Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Men's Hockey - at Harvard and Dartmouth (12/13 Feb)

The curious 2009-10 campaign rolls on for the Engineers. They continue to play better against tougher opponents and disappoint against weaker ones, and that rang true this past weekend once again, as the Engineers won a shootout in Boston with Harvard, 5-4, before coughing up a late lead and losing in regulation for the second time this season as Dartmouth shocked RPI, 4-3.

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

Bergin/Foss
Kennedy/Merth
Jensen/Burgdoerfer

York

With exactly the same lineup as was seen in the Clarkson game, the Engineers came in needing a victory to secure the tiebreaker with Harvard and, trailing SLU by a point in the race for the first round bye, to keep pace with the Saints.

The game couldn't have started out much worse for RPI. Just 18 seconds after the opening faceoff, Harvard defenseman Jack Christian scored his first goal of the season on a play that didn't initially appear to be a goal. The light never came on, and after a while of the referee looking for the puck, he blew his whistle and signaled a goal. Then, just a few seconds later, Harvard put the puck in the net again, but this time it was whistled no goal for a high stick. There are some people who swear that the first one shouldn't have been a goal and that there really wasn't much of a high stick, so it might have been a makeup call. Others say that both calls were right on. Whatever the real answer, it looks like Harvard's one goal out of the duo was probably fair.

Then, before the game was even two minutes old, Harvard made it 2-0 on a goal by Michael Biega. The Crimson had certainly come out flying and were putting whatever they could on Allen York. But from there, the Engineer defense started picking back up and the game finally settled down a little bit.

An RPI power play midway through the period was negated when Mike Bergin took a penalty of his own during the second half of the advantage, but only seconds after the puck dropped at 4-on-4, the referee signaled a delayed penalty on Harvard. With York off the ice for the extra skater, Jerry D'Amigo would score his 9th of the year to put RPI on the board and cut the Harvard lead in half.

Since the goal negated the Harvard penalty, the Crimson got a power play once Bergin was left alone in the box, and they capitalized, scoring just about 1:40 after D'Amigo's goal to regain their 2-goal edge. It looked as though the door that Jerry had opened was being closed.

But the Engineers didn't just roll over that that point, and that's something they've displayed all season - resilience. Only about a minute and a half later, Bryan Brutlag netted his 7th of the season to make it a one goal game again, and then just 9 seconds later, it was junior Chase Polacek - who else? - who scored his 19th goal of the season to tie the game at three. It was the last goal in a flurry of four goals in a span of just 3:31 starting with D'Amigo's tally, and it represented a combined 6 goals on a total of 11 shots between the teams in the game's first 15 minutes. Needless to say, defense, at that point, was at a premium. Harvard coach Ted Donato had seen enough, considering that 3 of the 4 goal flurry had been for the Engineers. He pulled goaltender Ryan Carroll - which he did in the first game between these teams as well - in favor of Kyle Richter, the former Dryden Award winner.

The 3-3 score held up into the second period, where Harvard would strike back four minutes in with a delayed penalty/extra attacker goal of their own, retaking the lead 4-3. Once more, RPI would be playing catchup.

As they were able to do with 2 of the 3 previous Harvard goals, the Engineers would land the all important next goal about three minutes later, and it was Polacek tying the game once again to make it 4-4.

As the game reached its midway point, stalwart Harvard defenseman Alex Biega was called for tripping, and RPI wasted no time in going to work on the power play. Harvard pushed the puck forward on the ensuing faceoff, and Bergin picked it up at the blue line. He quickly pushed the puck to Brandon Pirri, who blasted a shot over Richter's shoulder to give the Engineers their first lead of the night just 4 seconds into the Biega penalty.

With 9 goals scored between the teams in the first half of the game, it seemed like it would be a total horse race, but the defense finally showed up. Allen York made 14 saves on 15 shots in the second period, and RPI took their one-goal lead into the final 20 minutes.

