Monday, February 1, 2010

Men's Hockey - at Brown and Yale (29/30 Jan)

It's a never-ending source of frustration for Engineers fans. Sometimes, they'll go out there and be giant killers and it seems like the ECAC is theirs for the taking. Other times, they go out and lay an egg against teams they should probably have beaten. We got both this weekend, as RPI dropped a frustrating 4-3 decision in overtime at Brown before rebounding the next night with a second complete effort against one of the most talented teams in the league, shutting out Yale 4-0 to complete a season sweep of the Bulldogs.

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

Kennedy/Merth
Bergin/Foss
Jensen/Burgdoerfer

York

As mentioned last week, this game was one of the ones the Engineers really needed to get 2 points in to stay in the hunt for the bye, given the number of other teams that have been taking points from Brown this year.

The first period was dominated by the Engineers despite having to kill a pair of penalties during the first 20 minutes. Most observers believed that flow was controlled by RPI throughout the first, and they did have a number of opportunities to score the game's first goal that were squandered despite the high intensity.

RPI had an early power play opportunity in the second period after Brown's Harry Zolnierczyk took his second boarding penalty of the night, but they were unable to convert. Shortly after the power play expired, the Bears turned on the offense, scoring about 4 minutes into the period to go up 1-0, and then again exactly three minutes later to take a 2-0 lead on an RPI team that came out absolutely sluggish for the second period as compared to their first period effort.

Zolnierczyk would take a third penalty, this time for kneeing, about two minutes later and the RPI power play went back to work. This time, with a goal being crucial for staying in the game, senior Paul Kerins responded, connecting from Brandon Pirri and Chase Polacek to cut the Brown lead in half.

After successfully killing a penalty to C.J. Lee, the Engineers got another opportunity on the power play late in the 2nd, and it appeared that they would have a good chance to get things square again before the 2nd intermission. But with an aggressive penalty kill reminiscent of the way RPI has been doing things lately, the Bears broke out and put the Engineers back in a hole with a shorthanded goal, making the score 3-1 with about 5 minutes left in the 2nd period, putting the exclamation point on a very, very weak period from RPI.

A Brown penalty early in the 3rd period opened the door again, and it was Chase Polacek who walked through, scoring on the power play from Pirri and Jerry D'Amigo to cut the Brown lead back to one. Momentum seemed to be going back in RPI's favor as another Brown penalty about three minutes later put the Engineers on the power play again, but then it came crashing down in a hurry on an unforced error. Brandon Pirri was called for head-butting, a five minute major that negated the power play and later created a long penalty kill for the Engineers, in addition to the important loss of Pirri's services for the remainder of the night.

The penalty kill blunted the Engineer attack, but only until it was over, and then, the momentum swung back toward RPI again. Two minutes after Garett Vassel exited the box after serving Pirri's penalty, Paul Kerins netted his second goal of the game as his hot scoring streak continued, with assists coming from Alex Angers-Goulet and Mike Bergin, tying the score at 3-3 with about four-and-a-half minutes left in regulation.

The momentum continued after the goal, and RPI was a couple of near misses away from taking their first lead of the night. The period began to near the end, but things were looking very good for the Engineers, even as overtime approached.

Then everything unraveled completely. With nine seconds remaining in regulation and the score tied, Joel Malchuk was called for slashing after a retaliatory move ended with Zolnierczyk's stick flying into the air - something which seemed to be a common occurrence with Zolnierczyk during the first game in Troy, putting RPI on the penalty kill for the dying seconds of regulation and then, potentially, into the overtime period. That was bad enough. The expectation was that they'd have to kill the penalty and then work to get back the momentum they needed for the game winner.

The faceoff in the RPI zone was immediately whistled, however. Three seconds after Malchuk hit the box, Peter Merth was following him in for interference on the faceoff. With 6 seconds left in regulation and the score tied, the Engineers had 1:57 of a five-on-three to kill as overtime loomed.

If you've followed along this season, you know that anything over a minute of being down two men has been pretty much automatic for the Engineers giving up a goal. Ultimately, including the last part of regulation, RPI lasted 53 seconds before Aaron Volpatti scored the overtime game winner on the two-man advantage. The Engineers had battled back from two different 2-goal deficits, and still were forced to walk away with nothing.

