Friday, March 26, 2010

NCAA Regionals: From East to West

It has been 15 long years since the Engineers saw the NCAA Tournament. They still haven't scored a goal at that level since George Servinis blew by his defender and put a shorty past Chris Terreri. This year was not the end to the drought. Next year? Who knows?

Today, the West Regional (hosted by Minnesota) and the East Regional (hosted by RPI) get underway, and four teams will take one step closer to Detroit. Let's take a look.

West Regional
Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN

#3 Northern Michigan vs. #2 St. Cloud State
Last appearances: NMU 1999, SCSU 2008
National championships: NMU 1, SCSU 0

The Wildcats (20-12-8, 13-9-6 CCHA) end a drought almost as long as RPI's this season with their first national tournament in 11 years. They went on an absolute tear at the end of the season, going 10-2-2 after being swept in a mid-January weekend series in Omaha. Both of those losses came at the hands of an equally hot Michigan team, both coming before wildly pro-Michigan crowds at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor and at the CCHA championship game at Joe Louis Arena last weekend. NMU is buoyed by junior Mark Olver, a Colorado Avalanche draftee who's also a Hobey Baker finalist. He has paced the Wildcats with 19 goals and 29 assists, but he is just one of six NMU forwards to record double digits in both goals and assists. Senior Ray Kaunisto and junior Greger Hanson are equally adept at putting the puck in the net.

On defense, Swedish junior Erik Gustafsson has been a beast on the blueline, providing solid defense with a sharp eye for the open man, as evidenced by his 28 assists. In net, senior Brian Steward has done enough to keep the Wildcats in most of the games they've played, especially down the stretch. His numbers aren't out of this world by any stretch of the imagination, but they're solid and with the balanced scoring attack that coach Walt Kyle's team features, it's enough to put NMU in the mix on any given night.

Meanwhile, the Huskies (23-13-5, 15-9-4 WCHA) continue their quixotic quest for their first ever NCAA victory. St. Cloud is making its 8th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and have a record of 0-8 to show for their first 7 appearances (the first round in 1988-89, their first appearance, was a two-game series), by far the longest streak without a win in the history of the tournament. Offensively, SCSU is led by pint-sized dynamo Ryan Lasch, who broke the school's all-time scoring record early in the Huskies' WCHA Championship game loss to North Dakota last weekend. Los Angeles Kings draftee Garrett Roe, a junior, has the exact same numbers as Lasch (19 goals, 27 assists), but may not be at 100% after being stretchered off the ice in the WCHA semifinal game against Wisconsin. Junior Tony Mosey and freshman David Eddy are among the Huskies' other scoring threats, but like NMU, St. Cloud boasts a very balanced attack.

SCSU features a goaltending tandem in net that, like Stewart, has been just solid enough to get the Huskies by for the most part. Although coach Bob Motzko has alternated his goaltenders all season long, the task tonight will fall to freshman Mike Lee, a Phoenix draftee who featured on the gold medal winning US Junior Team in Saskatoon (where he roomed with Jerry D'Amigo). Lee was brilliant last Friday, making 38 saves to blank Wisconsin, but he was pulled from the WCHA championship in favor of junior Dan Dunn, the Washington draft pick who got the other half of SCSU's starts, after giving up four goals in the first 26:05 of the game.

This game may well come down to which goaltender, Lee or Stewart, can keep the other team off the board better early in the game. Lee has shown the ability to bounce back from tough losses with strong performances, while Stewart has had his team humming along nicely.

It'll more than likely be a pro-SCSU crowd in St. Paul, which is a factor the Huskies have never had before in the national tournament. We'll take them to finally get the monkey off their back, but watch out for Northern Michigan next season. If they can Reid Ellingson can replace Stewart (and if Olver doesn't leave), they'll be deadly.

Prediction: St. Cloud State 3, Northern Michigan 2

#4 Vermont vs. #1 Wisconsin
Last appearances: UVM 2009, UW 2008
National championships: UW 6, UVM 0

The Catamounts (17-14-7, 9-11-7 Hockey East) have been something of an enigma this season, as their overall and league records would indicate. They tore up their out of conference schedule, which included solid victories over Denver, Yale, and Alabama-Huntsville among tournament teams (and another over Minnesota-Duluth, which just barely missed out), but struggling in conference play against New Hampshire (until the Hockey East tournament, anyway), Maine, UMass, and Merrimack. They were a true bubble team late in the conference tournaments, and managed to slip in despite their Hockey East semifinal loss to Boston College. Vermont's two top scoring threats are seniors Brayden Irwin and Colin Vock. It would have been a four-pronged attack, but Viktor Stålberg's early departure after last season and junior Justin Milo's dismissal from the team mid-season blunted what could have been an even more formidable attack. Senior Brian Roloff and juniors Jack Downing and Wahsontiio Stacey do pick up a bit of the slack.

UVM depends on defense and sophomore goalie Rob Madore, who shined in last year's tournament to lead the Cats to their second ever appearance in the Frozen Four, will be called on again to make a difference if Kevin Sneddon's team is going to advance in this year's tourney. Madore shut out the Hockey East regular season champions, New Hampshire, in consecutive games two weeks ago (including an overtime in Game 3), but in Game 1 of that series he allowed 6 goals, including 3 in just over 4 minutes in the third period before being yanked, and gave up three to Boston College last weekend in a 3-0 whitewash. Without question, Vermont needs the Madore from Games 2 and 3 of the HEA Quarterfinals to be successful tonight.

The Badgers (25-10-4, 17-8-3 WCHA) played consistently well all season long, never losing two games in a row - in fact, they had only one two game stretch throughout the entire schedule in which they failed to win a game, at home during the opening weekend in October when they took just a single point from Colorado College. It's no surprise that Wisconsin has two players among the ten Hobey Baker finalists - defenseman Brendan Smith (a Detroit draftee), as we mentioned yesterday, is easily the best two-way blueliner in the country. Then there's Blake Geoffrion, the grandson of Montreal Canadiens legend Bernie "Boom-Boom" Geoffrion and great-grandson of Canadiens great Howie Morenz. A draftee of his hometown Nashville Predators, Geoffrion lives up to his family legacy and is one of the most lethal scoring forwards in the nation. But it doesn't stop there for Wisconsin. Seniors Michael Davies and Ben Street, along with sophomore Derek Stepan (who led Team USA in scoring in the World Junior Championships) are big scoring threats as well. This isn't the same Wisconsin team that won the NCAA title in 2006 largely behind Brian Elliott's defense and an offense dominated by Joe Pavelski and Robbie Earl. This team is bursting at the seams with legitimate scoring threats, culminating in the 2nd highest scoring team in the nation.

Junior Scott Gudmandson certainly is no Brian Elliott, but his strong-enough defensive capabilities - helped greatly by outstanding defensemen in front of him - make the Badgers a serious contender for the national championship. They came up short in the race for the MacNaughton Cup, finishing 2nd behind Denver in the WCHA standings, and lost to St. Cloud in the WCHA tournament to miss out on the Broadmoor Trophy, but the balance in defense and offense that Mike Eaves' charges have displayed all season long make them a solid choice to win the biggest trophy of them all.

The one thing that may give Wisconsin pause on their way to the Frozen Four is the appearance of St. Cloud State in their regional bracket - the Huskies were the only team this season to earn three victories over the Badgers. But Bucky can't be looking to the regional final until they dispatch a Vermont team that has the capacity to give other teams fits if their defense is on. If Madore is on his game, this could be a defensive battle, but Madore hasn't seen a team with the offensive guns of Wisconsin (backup Mike Spillane was the one that shut out the Yale's #1 overall offense).

Prediction: Wisconsin 4, Vermont 2


East Regional
Times Union Center, Albany, NY

#4 RIT vs. #1 Denver
Last appearances: RIT none, DU 2009
National championships: DU 7, RIT 0 (2 in Division III)

This should be a fairly classic Atlantic Hockey vs. #1 seed matchup - Holy Cross and Air Force notwithstanding, of course.

The Tigers (26-11-1, 22-5-1 Atlantic Hockey) largely ran roughshod over the AHA, but played an exceptionally weak non-conference schedule. Although they were a team under consideration by the end, they didn't play a single game against any of the other 24 teams under consideration. The top rated teams in the Ratings Percentage Index that they played this season were #29 Minnesota State (6-1 and 3-0 losses) and #31 St. Lawrence (3-1 loss). They'll be taking on the #2 ranked team in the Pairwise in Denver (27-9-4, 19-5-4 WCHA).

RIT is led by sophomore Cameron Burt and junior Andrew Favot offensively, but their defensemen are adept at scoring as well. Senior defenseman Dan Ringwald had 11 goals this season, while sophomore Chris Haltigin had 10 of his own. Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year Chris Tanev had 27 points, and senior Al Mazur had 23. Those four defensemen are among the eight leading scorers for the Tigers.

Wayne Wilson's team boasts the third best defensive numbers in the nation, but as mentioned, those numbers came against some pretty weak competition, so it's hard to make a solid comparison to Denver's 10th rated defense. The same goes for RIT's 5th ranked offense - with the exception of Sacred Heart (also a top 10 national offense), the Tigers were quite clearly the class of Atlantic Hockey and it showed.