Almost like flipping a switch, the third period was all defense. York would earn an additional 10 saves in the third period, keeping the Crimson out of the net despite RPI having to kill a pair of penalties. Mindful of Harvard's late game flurry which tied the game in Troy with just three seconds left, the Engineers kept the puck down in the Harvard end for much of the game's final minute, preferring to kill time rather than try for the open net, and the game ultimately ended 5-4.

The final tale of the game was one of the Engineers' resilience - they started the game very poorly, but never stopped working, and it paid off for them in the end. They also found a way to hang on late with a slim lead, something good teams should be able to do regularly.

It was a bit of a historic win for an unexpected reason - Harvard had been undefeated and untied (19-0-0) at home in the month of February under Ted Donato and unbeaten in 15 consecutive years in the first ECAC game after the Beanpot tournament's conclusion.

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

Kennedy/Merth
Bergin/Foss
Jensen/Burgdoerfer

York

Patrick Cullen found ice time in this one after sitting four consecutive games as a healthy scratch, Josh Rabbani also cracked the lineup again, forcing Garett Vassel and Tyler Helfrich to the stands from the previous night's lineup.

The game started out with a bunch of shots coming from both sides but really no outstanding scoring opportunities. Both teams had a power play opportunity in the first half of the period but nothing came of either chance.

A huge shakeup was in store for the final minute of the period, however. A nice pass by the Big Green left Kyle Reeds open and driving to the net from York's left side. Reeds waited until the netminder committed, then put it in the net past a diving York. Dartmouth had taken a 1-0 lead, but the more immediate concern was that York was not getting up. He was helped back to the locker room with what would turn out to be an ankle injury, and he would not return to the bench. Bryce Merriam came in, seeing his first action since being pulled from the GLI championship game at the end of December.

The second period, simply put, was the Chase Polacek show. While Merriam did a solid job on his end of the ice, stopping all 12 shots he faced in the middle frame, it was Polacek who had one of the most solid periods by an Engineer forward in years. It got started about 4 minutes in, as Polacek jammed in his 3rd goal of the weekend to even the score.

After killing a penalty to Paul Kerins, the Engineers found themselves the beneficiary of a two-man advantage after Dartmouth took penalties about a minute apart. It appeared that Dartmouth's three-man penalty kill was about as effective as RPI's three-man PK, as Polacek made it look easy, practically walking into the slot, collapsing the triangle and ringing it in off the crossbar to put RPI up 2-1.

Just under two minutes later, with the Engineers establishing continued pressure in the Dartmouth zone even after the expiration of the second Big Green penalty, it was Polacek once again, scoring from Pirri and D'Amigo to complete a natural hat trick - the first hat trick of any sort for the Engineers in three seasons. It put RPI up 3-1, and it looked like they were rolling. Dartmouth ended up leading the period in shots, but it was obvious at that point that RPI was controlling the game almost totally.

The undoing began at the end of the second period, but that wouldn't be obvious until the end of the game. John Kennedy was called for elbowing with less than two minutes to go, and in the final second of the period Erik Burgdoerfer was sent off for delay of game after knocking the net from its moorings during a Dartmouth scoring opportunity on the power play. The Engineers would have 18 seconds of 5-on-3 to kill at the beginning of the 3rd period.

The penalties would both eventually be killed off, but they led to Dartmouth cutting the lead in half. The very next shift after the penalty kill, the RPI defense looked like it was breathing a sigh of relief, and that's when the other team's going to jump on you. That's exactly what Dartmouth did, scoring just 22 seconds after Burgdoerfer's penalty expired to make the score 3-2.

Things generally started to unravel from there, but still, it appeared to the outside observer that the Engineers were still largely keeping an even keel. Three and a half minutes after the Dartmouth goal, Jerry D'Amigo was shown the door for a pretty obvious hit from behind. The referees had a pow wow at center ice, and decided that it would be five and a game misconduct, and it was hard to argue with the call. For D'Amigo, it was a move of frustration as he continues to be a target for rough play, but it was a foolish move that blunted the opportunities for the team to regain their 2-goal lead. RPI's tenacious penalty kill did its job and did not allow a goal during the long Dartmouth power play that ensued, but a major scoring threat was eliminated from the game with Jerry's departure, a lasting repercussion that made things difficult going forward.

