Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Men's Hockey - Dartmouth and Harvard (22/23 Jan)

The Engineers returned to Houston Field House for the first time since early December this past weekend with a pair of winnable games. Although they weren't able to complete the sweep, they did get 3 vital points out of the weekend festivities despite the consensus evaluation of lackluster play, getting by Dartmouth 2-1 and tying Harvard 3-3 in games that could both have been losses in recent years, underlining just how far this team has come, and maybe showing a little additional maturity needed for further growth.




The Brutlag at forward experiment continued unabated, while Paul Kerins, who has been a great addition to the Engineers' repertoire of scoring threats, was moved onto the People's Line in place of Jerry D'Amigo, who was paired on what has the makings of a dangerous line with Chase Polacek and Bryan Brutlag.

Dartmouth, in the middle of a really rough season, was facing RPI for the first time since the Engineers unceremoniously kicked them out of their own building and out of the ECAC playoffs last night. They started sophomore goaltender James Mello, who was making only his second start of the season.

It was nothing doing early on in the first period. RPI managed only a single shot on goal in the game's first 6 minutes, which led into Dartmouth's first power play of the game on a Brandon Pirri penalty. That started the usual back and forth penalty calls, in which both teams got an advantage, but neither converted. A spate of penalties just after the halfway mark resulted, in succession, in a very short RPI 5-on-4, a longer 4-on-4 after a penalty to Polacek just after the power play started, a short 4-on-3 after another Dartmouth penalty, another short 4-on-4 after the first Dartmouth penalty expired, then another RPI 5-on-4 after Polacek left the box.

That 5-on-4 was just 4 seconds old when Connor Goggin - the Dartmouth player who had drawn the initial penalty in that sequence, scored what was technically a shorthanded goal although its circumstances came in the 4-on-4 situation since Polacek had not yet returned to the play, giving Dartmouth a 1-0 lead. The Big Green led 12-7 in shots after the first period and had the lead.

The second period was much more of the same, but more even. RPI was still playing uninspired hockey, failing to convert on an early power play before a successful penalty kill midway through the period. The Engineers won the shooting contest in the 2nd period 7-6, but weren't able to put one in the net and after two periods, Dartmouth still led 1-0, and the potential letdown of a loss to lowly Dartmouth hung in the air during the 2nd intermission.

Then, the team came alive in the 3rd period, using a method that they might just have picked up on in their last game against Union - the quick shot off the faceoff. In this instance, it was Tyler Helfrich, scoring on a quick shot off a draw won by Patrick Cullen, finally getting RPI on the board at 5:46 of the third period. The goal was made more impressive by the fact that Alex Angers-Goulet had been in to take the draw, but was tossed by the linesman, an occurrence which usually thwarts a team's set plays on the draw.

Three and a half minutes later, it was another familiar sight that put the Engineers ahead, and this time it was from a more familiar source. Paul Kerins took an opportunistic shot that Mello tried to grab with his glove, but the puck bounced off it and into the net, putting RPI up 2-1 in a similar fashion to the goal Kerins scored against Michigan in the GLI.

From there, it was basically academic. Allen York stopped all 10 shots he faced in the third period, giving him 27 saves on 28 shots for the game, and giving RPI two more league points despite a lackluster effort at home against a pretty weak team. Last year, this game probably would have been a loss - but the team bounced back well and two points are two points, no matter how they come.




The only change from the Dartmouth game in the Harvard lineup was Jordan Watts taking a seat in favor of Garett Vassel. This is a game the Engineers probably wish they'd had earlier in the season, as Harvard has come alive in the month of January, and on Saturday night they were fresh off handing Union their first ECAC loss of the season.

Jerry D'Amigo got the party started midway through the first period with one of those difficult angle shots he is becoming known for. Shooting from a spot that was practically on the goal line, D'Amigo managed to bank the puck in off Harvard goaltender Ryan Carroll to put RPI up 1-0. The period had a decent amount of flow to it, with each team drawing only a single penalty, and the Engineers had their most lopsided shot advantage in recent memory, 9-4.

The ice tilted back the other way in the 2nd, though, as the Crimson took an 8-4 shot advantage in the middle frame, indicative not only of a better effort by Harvard but also a weaker showing by RPI. However, it was yet another feeling of deja vu in the last 10 seconds of the period that would the the biggest event. After killing back to back penalties midway through the period, it appeared the Engineers were going to be fortunate to get to the 2nd intermission clinging to their one goal lead. Then Paul Kerins took an opportunistic shot, Carroll tried to glove it down, and it glanced off the glove and into the back of the net. At some point, you start to wonder how Kerins is enticing goaltenders to miss with their gloves, but it was good for his 8th of the season, and it put RPI up 2-0 despite the weak period.