On the other side, Denver is loaded. Like Wisconsin, they've got a pair of Hobey Baker candidates in senior Rhett Rakhshani (New York Islanders) and junior goaltender Marc Cheverie (Florida), respectively one of the top scorers and top goaltenders in the nation. But it doesn't stop there. Joe Colborne (Boston) and Tyler Ruegsegger (Toronto) each had 40 point seasons to go with Rakhshani's 50 point season. The bottom line is that the Pioneers roll with three scoring lines that can victimize you with a defense that, when it's on, can suffocate even some of the top scoring teams in the country.

Denver limps into this game having suffered a narrow loss at the hands of North Dakota in the WCHA tournament before being hammered by Wisconsin in the consolation game. RIT, meanwhile, has won 10 straight games. They're also relatively close to home and should have a pro-RIT crowd to play in front of, where Denver had to cross the continent to reach Albany. Based on these facts alone, one might consider that RIT has a good shot, but the talent disparity between these sides is pretty wide. Holy Cross and Air Force proved that this won't necessarily be a complete walkover, but if these teams played 20 games, Denver probably wins 17 or 18 times. The Pioneers are battle-tested, with a better record in the best league in the country. The Tigers aren't, having rolled through the weakest league in the country without much problem. As long as Denver doesn't overlook this game, this shouldn't be a contest.

Prediction: Denver 6, RIT 1

#3 New Hampshire vs. #2 Cornell
Last appearances: UNH 2009, CU 2009
National championships: CU 2, UNH 0

For the second straight season, the Wildcats (17-13-7, 15-6-6 Hockey East) crashed out of the Hockey East tournament a week early, and ironically, it was against their practical mirror opposite in Vermont. While the Catamounts did well outside the conference and struggled in conference play, UNH was the exact opposite, putting together an absolutely miserable non-conference record (1-5-1, including a 5-2 loss to Cornell and two losses to Wisconsin) but storming to the Hockey East regular season crown.

Hobey candidate Bobby Butler is the key to UNH's 11th ranked offense, but the Wildcats also have four other players who chipped in with at least 30 points on the year, including sophomore defenseman Blake Kessel (New York Islanders). Offense really hasn't been a problem for UNH this season.

Senior Brian Foster is the man in net for New Hampshire, but his numbers are not overwhelming. His GAA is near 3.00, and his save percentage is at 91%. That's not god-awful, but it isn't something you want to rely on when you're facing a team that can score - and Cornell can score.

We know Cornell (21-8-4, 14-5-3 ECAC) pretty well at this point, but here's the quick rehash - Ben Scrivens does well as the last resort of a system which relies heavily on defense (they had the top defense in all the land this season), and they've got guys up front like Blake Gallagher and Colin Greening that will burn you if you give them space to operate. This team does seem strikingly similar to the 2003 squad that went to the Frozen Four (where they lost to New Hampshire) in that respect - heavy defense with the ability to score quickly.

This should be one of the best games of the weekend, and we'll have to see if New Hampshire's week off will benefit them as much as it did last season (and as it apparently did for Miami, Bemidji State, and Vermont as well). The game these teams played against each other in early January means nothing here. Both teams can score, but the big edge goes to the Big Red for their defensive prowess. Ben Scrivens is the tipping point here - but don't be surprised if both teams get the opportunity to flex their offensive muscle a bit.

Prediction: Cornell 4, New Hampshire 3


So yes, after all of the confusion and upsets last year, we're still taking the favorites in each of these games. Certainly not being bold - that'll come tomorrow when we break down the Midwest and Northeast Regionals.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

National Awards: The Last Pontification, Maybe

With our 5-for-6 record in the ECAC awards, we thought it was time to tackle the three major national awards - the Hobey, which is the Player of the Year award, the Penrose, which is the Coach of the Year award, and the National Rookie of the Year award, which we feel confident that we should not have to fully explain to you.

The nominees are...

Hobey Baker Award
F Bobby Butler, sr., New Hampshire
G Marc Cheverie, jr., Denver
F Blake Geoffrion, sr., Wisconsin
F Gustav Nyquist, so., Maine
F Mark Olver, jr., Northern Michigan
F Chase Polacek, jr., RPI
F Rhett Rakhshani, sr., Denver
G Cody Reichard, so., Miami
G Ben Scrivens, sr., Cornell
D Brendan Smith, jr.,Wisconsin

Most of these names should look familiar from our earlier Hobey primers. The only ones we haven't really mentioned are Olver, Reichard, and Scrivens. Olver and Reichard are both out of the CCHA and are solid selections - you already know Scrivens is a solid selection even if some of his success derives from the Cornell system.

At this point, it's not really about picking a winner as much as it is figuring out who the three finalists will be. We've already told you that Polacek's status as a top 10 finalist is about as much as we could hope for. The team's disastrous playoff showing meant he couldn't continue to grow his numbers as long as some of the other candidates.

We'll take a forward, a goaltender, and a defenseman here. Obviously, that means Smith, who's been a huge part of Wisconsin's success this season. The goaltender debate really boils down to Cheverie and Scrivens, and although he had a rough weekend last week in St. Paul, Denver is where they are today because of him, more so than Cornell or Miami with their goaltenders. The final choice is probably between Gustav Nyquist and Bobby Butler - we'll take Butler's more solid scoring numbers and his playing a bigger part in his team's greater success.

Spencer Penrose Award
Red Berenson, Michigan (1)
Enrico Blasi, Miami (1)
Danton Cole, Alabama-Huntsville
Mark Dennehy, Merrimack
George Gwozdecky, Denver (2)
Dave Hakstol, North Dakota
Nate Leaman, Union
C.J. Marottolo, Sacred Heart
Mike Schafer, Cornell
Tom Serratore, Bemidji State
Dick Umile, New Hampshire (1)
Wayne Wilson, RIT
Jerry York, Boston College (1)

Wow! What a list! Why so many? Simple - because the Penrose Award nominees every year are the coaches who either won their league's coach of the year award, or who coached their team to the tournament championship. This year, none of the six coaches of the year went on to win a league title (although Leaman and Marottolo had their teams playing for one), and on top of all that, Umile (1999's Penrose winner) and Dennehy split the Hockey East coach of the year award.

The national coach of the year practically always comes from a team playing in the NCAA Tournament, that leaves out Dennehy, Leaman, and Marottolo. Berenson (2008) helmed a very up and down Michigan team that is only in the tournament thanks to a scalding hot finish and their CCHA title. Cole's squad needed just a pair of wins to earn their bid, neither coming against the beast of the CHA, Bemidji State.

The favorites here are probably Serratore, whose Beavers made the tournament as a #2 seed with an at-large bid despite coming out of the CHA, York, whose only Penrose nod came in 1977 when he was at Clarkson, and Schafer, who seems to always be in the mix but has never won one himself.

National Rookie of the Year
F Stephane Da Costa, Merrimack
F Jerry D'Amigo, RPI
F Jordan George, Bemidji State
F Danny Kristo, North Dakota
D Chris Tanev, RIT
F Andy Taranto, Alaska

Given that none of the past three National Rookies of the Year failed to win their league's award, we can safely assume that these six players are the nominees (although we'd be hard-pressed not to mention Brandon Pirri, who still probably should have won the ECAC award).

We can definitively pick a winner here after welching out on the last two. Stephane Da Costa, more than any of the other winners, made his team a contender for his presence. The Warriors very nearly upset the defending national champions to earn their first ever trip to the TD Garden for the Hockey East semifinals, and if it weren't for Da Costa, they almost certainly would have been in their usual position of missing the playoffs. D'Amigo, George, and Taranto certainly made solid and important contributions to their teams - in the latter two instances, to the tune of NCAA Tournament appearances, boosting their odds - but in those cases they were merely important pieces of the puzzle. Da Costa took his team on his back. He's the deserving choice.

Friday, March 19, 2010

ECAC Playoffs: Adieu to Albany

This season marks the final year that the ECAC Championships will be held at the Times Union Center in Albany, and sadly, of 13 teams (all of the current teams plus Vermont), the only one that never got to play in Albany is... RPI. Union becomes the 12th program to drop in on the Capital City today as they take on St. Lawrence. Meanwhile, surprising Brown takes on their mirror image when they face Cornell.

#11 Brown vs. #2 Cornell (4:00 pm)
(Cornell swept season series, 6-0 and 5-3)

The Bears (12-19-4) are absolutely much farther than anyone should have reasonably expected they would get. Low on talent but also on pressure, Brown has, in successive weeks, outlasted two heavily favored opponents in RPI and top-ranked Yale (who should still be good for an NCAA bid). RPI and Yale both play a high-tempo speed based game that the Bears were able to slow down just enough to get by, but in Cornell (19-8-4), they face a team that focuses on defense with a solid counter-attack, and that's a horse of a different color.

The Big Red showed no rust last week in quickly dispatching Harvard in two games and look to be peaking at about the right time. Although Cornell could use at least one win on the weekend to basically guarantee their ticket to the NCAA tournament, they will more than likely be in either way. Brown, of course, must win the ECAC title to continue playing after this weekend, but they're running into a buzzsaw that they won't be able to beat using their tactics from the last two weeks.