A Dartmouth penalty with about 8 minutes left appeared to be a golden opportunity for RPI to cope with D'Amigo's absence, but just a few seconds later Patrick Cullen had taken a foolish tripping call, and the chance was squandered.

Then things completely collapsed. RPI's defense appeared ready to dig in and defend the lead late, but horrendous miscues would doom their plans. With under 3 minutes to play, a terrible pass in the RPI zone from Scott Halpern was easily picked off at the blue line by Dartmouth, and with the RPI forwards in the neutral zone in anticipation of a full change of possession, it was easy for the Big Green to walk in and put it past Merriam, who was completely helpless in the odd-man opportunity. The game was tied.

In the ensuing shift, the Engineer defense acted as though they were shell-shocked. A complete defense breakdown - rare from the defense duo of Bergin and Jeff Foss - resulted in Dartmouth's second goal in less than a minute and put the Big Green back on top with just under two minutes to play. From there, RPI was a defeated team. They played with the urgency they had been missing over that minute of breakdown, but really, they were more fortunate not to have been scored on again in the empty net than they were close to getting the game tied again. RPI dominated most facets of the game, but you've still got to end the game with more goals than the other team, and they didn't do that, squandering an otherwise solid performance and an outstanding personal effort from Chase Polacek in the game's dying minutes to lose two crucial ECAC points that practically seemed to be in the bag after the second period.

In the space of 3:31 of game play - at home against Union and Harvard and in this game in Hanover - the Engineers gave up 5 goals that ultimately cost them 5 points in the ECAC standings, 5 points that would have had them in 2nd place by themselves. That's how close this team is. The missing element is simple. They must develop a killer instinct in the 3rd period. If you're in a fight and you've got your foot on the other guy's throat, you can't lift that boot or he'll make you sorry you did. You've got to push down harder. Same goes with hockey. If you can't figure out how to finish every game you've got a late lead in, you're putting yourself behind the eight ball. Earlier in the day, St. Lawrence had tied Princeton to finish a miserable 1 point weekend. It was a perfect opportunity to take firm control of the driver's seat for 4th place. Instead, the Engineers and Saints are now tied for 4th, a tie which is won by St. Lawrence thanks to their win and tie in the head-to-head series. For one night, after the Harvard win, the Engineers controlled their destiny for the bye, sitting in 4th place all alone, a point ahead of SLU and 3 ahead of Colgate. Now, they are tied with St. Lawrence and are just a point ahead of Colgate (who plays tonight to potentially move ahead of both teams) and two ahead of Quinnipiac. The difference between a win and a loss in the Dartmouth game is monumental. The road to the bye just got a lot tougher.

More immediately, the injury to Allen York is the primary concern. His ankle isn't broken, but we don't know the full extent of what he's dealing with. We do know that he hasn't been able to walk on it yet, which has him already listed as doubtful for the upcoming Freakout! weekend. For the time being, RPI moves forward with freshman Bryce Merriam as the #1 goaltender. This isn't terrible, since Merriam has shown himself to be capable when he's had the opportunity to play - and Seth Appert has gone on record as saying that he recruited Merriam with the intention that he would compete for playing time, not strictly as a 2nd stringer. Given the choice, right now, I think we'd prefer to see York, but Merriam has the goods.

Two more big games this upcoming weekend as Freakout! coincides with senior night on Saturday, but Friday's game with schizophrenic Quinnipiac looms first and figures to be a tough battle. The Bobcats beat Colgate two weeks ago and then drubbed St. Lawrence in Canton this past Friday, 5-0, leading one to believe that they were back with a vengeance. Then they laid an egg the next night to lowly Clarkson, losing 4-1. We don't know what we'll get out of Quinnipiac on Friday, but we do know they can be very, very dangerous. With only four games left in the regular season, these would be four very, very big points. If they Engineers want the bye, they really must sweep this weekend. With any luck, the excitement behind Freakout! and senior night will power them to victories.

