games we've seen in the past - even the one where now-Union assistant Ben Barr torched the Dutchmen for two shorties on the same power play. For the first time in the history of the Capital District pairing, which dates back almost 20 years, the RPI-Union weekend may be the most difficult for other teams to have to deal with, and that's a good thing. Other top teams are paired with easier opponents - Yale with Brown and Cornell with Colgate (who have slipped significantly since we saw them last).

If it wasn't a real rivalry before, RPI-Union is about to get bumped up another notch. Union is in first place, where they've never been this far into the season, and they're still undefeated in league play at 6-0-3, but this is probably going to be anyone's game. RPI isn't intimidated by first place teams - they knocked off Yale, the preseason favorites, and are still the only ECAC team to take 2 points from the Bulldogs. They knocked off Quinnipiac, essentially knocking them out of first place in the process. All three games have been close, and the Engineers are probably still smarting from that last Union game in Troy. The motivation is there. The intensity is there. The rivalry? I'm loathe to admit it as a traditionalist, but it's there.

ECAC Standings
1. Union - 15 pts
2. Quinnipiac - 14 pts
3. Cornell - 13 pts
4. Yale - 12 pts
5. Colgate - 11 pts
6. RPI - 10 pts
7. St. Lawrence - 9 pts
8. Brown - 7 pts (8 games)
9. Princeton - 7 pts (10 games)
10. Harvard - 6 pts
11. Clarkson - 4 pts (8 games)
12. Dartmouth - 4 pts (9 games)

By Winning Pct. (points/possible)
1. Union .833 (15/18)
2. Yale .750 (12/16)
3. Cornell .722 (13/18)
4. Colgate .611 (11/18)
5. St. Lawrence .562 (9/16)
6. RPI .556 (10/18)
7. Quinnipiac .538 (14/26)
8. Brown .389 (7/18)
9. Harvard .333 (6/18)
10. Princeton .292 (7/24)
11. Clarkson .250 (4/16)
12. Dartmouth .222 (4/18)

RPI at #12 Quinnipiac
ECAC Game - TD Banknorth Sports Center (Hamden, CT)
1/8/10 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: RPI 4, Quinnipiac 1

BOX SCORES
RECAPS
RECORD: 11-10-1 (4-4-0 ECAC, 8 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Chase Polacek, 3 A
2. G Allen York, 36 saves
3. F Marty O'Grady, 1 SHG

RPI at Princeton
ECAC Game - Hobey Baker Memorial Rink (Princeton, NJ)
1/10/10 - 3:05 pm
RESULT: RPI 4, Princeton 1

BOX SCORES
RECAPS
VIDEO
RECORD: 12-10-1 (5-4-0 ECAC, 10 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Jerry D'Amigo, 1 G, 2 A
2. F Brandon Pirri, 3 A
3. G Allen York, 30 saves

Upcoming Games
16 Jan - at #13 Union
22 Jan - Dartmouth
23 Jan - Harvard
29 Jan - at Brown
30 Jan - at #5 Yale

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MEN’S HOCKEY

Rensselaer went 2-0-0 last week, sweeping a road ECAC Hockey weekend at 12th-ranked Quinnipiac (4-1) and Princeton (4-1). Sophomore goaltender Allen York (Wetaskiwin, AB) stopped 66 of 68 shots in the two games. RPI (12-10-1; 5-4-0 ECAC Hockey) travels to Schenectady, to take on area-rival and 17th-ranked Union on Saturday (7pm).

Live stats will be available at http://www.sidearmstats.com/union/mhockey/index.htm and a live video stream can be found at http://www.unionathletics.com/showcase/?#liveevents. The contest will be broadcast live locally on Time Warner Cable Channel 3 on the air courtesy of WRPI radio on 91.5 FM or log on to www.wrpi.org and click on sports.

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