Prediction: Cornell 4, Brown 1

#5 St. Lawrence vs. #3 Union (7:00 pm)
(Union swept season series, 4-3 and 4-2)

The Dutchmen (20-11-6) ended almost two decades of frustration by finally advancing to the ECAC Championships for the first time in school history when they knocked off Quinnipiac in (technically) three games, despite losing the longest game in NCAA history in Game 1. The win in Game 3 gave Union their very first 20-win season in Division I (and third all-time). Although they are a team under consideration for the NCAA tournament, they're going to need to come through with their first ECAC hardware in order to go to their first ever Big Dance - Union is one of only two "Big Four" conference schools that has never been to the NCAAs (Alaska).

St. Lawrence (19-14-7) went into Hamilton and ended Colgate's odd season in just two games, making up for their dismal late season run by cleaning up the last bye team and making it back to Albany. Kain Tisi reclaimed his starter's role against the Raiders, and has backstopped the Saints to three consecutive playoff wins.

This should be an outstanding game, and there's really no favorite. The crowd will more than likely be behind the Dutchmen, as they'll have the benefit of sleeping in their own beds, but St. Lawrence is back, and when they're on they can run with the best of them. Strap in and hold on, this could be a classic.

Prediction: St. Lawrence 5, Union 4

The consolation game will take place tomorrow at 4pm, while the title matchup is at 7.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Women's Frozen Four: Three Regulars, One Total n00b

The final weekend of the women's hockey season is upon us. We've been over the highs and the lows of all four of these teams, so we'll just quickly go over the ins and outs of the semifinal games, which take place tomorrow at Ridder Arena on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN.

Cornell vs. #1 Mercyhurst (5:00 pm)

The Big Red (20-8-6) suffered their 11th consecutive losing season last year, but it was their second consecutive season with at least 10 wins, an improvement over the previous six. They get to finish off their first winning season since 1998 and their first 20-win season in the history of the program with their first trip to the Frozen Four. Their reward for their minor upset over Harvard last weekend is Mercyhurst (30-2-3), the odds-on favorite for the championship.

The Lakers fairly easily took care of another first-time NCAA opponent in Boston University last weekend, and although Cornell has proven that they have a shot at writing their name among the nation's elite squads, Mercyhurst has the size, scoring, and resume to suggest that they should be on their way to a second consecutive national championship.

Prediction: Mercyhurst 4, Cornell 2

#3 Minnesota vs. #2 Minnesota-Duluth (8:00pm)

The Gophers (26-8-5) and the Bulldogs (29-8-2) are somewhat acquainted with each other as two of the most dominant teams in the WCHA year-in and year-out and with a combined six national championships (seven if you include the Gophers' 2000 AWCHA triumph in the final national championship not sponsored by the NCAA), but unbelievably, this is the first time the in-state rivals have ever faced off in the Frozen Four.

This will be the sixth time this season that the teams have faced each other. The first four were during the regular season, with the home team winning each contest. The fifth was in the WCHA Championship game, held at Ridder Arena, which was won by Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs have won the last three, but this one is for all the marbles, and it's on the Gophers' turf again. Duluth did beat Noora Raty in the championship game, but faced her backups when the teams met in Duluth while Raty was away for the Olympics. As the records indicate, these teams are very, very close. Home ice advantage is the tipping point.

Prediction: Minnesota 3, Minnesota-Duluth 2

The title game takes place Sunday at noon.

Monday, March 15, 2010

ECAC Awards: The Final Say

All of the categories for the various ECAC awards now officially have their finalists. Let's break down the list and see what we've got.

Player of the Year
F Sean Backman, sr., Yale
F Chase Polacek, jr., RPI
G Ben Scrivens, sr., Cornell

Color us surprised by two of the three nominees. Not as surprised by Scrivens, who was head and shoulders proven to be the top goaltender in the league by the end, but we just can't understand why it is that Sean Backman is getting so much of the praise on a Yale team whose best player, in our not so humble opinion, is Broc Little. We thought Backman stole a spot on the All-ECAC first team from Union's Mario-Valery Trabucco, and now he's stealing Little's spot as a POTY finalist. The fact that he selfishly ended his own season (and likely sunk his team this past weekend by being absent) in a foolish off-ice stunt doesn't even play into it here - he's an outstanding player, but he's just not on this level.

Given that these awards are based on regular-season play alone, we don't think we're being homers by going with Chase Polacek here. While RPI's dismal post-season fortunes may cost him a seat in the Hobey Baker Top 10 (we certainly hope not, those are announced this week), Polacek was a league leader in so many categories that it's hard to say that he wasn't the all-around best player in the league, especially when he's not being compared to Little.

Ken Dryden Award
Keith Kincaid, fr., Union
Ben Scrivens, sr., Cornell
Allen York, so., RPI

Really, really, really cut and dried here. Since the Dryden Award's inception, the All-ECAC First Team goaltender has won it every single season. Why wouldn't he? It wouldn't make any sense any other way. Not surprisingly, the two other finalists are the Second and Third All-ECAC team goaltenders.

Announcing finalists for this award is loopy. It's Scrivens.

Rookie of the Year
F Jerry D'Amigo, RPI
G Keith Kincaid, Union
F Louis Leblanc, Harvard

Uh, missing someone here? Equally as head-scratching as Backman's inclusion for POTY over Little is Jerry D'Amigo's inclusion for ROTY over Brandon Pirri. We have to assume that this is partially what we've been saying all along - when it comes to Pirri vs. D'Amigo, there's no question at all that D'Amigo is the rockstar of the two, and here it is again.

If Pirri had been one of the nominees, it would have been tough to go against him. With D'Amigo, we think this is more wide open. Kincaid, if a list such as this was going to be lacking one of the two RPI forwards, was the obvious third choice, as we've been a fan of having Leblanc in this discussion since the beginning.

Without Pirri, it's definitely harder to pick. One could say that Leblanc's goal scoring outburst would make him the front-runner. Others could say that Kincaid played the lion's share of the time in net for a team that earned a first round bye. If D'Amigo's exploits in Saskatoon earned him the nod over Pirri (which isn't supposed to happen, but it's by and large what made him a rockstar in the first place), maybe he's the one that gets the award practically on behalf of the stellar freshman class that rebounded the Engineers.

This one's so close, we're going to just go ahead and be unabashed homers and pick D'Amigo. If he didn't win it, though, he would just be the latest in a long line of Engineer freshmen to have gotten the shaft when it comes to ROTY - Joe Juneau, Matt Murley, Nathan Marsters, and Kevin Croxton all immediately spring to mind (and to a lesser extent, Marc Cavosie, but he was certainly overshadowed his freshman year). Pirri's already joined that group, too. No RPI freshman has won the ROTY award since George Servinis in 1983.

Best Defensive Defenseman
Derek Keller, sr., St. Lawrence
Justin Krueger, sr., Cornell
Mike Schreiber, sr., Union

Finally, one they might have actually gotten right all the way down the middle. Each of these candidates is very deserving, and the front runner is almost certainly Schreiber, who led the league in plus/minus with +23 (that's averaging just over +1 per game).

Keller and Schreiber both were among league leaders in defenseman scoring (not really what you're shooting for with a "defensive defenseman" award), while Krueger's style of play is better compared to RPI's Jeff Foss - defense first, but pitching in with the right pass or a well timed shot occasionally.

Schreiber seems like the sensible pick here, although if you want to discount scoring against a plus/minus count, Krueger might be a good choice, too.

Best Defensive Forward
Joe Scali, sr., Cornell
Travis Vermeulen, sr., St. Lawrence
Aaron Volpatti, sr., Brown

What this really is, it seems, is an award for the league's best penalty killers, and it's a halfway decent trio, although Volpatti finds himself in the box so frequently that it's a wonder he got any time at all to display his penalty kill ability.

Having seen only Vermeulen and Volpatti play, it seems that Vermeulen is definitely the better defensive forward of the two. Aside from his general lack of goon tactics, Vermeulen plays the puck smartly and has been a very, very valuable two way asset for the Saints this season, nearly leading them to the bye, leading the team in scoring and then hustling back on defense.

We're sure Scali is an excellent selection, forwards playing defense has long been a staple of the Cornell system and Big Red forwards have won this award a number of times in the recent years, most recently with Tyler Mugford last season. We just haven't seen him play. He may well be better than Vermeulen, but we're going to go with what we know and take Vermeulen for this one.

Tim Taylor Award
Keith Allain, Yale
Nate Leaman, Union
Joe Marsh, St. Lawrence
Don Vaughan, Colgate

Yup, the RPI curse rolls on in the Coach of the Year category. While we didn't think this was going to be Seth Appert's year, we didn't expect to find him outside of the top three, and we definitely didn't expect to see him outside of a field of four.

We're going with Leaman. The man's basically on the verge of finishing the task of cleaning the Augean stables in Schenectady. The team surpassed all expectations this season and although this doesn't count for the award necessarily, they're in the semifinals for the first time in almost 20 years of trying. We don't care who else is nominated, the man's a magician doing that with the only team in the league that doesn't offer either athletic scholarships or the Ivy League brand.

Allain? Last year he was a deserving winner. This year, Yale was supposed to come out on top, and they did - in the last weekend of the season. If the Bulldogs had blown the league away from start to finish, we might have considered him a worthy candidate.

