Monday, January 4, 2010

Men's Hockey - Great Lakes Invitational (29 and 30 Dec)

Holiday tournaments are sometimes difficult to gauge ahead of time due to different teams treating them differently, not to mention that for practically every team it means a return from a long layoff. RPI and the GLI were no exceptions. Overall, the hope was that the layoff allowed broken bodies to get good and rested. That did happen for the Engineers.

Despite playing a couple of clunker games, RPI still managed to take second place overall in the Great Lakes Invitational, shocking a partisan Michigan crowd on Tuesday to beat the Wolverines 4-3 before falling to a Michigan State team that was hitting on all cylinders, 6-1.




The big news before puck drop was quite simple - every single Engineer who was rumored or confirmed to have injury problems earlier in December (Mike Bergin, C.J. Lee, Allen York, and Jordan Watts) was in the lineup, the big news being the long-awaited returns of Bergin and Lee, who looked to be back to 100% given what they displayed on the ice.

The GLI is like the western version of the Beanpot, except that there's one team that's always different. For Michigan Tech, and especially for Michigan and Michigan State, this is the most important in-season tournament of the year, and regardless of the Wolverines' struggles, Detroit was still their home turf and it was still GLI - they were heavy favorites.

The first period displayed exactly why Michigan were favored - they outshot the Engineers 14-3 in a display that would continue throughout the game. But RPI, despite being completely outplayed, took the challenge head on and smacked the Wolverines directly in the snout. An early penalty to David Wohlberg (one of two Michigan players cut from Team USA, making this the first time in 12 years that the US WJC team had no Michigan players) put RPI on the power play, and with the very first shot of the period, Chase Polacek beat Michigan goalie Bryan Hogan to give the Engineers an early 1-0 lead just 2 minutes into the game.

From there the game got dicey for RPI as the Michigan barrage went into full force, but Allen York was repeatedly there to make the stop. In the final minute of the period, the Engineers got their third man advantage, and once again it was Chase Polacek coming up big less than 20 seconds later, scoring with 6 seconds left in the 1st to put RPI up 2-0 after one period. Hogan's save percentage for the first 20 minutes was 33% - 1 for 3.

The second period was more of the same - the RPI defense was better overall, but the shot margin was still fairly wide, 11-6 in favor of Michigan. The 2-0 lead held up for the first half of the 2nd, but eventually Wohlberg would be the first Wolverine to solve York, scoring to halve the Engineer lead and given the continuing domination from Michigan, it looked like the RPI lead was in danger of disappearing completely.

Then, almost as quickly, the lead was back on what can only be called a fluke goal, but they all count, don't they? About three and a half minutes later, Paul Kerins came into the Michigan zone and took an opportunistic shot from near the boards that Hogan tried to glove down, but instead the puck bounced off Hogan's glove and into the back of the net, putting RPI up 3-1 with about 3 minutes left in the 2nd period. Legendary Michigan coach Red Berenson had seen enough, Hogan did not come out for the 3rd. In his place was Shawn Hunwick, the backup, who plays about as much as Joe Harkenrider (that is to say, he doesn't). Hogan gave up 3 goals on a total of 9 shots.

Early in the 3rd a disastrous pair of penalties were called on RPI simultaneously - a head-scratching kneeing minor (which I didn't think existed) on Kerins and a boarding call on Scott Halpern gave Michigan a 5-on-3, and if there's one constant with the RPI penalty kill this year it's that being down two men is practically always going to result in giving up a goal. The fact that it was for a full two minutes only made it even more inevitable, and 49 seconds later Michigan's Carl Hagelin scored to make it 3-2 RPI.

The Engineers clung to the one-goal lead for much of the period, even killing an additional penalty to bring the penalty kill to an impressive 1-for-6 for the night midway through the period, but eventually the heavy pressure that Michigan exerted all game paid off with the game tying goal with 8 minutes left in regulation. Seth Appert immediately called timeout to calm his charges down, later saying that he'd told them that if before the game they'd been offered the chance to be tied with Michigan with 8 minutes to play they'd have taken it in a heartbeat.