Observers could be forgiven for thinking that the Kerins goal was an absolute dagger - coming right at the end of a period in which Harvard had pulled themselves back into the game. Much like Kerins' goal against Michigan, the opposing coach responded by coming out with a new goaltender for the third period, the much maligned Kyle Richter (who was at one point thrown out of Harvard for academic dishonesty). That's pretty much when all hell broke loose, changing the face of the entire game.

Just 20 seconds after the opening faceoff, Harvard's Alex Killorn scored to cut the RPI lead in half, immediately dashing any hopes of Kerins' goal having any lasting effects into the 3rd. But less than a minute later, Marty O'Grady took yet another of his high percentage shots off a pass from Brandon Pirri, and just like that, the 2-goal lead was back as the Engineers led 3-1. The feeling of calm returned.

Almost as quickly, it was gone again. Just over a minute after O'Grady's goal, the Crimson got yet another goal, scoring their second of the game in the span of 2:10, cutting the lead back to one and setting the tone for a potentially dismal third period. The Crimson fought throughout the third to get the tying goal, but York, for the most part, was very crisp, keeping Harvard out of the net as RPI clung to the one-goal lead for much of the period.

A potential turning point came with about four minutes left in the period as D'Amigo was absolutely blasted from behind into the boards by Harvard's Danny Biega, one of the three very talented and highly touted Biega brothers. D'Amigo was slow to get up, and observers report that the hit was very much in line with the NCAA's crackdown on hitting from behind and, by precedent, probably deserved a 5-minute major and a game misconduct, which would have put Harvard down a man for the remainder of regulation. The referees decided on only a minor for Biega, and the Engineers were unable to convert on the power play, giving Harvard another chance.

They capitalized on that chance, pulling Richter in the last minute of the game for an extra attacker. With just 3 ticks left on the clock, the Crimson got a flurry in front of the net, and Montreal Canadiens 1st round draft pick Louis Leblanc was waiting on the doorstep to put home a loose puck after York made an initial save. Appert was critical of sophomore Mike Bergin on the play, telling the media afterwards that Bergin should have "been a man and put Leblanc on his rear end" rather than hovering over York trying to be a second goaltender. RPI was literally 3 seconds away from completing the weekend sweep, but instead, overtime was in the cards.

During the overtime, D'Amigo was once again blasted from behind by one of the Biega brothers, this time garnering no call whatsoever. However, the Engineers were the beneficiary of a makeup call a minute later which gave them a power play opportunity for the remainder of the overtime - and they weren't able to convert on that one either. Suddenly, the power play is becoming a concern. The Engineers are 0-for-12 in their last three games.

It ended up being one of those ties that feels a little bit like a loss - in those 3 seconds, the Engineers could have moved into a tie for fifth in the ECAC, but it's water under the bridge now. Every point is crucial, so perhaps we should be thankful we got 3 of them this weekend despite uninspired play.

There are four games left that the Engineers really must win in order to have a shot at the bye - must-wins simply because the season as borne out that RPI is clearly the better team in the matchup. The first of these four games comes this Friday at Brown, with the others being special home games against Clarkson and Princeton (the 1985 celebration and Freakout! respectively) and a road game at Dartmouth. These are the bottom four teams in the ECAC, and they're 8 points that RPI absolutely must take if they are going to put themselves in contention for the top four.

Assuming they can meet that burden, home games against St. Lawrence and Quinnipiac and games at Colgate and Harvard are also crucial for points - points that may not be automatic. These games will likely be where the season swings from here on out.

Then the last two games are pretty much bonus points for RPI if they can get anything out of them, both on the road - this Saturday at Yale and on the last day of the regular season at Cornell. These are good teams that we can't count on too much out of, but fortunately it's only two games out of 10.

This team is close. The Record's Ed Weaver notes that this team is two extra-attacker goals given up at home (Union and Harvard) from being in first place, goals that led to an overall loss of three league points. It's a game of inches, and once this team matures a bit more, those inches will belong to RPI.

