Monday, March 8, 2010

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

Bergin/Foss
Kennedy/Merth
Jensen/Burgdoerfer

York

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

Kennedy/Merth
Bergin/Foss
Jensen/Burgdoerfer

York

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

Kennedy/Merth
Bergin/Foss
Jensen/Burgdoerfer

York

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

BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats: http://www.collegehockeystats.net/0910/boxes/mbrnren1.m05
USCHO: http://www.uscho.com/box/?date=20100305&vis=bn&home=rpi&gender=m

RECAPS
RPI: http://www.rpiathletics.com/news/2010/3/5/MHOCK_0305105948.aspx
USCHO: http://www.uscho.com/recaps/20092010/m/03/05/bn-rpi.php
Troy Record: http://www.troyrecord.com/articles/2010/03/05/sports/doc4b91ecce649ec460630293.txt
Schenectady Daily Gazette: http://www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/schott/2010/mar/05/rpi-brown-postgame-report/
WNYT-TV (Albany): http://wnyt.com/article/stories/S1452167.shtml?cat=300
Providence Journal: http://www.projo.com/brown/content/Brown_Rensselaer_hockey_03-06-10_S1HMB4S_v2.3986561.html

VIDEO
Post-game press conference: http://www.youtube.com/user/rpiathletics#p/u/3/RWuB3NxqeOE
Full game: http://www.rpitv.org/productions/286-mens-hockey-vs-brown-game-1-ecac-championship-1st-round

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

BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats: http://www.collegehockeystats.net/0910/boxes/mbrnren1.m06
USCHO: http://www.uscho.com/box/?date=20100306&vis=bn&home=rpi&gender=m

RECAPS
RPI: http://www.rpiathletics.com/news/2010/3/6/MHOCK_0306104824.aspx
USCHO: http://www.uscho.com/recaps/20092010/m/03/06/bn-rpi.php
Troy Record: http://www.troyrecord.com/articles/2010/03/07/sports/doc4b9342d67c8e3898679505.txt
Albany Times-Union: http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=908779&category=RENSSELAER
Schenectady Daily Gazette: http://www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/schott/2010/mar/06/rpi-brown-game-2-postgame-report/
WNYT-TV (Albany): http://wnyt.com/article/stories/S1452843.shtml?cat=300
Providence Journal: http://www.projo.com/brown/content/Brown_RPI_03-07-10_31HMJ8A_v2.3a646b1.html

VIDEO
Post game press conference: http://www.youtube.com/user/rpiathletics#p/u/1/DVvvnLDSMP4
Full game: http://www.rpitv.org/productions/287-mens-hockey-vs-brown-game-2-1st-round

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

BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats: http://www.collegehockeystats.net/0910/boxes/mbrnren1.m07
USCHO: http://www.uscho.com/box/?date=20100307&vis=bn&home=rpi&gender=m

RECAPS
RPI: http://www.rpiathletics.com/news/2010/3/7/MHOCK_0307105919.aspx
USCHO: http://www.uscho.com/recaps/20092010/m/03/07/bn-rpi.php
Troy Record: http://www.troyrecord.com/articles/2010/03/08/sports/doc4b94925d9f63c777059032.txt
Albany Times-Union: http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=908959&category=SPORTS
Schenectady Daily Gazette: http://www.dailygazette.com/weblogs/schott/2010/mar/08/rpi-brown-game-3-postgame-report/
Brown Daily Herald: http://www.browndailyherald.com/brown-upsets-rpi-advances-in-ecac-playoffs-1.2183463
Providence Journal: http://www.projo.com/brown/content/sp_hkc_brown_08_03-08-10_QGHMQG9_v3.3a62c00.html

VIDEO
Post game press conference: http://www.youtube.com/user/rpiathletics#p/u/0/YUkj_RoLB7w
Full game: http://www.rpitv.org/productions/288-mens-hockey-vs-brown-game-3-1st-round

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

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MEN’S HOCKEY

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.

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