The timeout undoubtedly worked. Just 46 seconds after the Wolverines tied the score, Marty O'Grady scored one of the most unlikely goals of the season, threading the needle to slip the puck somehow between Hunwick and the near post, roofing his shot to flip the water bottle and put RPI back up, 4-3.

From there, it was a matter of hanging in there until the end. Michigan refused to quit, but Allen York was up to the task, stopping 19 shots in the final stanza, far more shots than the Engineers had throughout the entire game. The Wolverines appeared to be enjoying some home-cooked calls as well, as they were the beneficiaries of a pair of late penalties which were questionable at best. Still, the penalty kill held up, finishing the night 7 for 8, with the only damage coming on a 5-on-3. Hunwick was pulled early, giving Michigan a 6-on-4 advantage during the late penalty, but the Engineers withstood the barrage, even surviving one of the worst blueline calls in recent memory in the waning seconds to earn the 4-3 victory, earning a trip to the GLI title game.

At this point, it was obvious the Engineers were playing with house money. They'd just won a game in which they'd been thoroughly outplayed in many facets of the game, partially being bailed out by Michigan's goaltending woes, and they would be facing nationally ranked Michigan State. The Spartans had gone hog wild on GLI hosts Michigan Tech, absolutely punking out the Huskies in the early game, 10-1.

Michigan State




This marked the third consecutive game with AAG/Pirri/O'Grady as a scoring line, which leads me to wonder if we might see them again this upcoming weekend - the only other constant, of course, being that Jerry D'Amigo was also out for the last three games, which leads me to believe that we might see the People's Line reunited. Either way, it's not a bad place to be.

Additionally, the hero of the first round, Allen York, was on the bench. My guess is that the move had three approaches. First, York made 43 saves in the Michigan game and was probably a bit tired after that performance. Second, the Spartans had been able to sit back and watch the RPI/Michigan game and possibly had gotten a bead on York. Third, it was a good spot to get some big game experience for the freshman Merriam.

Whatever the ultimate reasons, the move backfired early. Merriam looked noticeably shaky in the warmups, which doesn't always mean a bad performance ahead, but it may have in this instance. He also displayed a lot of nervous energy immediately before the game started. It didn't take Michigan State long to pick up where they'd left off the previous night.

Early, it looked like a repeat of the Michigan game - lots of possession for the Spartans, not so much for the Engineers. Merriam made a few saves but it didn't seem to do much for his state of mind. Nine minutes into the game, a retaliation trip by Tyler Helfrich was the one caught by the referee, and MSU capitalized, scoring on their very first power play opportunity just one second before Helfrich was due to come out of the box. About three and a half minutes later, a soft shot evaded Merriam and made it 2-0 Spartans, and that was it for Merriam. He'd made seven uncomfortable saves and given up two softies. York came back in and made 3 more stops to keep it at 2-0 during the second intermission.

It didn't let up in the 2nd period, however, as MSU scored again 3 minutes in to make it 3-0 and it looked like the chances of the Engineers being able to hang a red banner in the Joe Louis Arena rafters was pretty much gone. Then, midway through the period after a successful penalty kill, the Engineers roared to life to play probably their best 10 minutes of the tournament. It was kickstarted by Patrick Cullen, who took a great pass from Helfrich in the slot and put it into the net to put RPI on the board. From there, it seemed like the ice was starting to tilt in the Engineers' favor for the first time - opportunities were being created, passes were crisper, and shots were being taken. Minutes later, RPI came oh so close to closing within one as Brandon Pirri beat MSU netminder Drew Palmisano only to ring it off the post.