Other junk - No votes for the Engineers for the second week in a row. Ranked ECAC teams are #6 Yale (no change after splitting with Clarkson and SLU), #8 Cornell (up one after splitting with North Dakota), and #18 Union (down five after being swept at home by Harvard and Dartmouth, their first ECAC losses of the year). St. Lawrence, after their impressive sweep of Brown and Yale, garnered 47 votes, just missing a #20 ranking. Quinnipiac has almost lost all of their votes after at one point being ranked 4th in the nation, down to only 6 after another embarrassing weekend, losing to and tying Niagara. The Bobcats are now 1-9-2 since starting the season 12-1-0. It's night and day.

Ranked non-conference opponents of the Engineers are #12 Michigan State (down 2), #13 New Hampshire (up 3), #15 UMass (no change), and #20 Michigan (re-entering the poll). Alaska clocked in with 10 votes.

Go, right now, and vote for Chase Polacek for Hobey Baker: http://www.hobeybaker.com/voting/. It's the honorable thing to do. He's ahead in the ECAC scoring race by three points over Union's Mario Valery-Trabucco and remains among the top scorers in the nation.

Brandon Pirri is way ahead in the national freshman scoring race. He's not getting as many goals since the word's out on his scoring ability (which has substantially freed up Marty O'Grady and now Paul Kerins), but he's got 22 assists, 5 more than any other freshman in the nation. With 29 total points, he's two ahead of Michigan State's Derek Grant, and has the second most points per game among rookies with 1.12, trailing only Merrimack's Stephane Da Costa (who has 7 fewer games played). His 13 assists in ECAC play is tops in the entire league, trailed by some guy named Polacek (12). There's no question that he's been a major part of RPI's resurgence this season.

Oh, and one more thing - the fact that Pirri and Polacek don't play on the same line ought to be troubling for opponents.

RPI has 13 points in ECAC play after 12 games - the same total they had after 22 games last season.

ECAC Standings
1. Union - 17 pts
2. Cornell - 16 pts (11 games)
3. St. Lawrence - 16 pts (12 games, 7 wins, +10 goals)
4. Yale - 16 pts (12 games, 7 wins, +9 goals)
5. Quinnipiac - 14 pts
6. Colgate - 13 pts (11 games)
7. RPI - 13 pts (12 games)
8. Harvard - 13 pts (13 games)
9. Brown - 9 pts
10. Princeton - 7 pts
11. Dartmouth - 6 pts
12. Clarkson - 4 pts

By Winning Pct. (points/possible)
1. Cornell .727 (16/22)
2. Union .708 (17/24)
T-3. St. Lawrence/Yale .667 (16/24)
5. Colgate .591 (13/22)
6. RPI .542 (13/24)
7. Quinnipiac .538 (14/26)
8. Harvard .500 (13/26)
9. Brown .375 (9/24)
10. Princeton .292 (7/24)
11. Dartmouth .250 (6/24)
12. Clarkson .167 (4/24)

Dartmouth at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
1/22/10 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: RPI 2, Dartmouth 1

RECORD: 13-11-1 (6-5-0 ECAC, 12 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Paul Kerins, GWG, 3 shots
2. D John Kennedy, +1
3. F Tyler Helfrich, 1 G

Harvard at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
1/23/10 - 4:00 pm
RESULT: RPI 3, Harvard 3


RECORD: 13-11-2 (6-5-1 ECAC, 13 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Paul Kerins, 1 G, 1 A
2. F Marty O'Grady, 1 G, 1 A
3. F Brandon Pirri, 2 A

Upcoming Games
29 Jan - at Brown
30 Jan - at #6 Yale
05 Feb - St. Lawrence
06 Feb - Clarkson
12 Feb - at Harvard


Rensselaer went 1-0-1 last week, topping Dartmouth (2-1) on Friday, before tying Harvard (3-3) on Saturday. Senior Paul Kerins (Weston, ON) scored a goal in each game, including the game-winner against the Big Green. RPI (13-11-2; 6-5-1 ECAC Hockey) is back on the ice this weekend, when it visits Brown and sixth-ranked Yale on Friday (7pm) and Saturday (7pm), respectively.

Live stats for Friday’s game will be available at http://livestats.prestosports.com/brown/ and can be seen live on a pay-per-view basis via the B2 Networks at http://www.b2tv.com/partner_members.asp?id=1&s=658&stype=Sports%20Hockey%20Men%27s. Saturday’s game will also have live stats, available at http://livestats.prestosports.com/yale/ and live video at http://www.stretchinternet.com/yalevideo.html. As is the case will all RPI men’s hockey games, both contests will be broadcast 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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