Yale
Kerins/Pirri/O'Grady
D'Amigo/Polacek/Halpern
Lee/Angers-Goulet/Brutlag
Vassel/Malchuk/Watts

Jensen/Burgdoerfer
Kennedy/Merth
Bergin/Foss

York

The shakeup was immediate. Junior Tyler Helfrich and sophomore Patrick Cullen were both healthy scratches, with Appert later remarking that Helfrich had played poorly in the defensive zone against Brown and that Cullen's offensive involvement had again been minimal lately. Jordan Watts and Scott Halpern got the call in their stead. Appert said that he "played the players who give us the best chance to win the hockey game."

Just like on Black Friday, Yale came into this one as the #6 ranked team in the nation, and expectations, at least to me, were pretty low once again, although the loss to Brown made the game much more important to take points in.

From the opening faceoff, the Engineers displayed jump and poise, clearly eager to erase the ills of the previous night. It wasn't long, though - less than two minutes into the game - that the jump was quieted as Jerry D'Amigo was hurt on a hit behind the RPI net. He would be helped off the ice in a fashion that made it appear that he would not return. But that wouldn't be Jerry D'Amigo's style, not a bit. He was back out on the ice later in the period.

RPI killed an early penalty to C.J. Lee, and then started to maintain some fairly consistent pressure in the Yale zone. Eventually, that pressure paid off with the first goal of the game as Bryan Brutlag scored his fifth goal of the season, from Pirri and Kerins, about 8 minutes into the game to put the Engineers up 1-0.

The second half of the period consisted of continued pressure from RPI, aided by three power plays coming almost back-to-back-to-back, but Yale's defense held up. RPI's speed and physical play helped them to a solid 11-4 shot lead after the first period.

Early in the second period, it looked like momentum might have been starting to move in Yale's direction, but Allen York and the Engineer defense didn't blink. The Bulldogs had a few decent opportunities in the 2nd, including a shot that York just managed to blindly get a leg on, and one shot which rang off the crossbar.

At exactly the midway point of the 2nd period, the Engineers got an opportunity for a 35-second five-on-three advantage, and Seth Appert called timeout to set things up, but the Yale penalty kill held up. Technically, the Engineers started out the night 0-for-6 on the power play, but their sixth power play led to their second goal of the game as Chase Polacek netted his second goal of the weekend, from D'Amigo and Christian Jensen, just 3 seconds after the Yale penalty expired late in the 2nd period, putting RPI up 2-0 heading into the second intermission.

A late penalty to Peter Merth carried over into the 3rd period and the Engineers killed the penalty, but just a minute into the 3rd - seconds after Merth's penalty expired - John Kennedy put the only blemish on a great night of defense with a hooking call that put the Engineers right back on the power play. Nursing a two-goal lead, the extended opportunity for the Bulldogs could have gotten them right back into the game, but just like the previous night, an aggressive penalty kill led to paydirt, this time in RPI's favor. After clearing the puck, Polacek and D'Amigo took off on a 2-on-1. Polacek dished at just the right time, and D'Amigo's one-timer into the back of the net gave RPI a 3-0 lead on a shorthanded goal.

15 seconds after Kennedy came out of the box, Yale took a penalty of their own, and this time the Engineers capitalized. Brandon Pirri broke his long goal scoring drought, finally getting his 8th of the season with assists from D'Amigo and Polacek as RPI took a commanding 4-0 lead.

Shortly thereafter, Yale would get another chance on the power play after Allen York took a roughing penalty, but the penalty kill held up again, going a perfect 7-for-7 on the night. Yale took a series of penalties late to kill any chance they had of getting on the scoreboard, and York would finish with 22 saves to preserve his second career shutout - RPI's first of the season - the Engineers completed the season sweep on a very talented Yale team.