Vaughan and Marsh, both past winners, come up just short to the job Leaman has done. Both teams finished better than expected, but Colgate's record against decent teams was atrocious, and St. Lawrence came up short in the dying weeks to end up in 5th. Leaman had his team playing solidly all season long. Advantage to the Dutch.

Friday, March 12, 2010

ECAC Playoffs: The Quarterfinals

OK, enough procrastination. This is certainly less fun without the Engineers in action this weekend, but the quarterfinal slate does hold a number of interesting series, not the least of which is the exciting series which will take place up Route 7.

Let's go.

#11 Brown at #1 Yale
(Yale won season series, 6-5 in overtime in Providence on 11/21, 8-5 in New Haven on 1/16)

The big question mark for Yale (19-7-3, 15-5-2 ECAC) will be how well they will be able to function with All-ECAC first team selection Sean Backman out for the season after he broke his foot screwing around in a closed pool on campus last week. Backman was the top goal scorer on a line that included freshman Andrew Miller (4 G, 22 A) and sophomore Brian O'Neill (12 G, 24 A). Without Backman, the pressure will be on O'Neill to provide offensive output. Otherwise, Brown will be able to focus its attention on shutting down the line anchored by Yale's other All-ECAC first teamer, junior Broc Little (25 G, 13 A).

As we saw last weekend, Brown (10-18-4, 6-12-4 ECAC) can be a pain to deal despite their lack of talented scorers with with their forechecking and neutral zone trap combined with a physical game designed to get good players off their game. As in Troy, Brown does have the bonus of being able to play with a little more reckless abandon, but the Bulldogs probably won't be gripping the sticks as hard as RPI was - their season won't end this weekend no matter what happens.

We said it last week, and at the risk of sounding stale, we still think Brown shouldn't have the chops to go any farther in this tournament, especially against a legitimate national contender like Yale.

Prediction: Yale in two

#9 Harvard at #2 Cornell
(Cornell won season series, 6-3 in Ithaca on 11/7, 3-0 in Boston on 2/19)

The one opponent with the ability to get Cornell's robotic fans to start frothing at the mouth, the "Lynah Faithful" would like nothing better than to end Harvard's quixotic playoff journey, and given that the Big Red (17-8-4, 14-5-3 ECAC) seem to always be up for the Crimson (9-19-3, 7-12-3 ECAC) regardless of how good either team is, this one probably shouldn't be close.

Cornell's particular brand of defense may not lead to an especially exciting hockey game, but at least this year they do have legitimate scoring threats to make their system less boring - in this case, senior duo Colin Greening (13 G, 17 A) and Blake Gallagher (17 G, 17 A). The Big Red have a few other good scoring threats on other lines, like Riley Nash (9 G, 18 A) and Joe Devin (8 G, 12 A). If it wasn't for Yale's speed and solid passing, Cornell would probably be the runaway favorite in this tournament.

Harvard succeeded last week by going back to former Dryden Award winner Kyle Richter, who upstaged last year's Dryden winner, Zane Kalemba, in allowing only two goals in two games, while the Crimson got goals from lines other than their top scoring group of Michael Biega, Louis Leblanc, and Alex Killorn. If they can do that again this weekend, they'll have a shot, but Ben Scrivens, THIS year's runaway Dryden Award winner to be, will present a much greater challenge.

Yes, we picked Harvard to lose in two last week and they won in two instead. They aren't a bad team, they just seem to have run into a pair of series that conventional wisdom says they should be the heavy underdogs in.

Prediction: Cornell in two

#7 Quinnipiac at #3 Union
(Union won season series, 2-1 in overtime in Hamden on 1/9, 7-3 in Schenectady on 2/20)

This really should be the most entertaining and exciting series of the entire weekend. Both of these teams can score goals in bunches and also have goaltenders who have been known to play out of their minds at times.

The Dutchmen (18-10-6, 12-6-4 ECAC) finally got the monkey off their back last season, winning their first ever ECAC playoff series in their 18th season in the league. They're still the only team in the league that's never been to the semifinal round, but that may change this season, which has been without question the best in the history of the program. Freshman Keith Kincaid is the standard in net for Union, while the line of Mario Valery-Trabucco (21 G, 21 A) and Jason Walters (16 G, 22 A) is one of the best in the league.

As we mentioned last week, Quinnipiac (19-16-2, 11-11-0 ECAC) has been wildly erratic this season and it's difficult to know what team you're going to get, but when they're good, they're very, very good. Dan Clarke can steal a game on his own, and Union will have to focus on shutting down Brandon Wong, Eric Lampe, and Jean-Marc Beaudoin in order to be successful.

Will Union choke again on the cusp of Albany? It's possible, but we don't think it'll happen. This program is finally on its way out the doldrums, and Quinnipiac just isn't as put together as they're going to need to be to earn two wins this weekend. A Bobcat victory wouldn't be completely unexpected, we just don't think it's in the cards. That'll leave RPI as the only team out of 13 (that includes former ECAC member Vermont) that never made it to Albany in the 8 years the tournament was held there. That's depressing even if Union doesn't win.

Prediction: Union in three

#5 St. Lawrence at #4 Colgate
(St. Lawrence won season series, 4-0 in Canton on 1/15, 3-2 in overtime in Hamilton on 1/30)

After an all out war with Clarkson, the Saints (17-14-7, 9-8-5 ECAC) come into Starr Rink with a little momentum against a Colgate team that still boasts only 3 wins all season against teams with a .500 record or better (two coming against RPI).

While St. Lawrence's last series was certainly affected by the rivalry aspect (which created a three-game series in which every game was won by a single goal, two in overtime), this weekend it's back to straight up business for the Saints.

There's something about Colgate (15-13-6, 12-8-2 ECAC) that just doesn't sit right. They do have four players who reached double digits in both goals and assists - sophomore Austin Smith, senior David McIntyre, juniors Brian Day and Francois Brisebois - but their defense leaves something to be desired. Sophomore Alex Evin largely displaced senior Charles Long in net late in the season, but didn't put up numbers that makes one believe that he would be able to steal a game on his own - in fact, in the last RPI-Colgate game, we saw Evin bailed out by his teammates on a number of occasions.

Meanwhile, St. Lawrence's Mike McKenzie seems to have broken out of his late season funk, and despite his struggles late in the season, Kain Tisi showed in Game 3 last weekend that he was ready to be a big game goaltender. Alex Petizian, who Tisi largely displaced for most of the season, lifted SLU into the #5 seed on the last day of the regular season and hung tough in the first two games last weekend. Honestly, we like either of these guys, especially with the defense in front of them, over what the Raiders will show defensively.

This matchup is all about the Colgate offense against the St. Lawrence defense, and despite the missteps that the latter dealt with down the stretch, we'll go with St. Lawrence to become the only first round team to advance to Albany. Give Colgate a game thanks to their home ice advantage.

Prediction: St. Lawrence in three

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Women's NCAA Tournament: Eight Teams, One Champion

With the offseason now sadly set in for both the men and the women, we're going to push forward with a little focus on the "college hockey world as a whole" as our tagline so succinctly puts it. The NCAA field is set in women's hockey, and plenty of the usual suspects are present, but Wisconsin and Dartmouth, usually stalwarts in this tournament, are missing.

A quick primer for those unfamiliar with the mechanism behind the women's tournament. Just as in the men's tournament, the field is chosen using automatic bids from conference champions (three in this case, Cornell from the ECAC, Boston University from Hockey East, and Minnesota-Duluth from the WCHA) and filled out with at-large bids using the Pairwise Rankings (five to complete the eight team field, Mercyhurst, Minnesota, Harvard, Clarkson, and New Hampshire).

Unlike the men's tournament, though, only the top four teams in the Pairwise are seeded. This gives the NCAA some leeway in where they send the other four teams, as all are unseeded and essentially considered somewhat equal (although often the #1 seed will be rewarded with the weakest team in its region). This basically allows the NCAA to regionalize the first round of games to the best of their ability.

This season, it was guaranteed that two eastern teams would have to fly west, as there were only two western teams in the tournament and both were seeded, ensuring home games for them in the first round.

Boston University at #1 Mercyhurst
Mercyhurst Ice Center, Erie, PA - Saturday, 2:00pm ET

The CHA champion Lakers (29-2-3, 14-1-1 CHA) ran roughshod over their schedule, maintaining the top ranking in the nation for nearly the entire season and regularly outscoring their opponents by wide margins. In fact, their only two losses on the season - to Minnesota-Duluth on October 31 and to Niagara on January 30 - were each by one goal. Although the CHA is small and does not have an automatic bid for its champion, it contains a number of solid programs and the Lakers impressed in non-conference games against NCAA Tournament teams, putting together a record of 4-1-1 in games against Cornell, Minnesota-Duluth, and Clarkson. Merychurst boasts the top three scorers in the nation in juniors Jesse Scanzano and Vicki Bendus (one of the three finalists for the Kazmaier Award) and sophomore Bailey Bram. They are the leading contributors on the top offense in the nation, scoring 4.76 goals per game. The Laker defense is just as impressive, led by sophomore goaltender Hillary Pattenden, who has backstopped Mercyhurst to the 4th best defense in the nation with a team GAA of 1.62.

