Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Men's Hockey - Union (16 Jan)

There was only one game for the Engineers last week, and it was a big one: round four with the Union Dutchmen in Schenectady. It didn't quite live up to the nail-biting, did-that-just-happen nature of the first three games between these teams this season, but it was absolutely a hard fought, back and forth, in your face battle. Unfortunately, the Engineers did not come out on top in this one, dropping a 3-1 decision, but if anything, the game reinforced the growing realization that college hockey in the Capital District is becoming a pretty even affair all around.

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

Bergin/Merth
Kennedy/Foss
Jensen/Burgdoerfer

York

The Engineers skated out with exactly the same lineup as was used in the Princeton game with one major exception - junior Tyler Helfrich, one of the usual scoring threats for the Engineers, was kept out as a "healthy scratch" according to Seth Appert. The exact reason for the scratch hasn't been hammered down, but the rumors are flying. Some say he isn't back to 100% from his ankle injury earlier in the season. Some say it was a benching similar to Cullen and Angers-Goulet in the Niagara game due to lack of effort. Others suspect Appert wanted more size against a physical Union team and went with Josh Rabbani instead. It could also have been a disciplinary issue. We don't know, we probably won't find out.

The first 10 minutes was pretty typical of the entire game with the exception of a general lack of whistles, even for simple infractions. It was a back-and-forth physical affair in which both teams had some chances to score, but Allen York and Keith Kincaid kept the pucks out of the net early on.

Things started to pick up with about six and a half minutes left in the first period as Joel Malchuk was sent off for boarding, followed 1:25 later by a foolish interference penalty near the Union bench by Erik Burgdoerfer, giving the Dutchmen a 35 second five-on-three. That's about the time you get that sinking feeling in your stomach, as the Engineer penalty kill has been almost a total failure when down two men this season. This time, however, they were able to get through the 35 seconds unscathed, and once Malchuk was out of the box, the Engineers even got a chance to put their aggressive penalty kill on display.

After Peter Merth chipped the puck out of the zone, Jerry D'Amigo found Chase Polacek with a nice pass, and Polacek drove past his man and zipped one into the upper right hand corner over Kinkaid for a shorthanded goal and a 1-0 Engineer lead. It was the first RPI shorthanded goal in Schenectady since some guy named Ben Barr did it twice in one penalty kill. That was a cool game.

The lead carried over into the second period. Jeff Foss was hit with a holding penalty five minutes in, and the aggressive penalty kill nearly resulted in a 2-0 RPI lead, with Polacek again leading the charge, but this time Kincaid was up to the task, keeping Polacek from a slight repeat of Barr's feat. It would prove to be the save of the game in due course.

The Dutchmen would tie the score past the midway point of the second period with a set play off the faceoff. They'd been doing it all night with faceoffs in the Engineer zone, and it finally paid off as Union won the faceoff and Adam Presizniuk (it's pretty bad that I can spell that without looking now) snapped a quick shot that York couldn't catch up with, making it a 1-1 game.

From there, RPI finally got its first two power play opportunities of the night before the end of the 2nd, but the man advantage didn't look as sharp as it had in Princeton the previous weekend. Puck possession was still in vogue, but Union's penalty kill deserves an awful lot of credit for limiting good chances.

Merth would take an early penalty in the third period, and the Dutchmen would capitalize - but it was more due to the ensuing attacking zone faceoff than anything else. Just like with their first goal, the Dutchmen snapped a quick shot off the faceoff that beat York - freshman Wayne Simpson with the goal this time. Union had a gameplan coming in and they stuck with it. Obviously, they found something about York's setup on draws in the RPI zone that they thought they could exploit and they buried their chances - important for them, because they weren't getting anything past him otherwise. That's not just the sign of a good hockey team, that's the sign of a good coaching staff.

From there, the classic Union trap was played to full effect - not uncommon once they grab the lead - and from most accounts the Engineers didn't answer the bell. A brief power play opportunity about eight minutes after the Union goal was quickly negated when Brandon Pirri took a penalty of his own, and turned into a second long 5-on-3 for Union a minute later when Merth took his second penalty of the period on a bad slash. A minor ray of sunshine comes out of the fact that RPI was able to successfully kill not only the full minute long 5-on-3, they also killed the entire Merth penalty too, keeping them in the game, but it was not to be. Luke Cain added an empty netter to seal the game with about a minute left.