Then, in the last minute of the 2nd, a bad mistake slammed the door shut again. A bad pass out of the defensive zone by Pirri was intercepted by Corey Tropp, who passed to Jeff Petry on a 2-on-1 opportunity that neither Pirri nor York had any prayer of stopping. The Spartans knew they were going to score as soon as they received the puck. That's the hallmark of a good team. Instead of being down 3-1 with momentum going into the 2nd intermission, they were down 4-1 with a dagger in the heart.

To their credit, the Engineers never gave up, giving the MSU defense all it could muster, but it wasn't more than the Spartans could handle. Michigan State would add a pair of goals in the second half of the 3rd period to take the GLI championship, 6-1, a 5-goal win which mirrored the 8-3 victory the Spartans earned over the Engineers to take the 1986 GLI title.

Chase Polacek was named to the All-Tournament Team for his 2-goal effort in the Michigan game. He was the token Engineer, there was a token Wolverine (they beat MTU for 3rd place), and the rest of the team was all Michigan State. Allen York pretty obviously should have been the goaltender on the All-Tournament Team (he had 43 saves to pretty much singlehandedly lead RPI into the title game, 61 for the whole weekend, and kept RPI in the game long enough to challenge in the 2nd period against Michigan State), but Palmisano was named to the team despite his team scoring 16 goals in two games and barely having more saves in the tournament than York had in the Michigan game. I'm not bitter though, no.

Ed Weaver would describe the loss as "easily the worst of the year" for RPI, but I'd say that's only really true on the scoreboard. They didn't put forward their best effort in either game, but they did enough to earn respect from a nationally ranked team which may just be the best team the Engineers have played all season. They put together a respectable showing at a prominent tournament despite being without one of their premier scoring threats, Jerry D'Amigo. That's something to be proud of. The team may still be at the .500 mark, but there's nothing more going forward than ECAC league games, and this team showed early in the ECAC schedule that when they're healthy (especially on the blueline), they're hard to beat. And they're healthy. And Jerry will be back.

A big weekend looms for RPI. First place Quinnipiac is on the ledger on Friday, but the Bobcats are really in first place on paper only as they have come crashing down from the lofty heights which they were at just a month ago. Since beating UMass on November 28 to go to a jaw-dropping 12-1-0, the Bobcats have limped to a 1-4-1 record, including 4 straight ECAC losses to Yale, Brown, Harvard, and Princeton. The last three in particular are troublesome - those are some weak teams (although Princeton has shown a touch more life lately, beating Cornell and running with Maine, their defense is still atrocious). It looks like the Engineers might be getting Quinnipiac at the right time, and were lucky to avoid them earlier in the season. Still, it's a road game, and the Q can certainly still score. They'll need to be more solid on Friday than they were in Detroit to be able to do what they want.

Then, on Sunday, it's the aforementioned Princeton Tigers in a game that will be shown live on national TV on ESPNU. Princeton has had a rough season so far but the talent is there for a potential turnaround, so they could well be dangerous. The key to beating Princeton will be to exploit their defense, an aspect of their game that was thought to be their biggest strength this season has instead become one of their greatest liabilities. Overall, the key to this weekend will be offense for RPI. In this case, the best defense might be a good offense, and scoring goals early and often will be crucial. There's no reason this team, healthy, can't go into these road games and score themselves four points. If they can do that, it'll be time to fire up the bandwagon again - the season will be back in business.

Other junk - No points for the Engineers again this week despite the big win over Michigan. Then again, the Wolverines are down to only 4 votes - a shocking turn of events given that they hadn't been out of the actual rankings in years before this season. Ranked teams in the ECAC this week are #6 Yale (up 3 after beating #11 Ferris State and tying #7 Wisconsin), #8 Cornell (down four after losing to #3 Colorado College and Princeton before beating UNH), #12 Quinnipiac (down four after losing to Harvard), and #17 Union (up one after losing to #15 UMass and clowning UConn). St. Lawrence, who upset Boston College in the Denver Cup, received 5 votes, the only other ECAC school with votes. RPI non-conference opponents from this year include #9 Michigan State, #16 UMass, and #20 Alaska, with New Hampshire and Michigan also receiving votes.