The NCAA Tournament is old hat for the Lakers, who are making their 6th consecutive appearance. Last season, they took down St. Lawrence and Minnesota on their way to their first ever NCAA Championship appearance, where they were soundly defeated, 5-0, by Wisconsin. This year, without the Badgers to contend with, the Lakers are the favorites for the title.

Meanwhile, the Hockey East champion Terriers (17-8-12, 10-6-5 Hockey East) have a knack for playing in close games, as evidenced by their 12-tie campaign, which included 9 one-goal games. The Terriers finished the season ranked 9th in the Pairwise and required the Hockey East autobid in order to make the tournament - ironically, bumping out UConn, the team they defeated for the crown. BU has risen quickly, making their first tournament appearance in just their 5th season as a varsity program. They are led offensively by senior Melissa Anderson, and rely on solid goaltending from senior Melissa Haber. Nationally, the Terriers are 12th in team scoring and 13th in team defense.

In BU's case, simply being in the tournament is taking another step in program development. For Mercyhurst, anything short of a national championship is a failure, as it's now the only step they have left to take.

Prediction: Mercyhurst 5, Boston University 1

Cornell at #4 Harvard
Bright Hockey Center, Boston, MA - Friday, 7:00pm ET

Given their position in the Pairwise, Cornell (19-8-6, 14-2-6 ECAC) could have been expected to be one of the two teams sent out west to take on one of the Minnesota schools, but instead they'll face an ECAC rival in Boston. Unlike the men's tournament, the women's tournament doesn't concern itself too much with avoiding intra-conference matchups in the first round, and given that Cornell pulled off the impressive feat of taking both the regular season and tournament titles in the ECAC, the Big Red were likely rewarded with a much shorter trip to their rivals in Boston for their first ever NCAA appearance.

Harvard (20-7-5, 13-6-3 ECAC) returns to the NCAA tournament after an unusual absence last season - the Crimson have played in all but two NCAA tournaments since the first one in 2001. Although they did not finish in the top two in either the regular season or the league tournament, Harvard are the top ranked ECAC team in the NCAAs thanks to their stellar non-conference record, which included a win and a tie over Minnesota, wins against UConn and Providence, and a tie with New Hampshire. In fact, the Crimson were undefeated outside of the ECAC this season. That makes their matchup with the Big Red somewhat unfortunate for them, as they did not defeat Cornell this season in two games, losing 4-3 on October 31 in Ithaca before blowing a pair of 2-goal leads to tie 4-4 in Boston on January 15.

Defense is the watchword for both of these squads. Harvard boasts the 2nd best 'D' in the nation with a team GAA of 1.50. This was partially due to the efforts of senior goaltender Christina Kessler, but after Kessler was lost for the season due to injury, freshman Laura Bellamy has proven to be a capable replacement. Cornell is no slouch in the defensive realm either, with the 8th best defense in the NCAA at 1.70 GAA. Sophomore Amanda Mazzotta pitches shutouts like it's going out of style, racking up 11 during the course of the season. The Cornell blueline can be dangerous offensively as well - the frosh duo of Laura Fortino and Lauriane Rougeau combined for 59 points and were the top two defenseman scorers in the nation.

The offenses, meanwhile, put up similar numbers, with Harvard gaining the slight edge, 2.88 to 2.79. Cornell is led by sophomores Catherine White (39 points) and Chelsea Karpenko (16 goals), while Harvard leans on juniors Kate Buesser (39 points) and Liza Ryabkina (15 goals).

This will be an outstanding game and it could easily go either way. The Crimson have the experience on this stage with last year's absence making them even hungrier, and they're at home and still seeking their first win over the Big Red this season in three tries. We'll pick them in a close one.

Prediction: Harvard 3, Cornell 2

New Hampshire at #2 Minnesota-Duluth
Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center, Duluth, MN - Saturday, 2:00pm CT

If there's anyone who stands a chance at taking down Mercyhurst, the WCHA champion Bulldogs (28-8-2, 20-6-2 WCHA) would seem to be the biggest roadblock. The four-time national champions have missed the NCAA tournament only once and have been the most consistently solid team in the nation for the past 12 seasons under head coach Shannon Miller.

New Hampshire (19-8-5, 13-6-2 Hockey East) is no stranger to the NCAAs themselves, as they make their 5th consecutive appearance as one of the consistent beasts of Hockey East. They made Frozen Four appearances in 2006 and 2008, but they face a tall task in Minnesota-Duluth in a rematch of last year's NCAA first round game, which saw the Bulldogs earn a 4-1 victory over the Wildcats in Durham. That marked the second consecutive year that UMD had ended UNH's season, as the Bulldogs took a 3-2 victory over the Wildcats in the 2008 Frozen Four in Duluth.

If the Wildcats are to pull off the upset, they will rely heavily on senior forwards Kelly Paton (one of the three Patty Kazmaier finalists) and Micaela Long, who were one of three duos in the nation to both reach the 50-point mark. Unfortunately for them, one of the other duos will reside on the opposing bench, as UMD senior Emmanuelle Blais and junior Laura Fridfinnson also accomplished the feat. Another area in which UNH may have a slight advantage is in net, as freshman Kayley Herman and sophomore Lindsey Minton both posted better numbers than Duluth freshman Jennifer Harss, but defensively, these teams are pretty close.

It appears that UNH is developing a true inter-regional nemesis in Minnesota-Duluth. It doesn't look like the third time will be the charm here. At home and with higher expectations, this is UMD's game to lose, and although that's not to say that a win by the Wildcats would be some miracle upset, we're going to take Duluth for the win here. Mercyhurst can take comfort, however, in having a somewhat easier path to the national championship game than the Bulldogs do, both here and in the potential semifinal matchups.

Prediction: Minnesota-Duluth 4, New Hampshire 3

Clarkson at #3 Minnesota
Ridder Arena, Minneapolis, MN - Saturday, 4:00pm CT

The Golden Knights (23-11-5, 14-5-3 ECAC) make their first ever appearance in the NCAA tournament in just their 7th season as a Division I program, and they face a daunting task - having to face the best goaltender in the nation on her own turf. Minnesota freshman Noora Räty, who until the WCHA tournament (which came following her turn in the Olympics backstopping the Finnish national team) boasted an unheard of goals against average of 0.80, is one of the three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Award and like any top goaltender, easily has the ability to steal games all by herself.

If the Golden Gophers (25-8-5, 18-6-4 WCHA) have just one other thing going for them, it's home ice, which they will have the privilege to enjoy throughout the NCAA tournament, as the Frozen Four is taking place on their home ice at Ridder Arena this season. It will be the third time the Gophers have hosted the Frozen Four, but the other two were at Mariucci Arena, next door to Ridder, which has larger, Olympic-sized ice. The two-time NCAA champions, like Harvard and UMD, are rarely missing from the national tournament mix and are making their third consecutive appearance.

Clarkson will need big play from Lauren Dahm, who may not have Räty's gaudy numbers but is also among the better goaltenders in the country. In a one-game series, if Dahm can outplay Räty, there's no reason to believe that the Knights can pull off a stunning upset.

The Gophers hold the offensive edge as well, however, with a balanced attack from junior Emily West, sophomore Sarah Erickson, and senior Brittany Francis, as well as a dangerous outside threat in sophomore defenseman Anne Schleper. The Knights counter with seniors Dominique Thibault and Britney Selina, but the Gopher offense is better seasoned at this level and put up their numbers in a league that is, top to bottom, more difficult than the ECAC.

Prediction: Minnesota 3, Clarkson 1

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What We're Watching For This Offseason

Well, the offseason is here a couple of weeks earlier than we'd hoped for. It's time to power down a bit from the fever pitch of the dying weeks of the regular season and the first and sadly last week of the playoffs.

We'll still have coverage of the remainder of the ECAC Tournament (including a quarterfinal breakdown on Friday), and features on both the men's and women's NCAA Tournaments.

In the meantime, here's what to keep your eyes and ears open for as the long 7 month journey to October gets underway.

1. Will he or won't he?
It's a question that applies to three current Engineers and one recruit specifically, but could also pertain to a number of other recruits.

Senior-to-be Chase Polacek is, according to Hockey's Future, is drawing some attention from NHL scouts. As an undrafted free agent, Polacek has more options than he would have if he'd have been drafted, since there are 32 teams who could potentially be bidding for his services instead of being limited to the needs and whims of a single team. Ken Schott told us a few weeks ago that he doesn't see Polacek leaving. We'll be watching.

Sophomores-to-be Brandon Pirri and Jerry D'Amigo are also on the watch list, although there's a bit less concern that they might leave. Both are considered highly prized prospects for their respective NHL teams, but conventional wisdom says that both require a little more seasoning - in Pirri's case, a bit more size - before joining the professional ranks, even in the minor leagues.

Then there's the case of Jacob Laliberté, the stud forward recruit who has been dominating the CJHL all season long. Laliberté had 62 goals and 48 assists for 110 points in just 50 games this season. There remains some question about whether he will indeed come to RPI, or whether the lure of major junior will snatch him away. The Engineers recently got a commitment for next year from his current teammate in Cornwall, defenseman Guy Leboeuf, and has another recruit coming in next year in forward Brock Higgs, who played well with Laliberté in the World Junior Challenge. Might they play a role in sealing the deal?