A disappointing loss for the Engineers, to be sure, but hope springs eternal. With 12 games left in the regular season, RPI faces a whole slew of teams in the bottom half of the league table, with only games at Yale (two weekends hence) and at Cornell (on the last day of the regular season) figuring as being games that the Engineers probably won't be the favorites in. They didn't put their best foot forward in the third period in Schenectady, but if they play hard from here on out, there could be points galore for the taking.

As for Union, they take all four points from RPI this season in ECAC play and finish 3-1 against the Engineers, but only the casual observer, looking strictly at the line scores, would suggest that Union has some kind of upper hand in what truly is growing into an actual rivalry. Any of these games, from RPI's opening round win to Union's two shockers in Troy to this game here, could have gone either way. If Polacek scores a second shorty in the second period, that's a dagger. It's a game of bounces, and this year it was a series of bounces. If these teams meet again, it'll more than likely be in Albany.

Next up is Dartmouth and Harvard. The Big Green have struggled all year, and while RPI probably faced Quinnipiac at the right time the previous weekend, they probably wish they had landed Harvard earlier in the season, as the Crimson have shown signs of turning around what had been up until now a brutal season. They're now the second team to have beaten Yale in ECAC play (after RPI) and pretty easily dispatched Dartmouth this week. Still, with RPI coming back to Houston Field House for the first time since early December, you have to think they're favorites to take both of these games, and they really need to in order to show that they've got the chops to square off with St. Lawrence, Colgate, and Quinnipiac for that last first-round bye.

Other junk - Naturally, the loss made RPI's 1 vote in the USCHO.com poll disappear. #6 Yale (down one after losing to Harvard and beating Brown), #9 Cornell (no change after beating Clarkson and tying SLU), and #13 Union (no change after beating RPI). Quinnipiac, formerly #17, dropped out after being swept at home by St. Cloud State but received 47 votes. St. Lawrence received 2 votes after taking 3 points from Colgate and Cornell. #10 Michigan State (down 3), #15 UMass (up 4), and #16 New Hampshire (up 4) are the other RPI opponents on the poll, Michigan (52 votes) and Alaska (20 votes) were also mentioned.

With 34 points, Chase Polacek sits tied for fourth nationally in scoring. He's first among ECAC players by a whopping 7 points over Union's Mario Valery-Trabucco and Colgate's Austin Smith. Within league play, he leads Valery-Trabucco by 2, and his 4 short-handed points in ECAC play is twice what anyone else in the league has. At this point, Polacek is a very solid contender to be named a Hobey Baker finalist. His 34 points, with a month and a half still to go in the regular season, is the most of any Engineer in a single season since Kevin Croxton had 39 and Oren Eizenman had 38 in 2005-06. As we've mentioned before, he's well on his way to becoming the first Engineer with 40 points in a season since the 2001-02 season when Matt Murley and Marc Cavosie both accomplished the feat.

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

By Winning Pct. (points/possible)
1. Union .850 (17/20)
2. Cornell .727 (16/22)
3. Yale .700 (14/20)
4. St. Lawrence .600 (12/20)
5. Colgate .591 (11/18)
6. Quinnipiac .538 (14/26)
7. RPI .500 (10/20)
8. Harvard .455 (10/20)
9. Brown .350 (7/20)
10. Princeton .292 (7/24)
T-11. Clarkson and Dartmouth .200 (4/20)

RPI at #13 Union
ECAC Game - Achilles Center (Schenectady, NY)
1/16/10 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: Union 3, RPI 1

BOX SCORES
RECAPS

RECORD: 12-11-1 (5-5-0 ECAC, 10 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Chase Polacek, SHG
2. F Jerry D'Amigo, 1 A, 3 shots
3. D Peter Merth, 1 A, +1

Upcoming Games
22 Jan - Dartmouth
23 Jan - Harvard
29 Jan - at Brown
30 Jan - at #6 Yale
05 Feb - St. Lawrence

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MEN’S HOCKEY

Rensselaer went 0-1-0 last week, dropping its only contest to 13th-ranked Union (3-1) on Saturday. Junior Chase Polacek (Edina, MN) notched the lone goal for the Engineers, which came shorthanded. RPI (12-11-1; 5-5-0 ECAC Hockey) returns home for the first time since December 9, when it hosts Dartmouth and Harvard on Friday (7pm) and Saturday (4pm), respectively.

Live stats will be available http://www.sidearmstats.com/rpi/mhockey/index.htm. The contest 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. A live video feed will also be available through the B2 Networks at https://www.b2livetv.com/login.asp.

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