Several fans in attendance remarked that it may have been the most complete game RPI has put together in a decade, with tenacious defense and a voracious offense combining for a dominating performance against a difficult opponent in their barn. The "sixth period" malaise never appeared, as the Engineers took control in the third period and never gave Yale an opportunity to get back into the game - even despite a rough turn of events that saw the team down one of their key forwards in the third period as Paul Kerins was back in warmups and in the stands during the third period, owing to a knee injury. He was on crutches after the game and is questionable for next weekend.

The loss helped ease the pain somewhat from Friday night - two points on the weekend were what we expected, but that they came against Yale also makes Friday's loss even more maddening. In hindsight, the four point weekend would have put RPI in fifth place, alone, just one point out from second place. As it is, they sit tied with Colgate (who has a game in hand) for fifth, and are three points out from second place (where there's a three-way tie between Yale, Union, and St. Lawrence).

Next up is St. Lawrence and Clarkson, and RPI could really use a sweep at home this weekend. St. Lawrence is one of the games the Engineers need to be competitive in if they're going to have a chance at finishing in the top four, while the Clarkson game is much like the Brown game was last week - a game against a weak team (the Knights are in last place, which means the "Clarkson sucks" cheer may never be more apt than it is this season) that everyone and their mother is taking points from. A best case scenario this weekend puts the Engineers alone in 3rd place, just a point out from the peak, given a sweep and favorable outcomes elsewhere. The bye isn't out of the question yet, not by a longshot.

Fortunately, this upcoming weekend differs from the past weekend in that the tougher game of the weekend is on Friday, meaning the team can't look past the easier opponent first as it appeared they did against Brown. Additionally, this weekend celebrates the 25th anniversary of the 1985 national championship team, and with the '85 alums back in town, it should be a boost to the spirits of today's guys, many of whom have made no bones about their own high national aspirations.

Other junk - No votes for the Engineers for the third week in a row. Ranked ECAC teams are #5 Cornell (up three after sweeping SLU and Clarkson at home), #8 Yale (down two after beating Union and losing to RPI), and #20 Union (down two after losing to Yale and tying Brown). Again, St. Lawrence (lost to Cornell, beat Colgate) is just outside the Top 20, earning the most votes of those unranked with 46 votes. They were the only other ECAC team to take votes this week; Quinnipiac has stopped receiving votes after another head-shaking loss, this time to Dartmouth. It's a long way to fall from #4 in the nation and 7 1st-place votes to, after only one win in two months, no votes at all.

Ranked non-conference opponents of the Engineers are #12 Michigan State (no change), #13 New Hampshire (no change), #15 UMass (no change), and #19 Michigan (up one). Sacred Heart earned 6 votes (they're unbeaten in 12 straight games, longest in the country), Alaska is down to 1 vote.

Chase Polacek and Brandon Pirri were honored by the ECAC in their weekly awards handout - Polacek earned Player of the Week honors for his five point weekend, Pirri earned Rookie of the Week plaudits for his four points.

Go, right now, and vote for Chase Polacek for Hobey Baker: http://www.hobeybaker.com/voting/. He's becoming more and more of an obvious choice for a Top 10 Hobey Finalist - after a big weekend of scoring, he's now tied for the national lead in scoring with 40 points. As mentioned, that makes him the 1st Engineer with 40 points since 2001-02. He also sits at 100 points for his career, making him the 60th Engineer to accomplish that feat. His ECAC total is 25, which is 5 points clear of Cornell senior Blake Gallagher and 6 points ahead of third place, RPI's Brandon Pirri. Oh, and Polacek's also got 5 shorthanded points in ECAC play as well.

Speaking of Pirri, he's still leading the ECAC in assists with 16, one ahead of Polacek, who himself is three ahead of everyone else. The duo are tied in league power play points with 12, also three ahead of everyone else, while Pirri still leads the nation in scoring by a freshman with 33 points.

With a bare minimum of 10 games remaining on the schedule, Polacek and Pirri are already the first Engineer duo with 30 points each since Kevin Croxton and Oren Eizenman in 2005-06. If Paul Kerins and/or Jerry D'Amigo reach 30 points, it'll make for the first trio since Croxton, Kirk MacDonald, and Nick Economakos in 2003-04. If all four of them can make it, the last 30 point quartet was Brad Tapper, Matt Murley, Brian Pothier, and Marc Cavosie in 1999-2000.