Needless to say, if RPI can go 4-for-4 with these guys returning/arriving, last weekend's playoff series will be a distant memory. Could you imagine these 4 guys playing together on a power play unit with Bryan Brutlag or Mike Bergin as the QB?

Additionally, a couple of committed recruits, Nick Quinn and Luke Curadi, are still somewhat up in the air as to whether they will be arriving this year or in 2011. Similarly, there are rumors that Patrick Koudys may come a year earlier than previously expected, but he should still be on track to arrive in 2011.

2. The Red Carpet
Although RPI's early exit from the ECAC Playoffs basically assures that he won't be among the final 3 contenders for the award, we'll be watching over the next week to see if Chase Polacek is one of the 10 finalists. We think he did enough to earn a mention in the annual Hobey Baker highlight reel that plays at each tournament's neutral-site venue.

The Engineers also have a pair of potential candidates for the national rookie of the year award in Brandon Pirri and Jerry D'Amigo.

The ECAC awards will be handed out next week as well, with Polacek, Pirri, and D'Amigo all probable candidates for the league equivalents of those national awards.

3. Field House renovations
The last couple of years have seen various changes to the Field House, and those renovations are not done yet. Plans are in place to redo the exterior facing Peoples Avenue and to place a VIP suite in the empty spot where Section 1 used to be. There are also whiffs of a new scoreboard complete with video capability in the near future, especially after the video screen used during alumni weekend was met with positive reviews. How near term are these projects? Perhaps we'll find out this summer.

4. There is no offseason
Not when it comes to recruiting, anyway. We became aware of four commitments during the last offseason (Koudys, Quinn, Nick Bailen and Greg Burgdoerfer), three in 2008 (Pirri, D'Amigo, and Rabbani), and four in 2007 (Polacek, Beauregard, Kennedy, and Foss). We'll be keeping our ear to the ground for new recruits, tangling with finalizing the incoming freshman class and hopefully starting to get a good idea of what 2011 and maybe even 2012 will bring us for new players.


We're also planning to offer quite a bit of Summer Cooler material, including (we hope) guest columns from around the college hockey world, preseason outlooks on all 58 Division I programs, and possibly some new features starting in September. It may be the offseason, but we hope you'll stick around here at Without a Peer for all of your RPI hockey needs.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Women's Hockey - at Cornell (ECAC Semifinal)

For the second straight season the Engineers found themselves in the ECAC semifinals, playing for another chance to fight for the league crown. Unlike last season, which saw RPI hold Harvard to just two goals on 50 shots, the Engineers would be unable to keep Cornell off the board, letting a 4-goal second period pave the way for Cornell to ride a 5-4 victory in the ECAC Championship.




Le Donne/Vadner

van der Bliek

RPI did not get off to a good start in this one, surrendering the game's first goal only 3:26 into the first period, however Kendra Dunlop had an answer at 12:19 of the frame as she took a pass from Whitney Naslund and fired a wrist shot past Cornell goalie Amanda Mazzotta to tie the game at one.

The second period...was a disaster from top to bottom for the Engineers. They were outshot 18-1 in the period, outworked, and most importantly outscored 4-0 by the Big Red (all even strength goals) within the first 13:10 of the period at nearly even 4-minute intervals. Down 5-1 heading into the locker room and being outshot 24-6, it looked like RPI's chances of making the championship were long gone.

But the Engineers weren't ready to go down without a fight, and in a thrilling third period that saw them outshoot their hosts 8-5, they scored three goals to bring the score to within one and nearly make a complete comeback from a killer 4-goal defecit. Whitney Naslund opened the late scoring with a goal at 10:52 of the period. With a Cornell player in the box about five minutes later, Coach Burke pulled van der Bliek in favor of the extra attacker and Laura Gersten made the score 5-3 with the 6-on-4 skater advantage. 2:47 after the goal, Burke would pull van der Bliek again, and Whitney Naslund cut across the crease and found an opening to make the score 5-4.

The final 90 seconds saw RPI unable to knot the score, and Cornell advanced to the championship game against Clarkson. Cornell went on to win that game 4-3. Cornell, Harvard, and Clarkson will all represent the ECAC in the NCAA Tournament beginning next weekend.

We'll have an overall season recap along with results from the NCAA Tournament games next weekend.


#4 RPI at #1 (8)Cornell
ECAC Hockey Semifinal – Lynah Rink (Ithaca, NY)
3/5/10 - 7:00pm
Cornell 5, RPI 4

College Hockey Stats:


RECORD: 16-15-6 (2-2 playoffs, 2-1 quarterfinals, 0-1 semifinal)


Semifinal Results:

#1 Cornell vs. #4 RPI - Cornell wins 5-4
#2 Clarkson vs. #3 Harvard - Clarkson wins 3-2

Championship Result:

#1 Cornell vs. #2 Clarkson - Cornell wins 4-3 (OT)

NCAA Tournament Seedings:

(1) Mercyhurst vs. (8) Boston University
(2) Minnesota-Duluth vs. (7) New Hampshire
(3) Minnesota vs. (6) Clarkson
(4) Harvard vs. (5) Cornell



The Engineers went 0-1 last week, falling to eighth-ranked Cornell, 5-4, in the ECAC Hockey Semifinals, on Friday night in Ithaca. Senior Whitney Naslund (Bloomington, MN) led a late comeback after trailing 5-1, midway through the third period, scoring two goals, while adding an assist earlier in the contest. Rensselaer concludes its 2009-10 season with a 16-15-6 overall record, including an 11-7-4 mark in ECAC Hockey.

Men's Hockey - ECAC First Round (5/6/7 Mar)

One thing we learned last season is that the better team does not always win. This is true of single games, but it's also true of playoff series. When RPI beat Dartmouth in Hanover last season, it wasn't a case of the Engineers being the better team. That was pretty obvious. It was a case of them having nothing to lose and everything to gain.

This weekend, that lesson was relearned with bitter tears, and hopefully is a lesson which the three returning classes will bring with them moving forward - a humiliation that will drive them for the next seven months.

Brown won the best of three series in three games, winning Game 1 by a 3-1 margin before RPI bounced back in Game 2, winning 4-1, and the Bears took the decisive Game 3, 3-2.

Game 1



This lineup represented the Engineers' first 100% healthy lineup since the game at Harvard. Since that time, they lost Allen York for (essentially) three games, were missing Alex Angers-Goulet the previous weekend, and had lost Mike Bergin for the Cornell game. Finally, the band was back together.

Early on in Game 1, it appeared that the series would possibly the the breeze that most pundits expected it to be (few expected any result other than an RPI sweep). The Engineers played solid hockey and managed to get a few good scoring opportunities. Seven minutes in, RPI got a power play and went right to work. Senior Paul Kerins would earn his 13th goal of the season to give the Engineers a 1-0 lead on a textbook power play execution. It was looking good.

And that was pretty much the moment things fell apart. Brandon Pirri would draw three penalties in the game's first fifteen minutes (he was in the box, actually, during the power play, as Brown had drawn a simultaneous double minor), and the Engineers as a whole started getting lax, not completing passes, not hustling, trying to be too cute with the puck. Allen York had to stop 14 pucks to keep his team in the game in the 2nd period, and after 40 minutes, RPI still had the 1-0 lead but it was obvious that they needed more offense and needed to play smarter defense if that lead was going to hold up.

Out of the tunnel for the third period, it was obvious that wasn't about to happen. The Bears got a goal just 1:40 into the period on a defensive breakdown, and just over a minute later capitalized on a big error by York to take the lead. York went behind the net to play the puck and played it around the boards, but there was no one there to receive the pass but a Brown player. York flailed back into the crease and made a first save, but was flat on his stomach with the net wide open as the Bears took the 2-1 lead.

One would expect that this would have fired the Engineers with energy to pull even, but the offense continued to play uninspired hockey, repeatedly passing up scoring opportunities. After a slew of penalties called throughout the first and second periods, the referees swallowed their whistles and RPI never got an opportunity on the power play. Brown would ice it with an empty netter late, followed by a classy elbow to the head to Jeff Foss by Harry Zolnierczyk in the last minute.

In this game, Brown simply hung around long enough to make a difference. One goal is never enough in this league, and games like this one are a perfect illustration why.

Game 2



The shakeup was immediate. Tyler Helfrich and C.J. Lee, two guys who are usually regulars, were benched in favor of Garett Vassel and Josh Rabbani. In addition, Bryan Brutlag was moved on to the Polacek line and Paul Kerins joined the People's Line.

Initially, things looked very similar to the previous night. The first 10 minutes were uninspired, and it looked like Brown wanted it more. Then, a gift arrived in the form of a power play midway through the period, and just like the previous night, a textbook execution finished off by Paul Kerins gave RPI a 1-0 lead, and they even got a bonus out of it - a delayed penalty before the goal gave the Engineers another power play right away. This was the opportunity to put the pedal down and not look back.

That's not how it worked out. Seconds after the Brown penalty was killed, the player coming out of the box set up an odd-man rush that ended with a Brown goal, making it 1-1 and sucking the air back out of the building.