Other junk - RPI dropped a single point in this week's USCHO.com poll, moving from 8 votes to 7 votes. It makes me think they might have been close to being ranked if they'd held on for the win on Saturday. No matter. Ranked ECAC teams are #5 Yale (up one after sweeping Colgate and Cornell), #10 Cornell (down two after splitting with Brown and Yale), and #16 Union (no change after beating Dartmouth and losing to Harvard). St. Lawrence, after getting trashed by Quinnipiac and having to claw their way back to a tie with Princeton, fell to only a single vote.

Ranked non-conference opponents are #12 Michigan State (up one), #13 New Hampshire (up two), #18 UMass (no change), #19 Boston University (re-entered), and #20 Alaska (re-entered). Sacred Heart received 4 votes.

Chase Polacek has basically moved himself into the clear front-runner's position for ECAC Player of the Year with five goals on the weekend. For his efforts, he was named ECAC Player of the Week for the second time in three weeks. He's still in third place in the Hobey Baker voting, so you know what you've got to do: http://www.hobeybaker.com/voting. The big weekend pushed him back into first place nationally, by himself, with 46 points. He is trailed by Canisius' Cory Conacher with 45 points and Sacred Heart's Nick Johnson with 44 points. Polacek and Johnson are tied for the national lead in goals with 23 each. In the ECAC, Polacek leads Union's Mario Valery-Trabucco 31 points to 28 points, and is tied with Valery-Trabucco and Yale's Broc Little, each of whom has 15 goals in league play.

Brandon Pirri, meanwhile, is maintaining his national rookie points lead with 39, four ahead of Merrimack's Stephane Da Costa. Jerry D'Amigo is up near the top in that ranking as well with 28 points, good enough for fifth nationally among rookies, which shows you how far ahead of a lot of other rookies that Pirri is. They may both be contenders for National Rookie of the Year.

ECAC Standings
1. Yale - 26 pts
2. Cornell - 24 pts (wins tiebreaker with Union)
3. Union - 24 pts
4. St. Lawrence - 20 pts (wins tiebreaker with RPI)
5. RPI - 20 pts
6. Colgate - 19 pts
7. Quinnipiac - 18 pts
8. Harvard - 17 pts
9. Princeton - 14 pts
10. Brown - 13 pts
11. Dartmouth - 11 pts
12. Clarkson - 8 pts

RPI at Harvard
ECAC Game - Bright Hockey Center (Boston, MA)
2/12/10 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: RPI 5, Harvard 4

BOX SCORES
RECAPS
RECORD: 16-12-3 (9-6-2 ECAC, 20 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Chase Polacek, 2 G
2. F Jerry D'Amigo, 1 G, 2 A
3. F Brandon Pirri, 1 G, 1 A

RPI at Dartmouth
ECAC Game - Thompson Arena (Hanover, NH)
2/13/10 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: Dartmouth 4, RPI 3

BOX SCORES
RECAPS
RECORD: 16-13-3 (9-7-2 ECAC, 20 pts)

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

Upcoming Games
19 Feb - Quinnipiac
20 Feb - Princeton (Big Red Freakout! and Senior Night)
26 Feb - at Colgate
27 Feb - at #10 Cornell
05 Mar - ECAC First Round Game 1
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MEN’S HOCKEY

Rensselaer went 1-1-0 last week, beating Harvard (5-4) on Friday, before falling to Dartmouth (4-3) on Saturday. Junior Chase Polacek (Edina, MN) scored five goals on the weekend, including a natural hat-trick against the Big Green. RPI (16-13-3; 9-7-2 ECAC Hockey) returns to the Houston Field House this weekend, when it takes on Quinnipiac on Friday (7pm) and Princeton on Saturday (7pm) in the 33rd Bank of America Annual Big Red Freakout! Saturday will also be Senior 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 at https://www.b2livetv.com/login.asp. 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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