Polacek's 18 goals are the most by an Engineer in a single season since Croxton's 18 in 03-04. The 20-goal plateau hasn't been reached since Murley and Cavosie in 01-02.

This weekend's festivities include an event at the Field House on Friday at 4pm called "Legends of '85" with Mike Sadeghpour, Mike Dark, Ken Hammond, and George Servinis sharing stories from the national championship run. RPI TV will air the event live, streaming on the internet at http://www.rpitv.org. At 11am on Saturday, the annual alumni game takes place. During the 1st intermission of the Clarkson game, the '85 team will be reintroduced, including head coach Mike Addesa, who will be making his first official return to RPI since he left the program. '85 superstar Adam Oates will not be in attendance - he's an assistant coach with the Tampa Bay Lightning, so he's busy - but alums like Mark Jooris and Daren Puppa are expected to be in the house. Similar to Black Friday, there'll also be a raffle of 1985 replica jerseys. After the game, there'll be a meet and greet with the '85 alums. If you're in the Troy area this weekend, it promises to be an exciting couple of nights even before you get to the two big games the Engineers are playing this weekend. You won't want to miss it.

ECAC Standings
1. Cornell - 20 pts
2. St. Lawrence - 18 pts (14 games, 8 wins, +10 goals)
3. Yale - 18 pts (14 games, 8 wins, +6 goals)
4. Union - 18 pts (14 games, 7 wins)
5. Colgate - 15 pts (13 games)
6. RPI - 15 pts (14 games)
7. Quinnipiac - 14 pts
8. Harvard - 13 pts
9. Brown - 12 pts
10. Princeton - 11 pts
11. Dartmouth - 8 pts
12. Clarkson - 4 pts

By Winning Pct. (points/possible)
1. Cornell .769 (20/26)
T-2. St. Lawrence/Union/Yale .643 (18/28)
5. Colgate .577 (15/26)
6. RPI .536 (15/28)
7. Quinnipiac .500 (14/28)
8. Harvard .464 (13/28)
9. Brown .429 (12/28)
10. Princeton .393 (11/28)
11. Dartmouth .286 (8/28)
12. Clarkson .143 (4/28)

RPI at Brown
ECAC Game - Meehan Auditorium (Providence, RI)
1/29/10 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: Brown 4, RPI 3 (OT)

BOX SCORES
RECAPS
RECORD: 13-12-2 (6-6-1 ECAC, 13 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Paul Kerins, 2 G
2. F Brandon Pirri, 2 A
3. F Chase Polacek, 1 G, 1 A

RPI at #6 Yale
ECAC Game - Ingalls Rink (New Haven, CT)
1/30/10 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: RPI 4, Yale 0

BOX SCORES
RECAPS
RECORD: 14-12-2 (7-6-1 ECAC, 15 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Chase Polacek, 1 G, 2 A
2. F Jerry D'Amigo, 1 G, 2 A
3. G Allen York, 22 saves, SO

Upcoming Games
05 Feb - St. Lawrence
06 Feb - Clarkson
12 Feb - at Harvard
13 Feb - at Dartmouth
19 Feb - Quinnipiac

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MEN’S HOCKEY

Rensselaer went 1-1-0 last week, falling to Brown in overtime (4-3) on Friday, before blanking sixth-ranked Yale (4-0), on Saturday. Junior Chase Polacek (Edina, MN) recorded a five-point weekend, including having a hand in three of the Engineers’ four goals (1 goal, 2 assists) against the Bulldogs. RPI (14-12-2; 7-6-1 ECAC Hockey) returns to the Houston Field House this weekend, when it hosts North Country-rivals St. Lawrence and Clarkson on Friday (7pm) and Saturday (7pm), respectively.

A Celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the 1985 National Championship Team will take place on Saturday night. Live stats for both games will be available at http://www.sidearmstats.com/rpi/mhockey/index.htm and can be seen live on a pay-per-view basis via the B2 Networks at http://www.b2livetv.com/partner_members.asp?id=27. 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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