Once the second period started, though, the energy was back. Even though Pirri would be called for two penalties in the first three minutes, the Brown power play was terrible and the Engineers started counterattacking. It was tough breaking through the trappy Brown defense, but RPI kept fighting and refused to relent. Finally, Patrick Cullen, who had been fighting himself through a very disappointing sophomore season, made the breakthrough, scoring to make it 2-1.

Just over a minute later, Pirri rang one off the crossbar and in, and the floodgates were open. The solid play would continue over into the third period, and despite the always precarious two-goal lead, there was never much doubt that RPI was on their way to evening the series. RPI controlled play and put 14 shots on goal, while Allen York only faced 6 shots in the final frame. Midway through the period, Chase Polacek added his 26th goal of the season, on the power play, on a shot that he looked relieved to have followed through on.

With the series leveled at one game a piece, the task at hand was simple. If RPI played the way they did in the final two periods in game 2, Brown was never going to keep up with them. If they played like they did in the first four periods, it was going to be a long night.

Game 3



The previous lineup having gotten the job done, the same exact lineups were sent out on Sunday night to take the series. Unfortunately, the effort they would come through with was less the last two periods of Game 2 and more like it was in Game 1, and it showed early on.

After a tentative first 7 minutes or so - just like the previous two nights, it was Brown who would score first for the first time on the weekend, connecting following some sloppy defensive work by the Engineers to go up 1-0.

The ray of hope from the first period was that RPI was still shooting the puck, but they weren't getting many quality shots. The second period, however, was an unmitigated disaster. RPI had only 5 shots on goal, partially because they had to kill three penalties during the period, and partially because they were already playing like a defeated team, especially after Brown scored 20 seconds into a 5-on-3, re-exposing the Engineers' extreme difficulties in defending a two man disadvantage, to make it 2-0. It could easily have been 3-0, but a Brown goal was disallowed after being kicked in.

A penalty to Mike Bergin carried over into the third period, and Brown would make it 3-0 just one second after Bergin exited the box, 18 seconds into the period, and from there it was obvious that much of the team was starting to admit defeat. Jerry D'Amigo, who had just turned the puck over to create the scoring opportunity, sprawled out on the ice in the neutral zone in despair. He looked beaten.

But there were still 20 minutes left, and senior Paul Kerins, easily the Engineers' MVP of the weekend, refused to go quietly into the night. For the third night in a row, he tallied RPI's first goal of the game, scoring about 6 minutes into the 3rd period to put RPI on the board. The struggles continued after the goal, though, and it still looked like the two-goal lead would be insurmountable for a considerable amount of the period.

The breakthrough came after a Brown penalty with about five minutes left to play. Seth Appert pulled Allen York to create a 6-on-4 situation, and although RPI was unable to convert with a player in the box, they would score just two seconds after the penalty expired on a booming slapshot from the point by Jeff Foss, his 2nd of the year, and suddenly it was just a one goal deficit with 3 minutes left to play.

The push was on to tie things up. Another goal from the Engineers would be like a dagger for Brown, to give up a 3 goal lead with under 15 minutes to play would have been devastating. RPI came close a few times, including while Allen York was pulled from the net again, but the tying goal would not come. Hope was officially snuffed when Chase Polacek was called for an incidental slash in the neutral zone, down a goal, with 12 seconds left.

Classy to the end, Harry Zolnierczyk and Aaron Volpatti taunted RPI fans on their way off the ice as Brown advanced to the second round in a second consecutive first round road upset.

The season is over, but the future remains bright. Some solid senior leadership, like that of Paul Kerins on offense and Christian Jensen and Erik Burgdoerfer on defense, will be missed, but the next recruiting class looks bright indeed, and this young team will learn from its mistakes. We came into this season much more optimistic than the pundits about the Engineers' chances, and they were just a goal away from a first round bye - certainly much more advanced than the 10th place finish they had been expected to bring in. While the season ends on a disappointing note, this season was absolutely a success, and a vital stepping stone to a great future for RPI hockey.

Brown at RPI
ECAC First Round Game 1 - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
3/5/10 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: Brown 3, RPI 1

College Hockey Stats:

Troy Record:
Schenectady Daily Gazette:
WNYT-TV (Albany):
Providence Journal:

Post-game press conference:
Full game:

RECORD: 17-16-4 (10-9-3 ECAC)

Reale Deals
1. F Paul Kerins, 1 G
2. D Mike Bergin, E, 1 A
3. F Chase Polacek, 1 A, 4 shots

Brown at RPI
ECAC First Round Game 2- Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
3/6/10 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: RPI 4, Brown 1

College Hockey Stats:

Troy Record:
Albany Times-Union:
Schenectady Daily Gazette:
WNYT-TV (Albany):
Providence Journal:

Post game press conference:
Full game:

RECORD: 18-16-4 (10-9-3 ECAC)

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

Brown at RPI
ECAC First Round Game 3 - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
3/7/10 - 7:00 pm
RESULT: Brown 3, RPI 2

College Hockey Stats:

Troy Record:
Albany Times-Union:
Schenectady Daily Gazette:
Brown Daily Herald:
Providence Journal:

Post game press conference:
Full game:

RECORD: 18-17-4 (10-9-3 ECAC)

Reale Deals
1. F Paul Kerins, 1 G
2. F Patrick Cullen, 2 A
3. D Jeff Foss, 1 G


Rensselaer went 1-2 last week, dropping a best-of-three ECAC Hockey First Round series with Brown at the Houston Field House. The Bears opened the series with a 3-1 win on Friday, before the Engineers evened the series at 1-1 on Saturday with a 4-1 victory. Brown then took the deciding Game 3, 3-2 on Sunday night. Senior Paul Kerins (Weston, ON) netted a pair of goals and dished out an assist in the series for RPI, which concludes its season with a 18-17-4 overall record. The Engineers went 10-9-3 in conference play.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

This Is The End, My Friends

We could comment on the terrible officiating. We could discuss our amazement that we managed to under-report how big of a scumbag Harry Zolnierczyk is.

Instead, we'll just say this.

Thank you, seniors.

#2 Erik Burgdoerfer - Defenseman - East Setauket, NY - Management
#3 Christian Jensen - Defenseman - Watchung, NJ - Management
#6 Peter Merth - Defenseman - New Westminster, BC - Environmental Science
#11 Paul Kerins - Forward - Weston, ON - Management
#12 Garett Vassel - Left Wing - Westhampton, NY - Management

#6 Laura Gersten - Defenseman - Queensbury, NY - Management
#8 Allysen Weidner - Forward - Wichita, KS - Psychology/Management
#10 Whitney Naslund - Forward - Bloomington, MN - Biomedical Engineering
#19 Rossli Chace - Forward - Hampton Falls, NH - Electronic Media, Arts, & Communications
#86 Allison Wright - Forward - Oakville, ON - Science

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Women's Hockey Falls in Semifinal

RPI fell to Cornell, 5-4, in the ECAC Semifinals on Friday. At one point down 5-1, RPI rallied for 3 goals in the third period but could not draw even with the league's top seeded team. The Engineers' season comes to an end with the loss while Cornell will host Clarkson for the ECAC title on Sunday.

Full recap to follow later in the weekend.

Friday, March 5, 2010

ECAC Playoffs: The Final Four

Well. We told you Cornell would beat Colgate in two games. They did. We told you Clarkson would need three to knock off St. Lawrence. They did. We informed you that Harvard would have no problem taking care of Princeton in two games. That happened. We picked Quinnipiac to take down RPI in three games.

Come on, game three went to FIVE OVERTIMES. We're claiming victory, especially since our team won.

It's all single elimination from here on out. That gives us two games today to wrestle with.

#5 RPI at #1 Cornell
(Cornell won season series, 3-1 in Troy on 11/7, 2-1 in Ithaca on 2/19)

Cornell has a stingy defense. That's the good news for the Big Red. The bad news? The Engineers have some recent experience doing well against a stingy defense, and sport one of their own.

Big Red sophomore Amanda Mazzotta has 11 shutouts this season, including four in a row in early February, a streak that was broken by the Engineers' overtime assassin, Laura Gersten, in a game the Engineers were very much a part of in a weekend where they were hoping to lock up a home ice berth.

Cornell's got a couple of big advantages - they're at home, where they've lost only once in ECAC play (to St. Lawrence), and they fairly easily dispatched Colgate in 120 minutes of hockey, which is less than the amount of hockey the Engineers played in Game 3 alone just five days ago. Was that enough time to recover, both physically and emotionally?

The Big Red have an offense capable of scoring in bunches, but in the month of February, they were notably stymied, for the most part, by Quinnipiac and RPI. Hmm. They're at home and still in need of at least one more win (and probably two) to play in the NCAA tournament. A win over the Engineers would have more positive effect on Cornell's position in the Pairwise than their two wins over Colgate. There's a lot on the line for them in this one.

But we're going to throw caution to the wind on this one and maybe let our homerism lead us this time. RPI played a pair of hard fought games with the Big Red this season in which they were never out of contention. They were in both games, which is something a lot of teams couldn't claim this year.

The Engineers aren't sneaking up on anyone this year, especially not after three straight wins over Harvard and an awe-inspiring quarterfinal win. They won't be taken lightly. But you don't have to take RPI lightly to lose to them on any given occasion.