Chase Polacek's point-scoring streak ended at 14 after registering 2 goals in the game against Michigan but failing to reach the scoring sheet against Michigan State. He remains in 5th place nationally with 28 points (14 goals and 14 assists), behind UMass junior James Marcou who has 32 points. His 14 goals are also 5th nationally, and his 8 power play goals trail only Wisconsin's Blake Geoffrion and UMD's Justin Fontaine, who each have 9.

Meanwhile, Brandon Pirri's 22 points has him tied for first among freshman along with Merrimack's Stephane Da Costa and Alaska's Andy Taranto. He's alone in first among first year players with 15 assists. We learned this week from TSN analyst Bob McKenzie that Pirri was very closely considered for an invitation to Team Canada's World Junior Championship camp. While he would have been a longshot to have made the team this year even if he'd been invited, it bodes well for next year's tournament, where he'll still be eligible. For an NCAA player to be invited to camp for the Canadian WJC is a tremendous honor, and an even bigger honor to actually make the team. That's usually reserved for over-the-top talent, like former UND standout and current Chicago Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews.

Tyler Helfrich was injured in the Michigan game after taking a shot off his ankle, but he came back to play in the Michigan State game. It was a game-time decision; Justin Smith also dressed and skated in the warm-up, but it was decided that Helfrich was good to go. He should be OK going forward.

Two words: Jerry. D'Amigo. He's so awesome, he gets his own update, so standby for that.

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 games)
8. Princeton - 7 pts (10 games)
9. RPI - 6 pts (7 games)
10. Harvard - 6 pts (9 games)
11. Clarkson - 4 pts
12. Dartmouth - 2 pts

By Winning Pct. (points/possible)
1. Union .786 (11/14)
2. Cornell .722 (13/18)
3. Yale .714 (10/14)
4. Quinnipiac .636 (14/22)
5. Colgate .611 (11/18)
6. St. Lawrence .562 (9/16)
7. Brown .438 (7/16)
8. RPI .429 (6/14)
9. Princeton .350 (7/20)
10. Harvard .333 (6/18)
11. Clarkson .250 (4/16)
12. Dartmouth .143 (2/14)

RPI vs. Michigan
Great Lakes Invitational - Joe Louis Arena (Detroit, MI)
12/29/09 - 7:30 pm
RESULT: RPI 4, Michigan 3

RECORD: 10-9-1 (3-4-0 ECAC, 6 pts)

Reale Deals
1. G Allen York, 43 saves
2. F Chase Polacek, 2 G
3. F Marty O'Grady, GWG

RPI vs. #13 Michigan State
Great Lakes Invitational Championship - Joe Louis Arena (Detroit, MI)
12/30/09 - 7:30 pm
RESULT: Michigan State 6, RPI 1

RECORD: 10-10-1 (3-4-0 ECAC, 6 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Patrick Cullen, 1 G, 4 shots
2. D John Kennedy, even
3. F Tyler Helfrich, 1 A, 2 shots, +1

Upcoming Games
08 Jan - at #12 Quinnipiac
10 Jan - at Princeton
16 Jan - at #17 Union
22 Jan - Dartmouth
23 Jan - Harvard


Rensselaer went 1-1-0 last week, finishing second on the 45th-Annual Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit, Mich. The Engineers beat Michigan (4-3), before dropping the championship game to 13th-ranked Michigan State (6-1). Junior Chase Polacek (Edina, MN) recorded a pair of power-play goals in the victory over the Wolverines. RPI (10-10-1; 3-4-0 ECAC Hockey) returns to ECAC Hockey play this weekend, when it visits eighth-ranked Quinnipiac on Friday (7pm) and Princeton on Sunday (3pm).

Live stats and video for Friday’s contest will be available at and Sunday at In addition, Sunday’s game against the Tigers will be televised nationally on ESPNU. Both games will be broadcast courtesy of WRPI radio on 91.5 FM or log on to and click on sports.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.