The RPI defense is where this game will turn. Either they're still spent and the floodgates will open, or they'll still be sharp and standing tall, and will make this a game similar to the three played last weekend. If it's the latter, the Engineers are going to be a "hard out" no matter who they're playing.

There's every reason to pick against them, but let's go with the "team of destiny" theme - and maybe a whole lot of wishful thinking - and take the underdog for a second consecutive appearance in the ECAC Championship.

Prediction: RPI 1, Cornell 0

#3 Harvard at #2 Clarkson
(Clarkson won season series, 2-1 in Boston on 11/6, 3-3 in Potsdam on 2/20)

RPI fans could be excused for thinking that Harvard might be struggling, but the truth is that the Crimson have been mostly beating up teams not called the Engineers since January. The only other team they've lost to since the middle of November? Quinnipiac, 1-0. Starting to notice a trend, yet?

Clarkson struggled mightily down the stretch to the tune of losing the league's top position that had basically been theirs since October. Their two victories over St. Lawrence were solid, convincing victories, but their offense failed to click in the loss on Saturday.

The Knights' win over Harvard came early on, when the Crimson weren't firing on all four yet and Clarkson was. Now the roles are somewhat reversed (although Clarkson certainly seems to be playing better than they were in the stretch). They improved to a tie just a couple of weeks ago the last time they were in Potsdam. Now it's crunch time. Harvard is in this position every year, Clarkson is treading new territory. The Crimson surely haven't forgotten about what happened last season in the semifinals.

Perhaps most importantly, the Harvard defense is a lot more solid than St. Lawrence's has been.

But who do you think they're pulling for in the game in Ithaca?

Prediction: Harvard 4, Clarkson 2

Hoo-boy. If we're perfect with our picks once again (and we were perfect. WE WERE. Come on, no one expects FIVE!), it's going to be all out war in Boston on Sunday.

Tick Tock On the Clock

No. That headline is deceiving. There's no way in hell we're using that song as an actual pump-up. But time is running out on the season. The women can't lose or they're done. The men get only one. That's very little room for error.

("Tick tock, on the clock, but the party don't stop." Sounds fitting for the ladies from last weekend, right? Still not going there.)

Pumping you up, instead, with the Red Hot Chili Peppers' update on a Stevie Wonder classic. The goal this weekend? Higher ground.

(And just to make everyone else feel old too, people born in the year of this particular "update" are now old enough to purchase alcohol. Have a great night!)

PS: The Collar City Madmen are hosting a tailgate party outside of Houston Field House before Game 1 of the RPI-Brown series starting at 4pm and wrapping up sometime just before puck drop. Both of your hosts will be there after 5:30 or so, come by and say hello.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

ECAC Playoffs: The First Round

It's the first round of the ECAC playoffs already. I know, it seems like it was just yesterday we were debating how good Prince Edward Island was and what that game really told us about the Engineers.

Four teams will see their seasons end this weekend. This is crunch time. Win or go home.

#12 Clarkson at #5 St. Lawrence
(St. Lawrence won season series, 3-3 in Canton on 12/4, 4-3 in Potsdam on 12/5)

The Golden Knights (8-22-4, 4-15-3 ECAC) must have been ecstatic when they found out that their first round matchup would take them just 10 miles down the road. Despite dropping the league season series, the Knights did earn a home non-conference win over the Saints (15-13-7, 9-8-5 ECAC), and as is the case with many intense rivalries, quite often you can throw the records out the window, another aspect we're sure Clarkson was looking forward to. In fact, renowned SLU radio man and sports information director Wally Johnson was frank when the Saints were in Troy in early February - despite the Knights' struggles, Clarkson was the last team he wanted to see in the playoffs.

There's reason to think Clarkson could pull off the upset. Since the extreme low point of their season - an 11-2 waxing by Union that was their 7th consecutive loss, the Knights have been .500 ever since, including a home sweep of Princeton and Quinnipiac and an overtime loss to eventual regular season champions Yale.

Meanwhile, St. Lawrence, at the same time, struggled down the stretch. In the last month, the Saints went 1-4-3, with the one win coming last Saturday that ultimately earned them the 5th seed.

Clarkson is the trendy pick here - they're finally healthy (remember, they had two forwards playing defense when they played in Troy) and they're getting some offense. Since their 2-1 loss to RPI, the Knights have scored at least 3 goals in 4 of their last 6 after a stretch of 1 in 8. Three of those games featured 4 goals by Clarkson, which they hadn't previously done since November.

Meanwhile, Kain Tisi, ever since we touted him as a favorite for the Dryden Award, has become shaky. The Saints gave up at least 3 goals in 6 of their last 8 games, leading to some additional playing time for Alex Petizian. In their one win, the Saints were a goal away from blowing a 4-0 lead.

Since this is the ECAC...

Prediction: St. Lawrence in three

#11 Brown at #6 RPI
(Season series split, 3-1 RPI in Troy on 11/7, 4-3 Brown in OT in Providence on 1/29)

We've already broken down the Bears (8-17-4, 6-12-4 ECAC) - low on defense, some ability to score, love to trap. The defense was especially bad in February, giving up at least 5 goals in six of their eight February tilts, including 15 goals in two games last weekend

The Engineers (17-15-4, 10-9-3 ECAC), meanwhile, do still have the second best defense in the league despite a number of rough defensive showings in the home stretch, but they were at their best against Cornell last Saturday, a team which plays a similar style of hockey as Brown.

The intangible element here? The Engineers know all too well how easily an #11 seed can knock off a #6 seed, they did it themselves last season in a series in which they were given no shot whatsoever. Brown knows it too - they were given no chance as the #12 seed last season, and rode Mike Clemente to a pair of shutouts against Harvard.

They pretty much cancel each other out, then. We're not just being homers here - all signs point to the Engineers this weekend. If they don't remember the magnitude of what they accomplished last season, though, if they lose focus, the rebound season could end with reverse of last year.

Prediction: RPI in two

#10 Dartmouth at #7 Quinnipiac
(Season series split, 4-2 QU in Hamden on 11/14, 4-3 Dartmouth in Hanover on 1/29)

Like Clarkson, the Big Green (9-17-3, 7-12-3 ECAC) spent much of the season at the bottom of the ECAC table and very clearly started playing their best hockey of the season at the end. Their only losses in February were to Yale and Union, two bye teams, and included wins over RPI, Cornell, and St. Lawrence, all teams that had been expected to easily take 2 points from Dartmouth. The Big Green enter the playoffs as the hottest team in the league, riding a 5-game unbeaten streak.

The Bobcats (17-15-2, 11-11-0 ECAC) might have been the most wildly erratic team in the history of college hockey. They started off the season 12-1-0, and then finished 5-14-2. Fortunately, four of those five wins that have come after the month of November have come in the last seven games, and included a win in the final game of the regular season over first place Yale.

Perhaps even more so than the Clarkson-St. Lawrence matchup, this may be the most interesting first round matchup. We came into the season expecting that Quinnipiac might have question marks on defense, and although they seemed to have solid defense early in the season, it has been hard to come by even during their recent successes. During their hot streak, the Big Green haven't had much defense either - but they've had an awful lot of offense. They've been involved in shootouts, and Quinnipiac has the capacity to get into those easily as well.

This will come down to whichever team can bury their chances better. We like Quinnipiac's big scorers like Brandon Wong and Eric Lampe, at home, in a series like this to be the difference makers.

Prediction: Quinnipiac in three

#9 Harvard at #8 Princeton
(Princeton won season series, 3-3 in Princeton on 11/14, 2-1 in Boston on 1/29)

The Tigers (12-14-3, 8-12-2 ECAC) are dangerous right now. Widely expected to be off this week with the bye, Princeton struggled mightily early but rebounded enough late to slide into the final home ice berth. The Tiger offense quietly started exploding when the team returned from January exams and while senior goaltender Zane Kalemba has never quite put himself where he was last season when he was the ECAC Player of the Year, the offense, most nights, has been enough to make up for it, and he's still good enough to keep his team in most shootouts.

Harvard (7-19-3, 7-12-3 ECAC) underperformed all season as well, but unlike Princeton they are crashing at the wrong time. After a 3-point weekend in the Capital District in January made the Crimson unbeaten in 4 straight, some pundits pointed to Harvard as finally living up to their preseason hype as a potential bye team. They promptly finished 2-9-0 with atrocious defense and not enough offense to make up for it. The Crimson ultimately needed only a handful of points down the stretch to secure home ice, but lost their last four games by a combined score of 13-6 to end up on the road.

The 8/9 matchup is often one of the most closely matched series of the first round, but this year it's a match of two teams moving in opposite directions. Princeton is still in an "all hands on deck" mode thanks to a number of injuries that have plagued them all season, but they're finally sending out a full complement of skaters and they are better off for it. Harvard, meanwhile, has shown an inability to effectively counter a strong offense, and if Princeton's stays constant with its recent results, this series won't be close.

Prediction: Princeton in two

This is still the ECAC, and anything is possible. There were plenty of upsets last season - but never underestimate the advantage that home ice can bring. All eyes will be on tight matchups in Canton and Hamden, but don't count out the possibility for drama in Troy and Princeton.