Monday, October 25, 2010

Men's Hockey - RIT and Niagara (22/23 Oct)

We mentioned last week that the first full home weekend of the season was a "must-win" for the Engineers if they were going to have a shot at presenting themselves as being legitimate contenders in the ECAC. Mission accomplished. RPI played a sound, physical game in taking down RIT 4-1 on Friday before jumping out against Niagara and refusing to fold despite playing a poor third, getting the game winner in overtime, 4-3.

RIT
Lee/Polacek/Helfrich
Angers-Goulet/Malchuk/Brutlag
Rabbani/Higgs/O'Grady
Tinordi/Rogic/Halpern

Bergin/Foss
Kennedy/Dolan
Leboeuf/Bailen

York

RIT is still trying to figure out what they're doing in net - for the RPI game, they decided to go with senior Jan Ropponen, a Finn who has seen minimal action between the pipes in his previous three seasons in Rochester.

RPI came out flying against the Tigers, who played in the Frozen Four last season. From the opening puck drop, the Engineers played aggressively, especially when it came to the forecheck and the physical aspects of the game, with John Kennedy and Matt Tinordi especially dishing out the big hits all over the ice.

Brock Higgs got the scoring started on the power play about 13 minutes into the game, notching the first goal of his college career to put RPI up 1-0. That lead would be short-lived, however. With Jeff Foss in the box for interference, RIT's Cameron Burt fooled Allen York into moving to defend a pass near the net, when actually, Burt had sort of just let the puck continue toward the net off the back of his stick without much of a shot. The puck slipped through York's pads and in to make it 1-1.

The Engineers kept the pressure up in the second period, continuing to work hard physically and on the forecheck. When Tyler Helfrich was called on a questionable tripping call to negate an RPI power play, the hard work paid off on the ensuing 4-on-4. Higgs scored his second of the night four minutes into the 2nd period, giving the Engineers a 2-1 lead. Later in the period, Helfrich would earn his 3rd of the season to give RPI a two-goal cushion. Ropponen faced a blitz of shots in the second period from the aggressive Engineers, making 16 saves on 18 shots.

Seth Appert was less impressed with RPI's play in the third period, but the Engineers still managed to find success. Bryan Brutlag made it 4-1 early in the period for his 2nd goal of the year, but it was one of only 4 shots on the period as RPI started to coast. The defense held up, killing a pair of penalties in the third to finish the night 5-for-6 on the kill, but the team didn't seem overly interested in keeping the pedal down. It didn't much matter, as Allen York stood tall, stopping 9 shots in the period to drop his GAA even farther as RPI won, 4-1.

Niagara
Angers-Goulet/Malchuk/Brutlag
Lee/Polacek/Helfrich
Rabbani/Higgs/O'Grady
Tinordi/Rogic/Halpern

Bergin/Foss
Kennedy/Dolan
Koudys/Bailen

York

A night after getting throttled by Union, Niagara came out and decided to take shots at Allen York early and often. The Engineers didn't play especially well in the first period, in sharp contrast to the previous night's opening frame. Where York made 24 saves all night against RIT, he was forced to make 16 saves in the first period alone to keep the Purple Eagles off the board.

Despite the slow start, RPI still managed the first goal. 12 minutes into the game, the Engineers crashed the net, and Alex Angers-Goulet scored his first of the season, banging away at the puck until it went in to put RPI up 1-0. Josh Rabbani joined the scoring near the end of the period, scoring his first of the year putting back a rebound into an open net to give the Engineers a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission, despite a generally poor period otherwise.

The RPI power play had three opportunities to break the game open in the second period, but Niagara's Carsen Chubak took his turn to stand on his head, making 17 saves in the period to keep it a 2-0 game.

A roughing penalty to Angers-Goulet gave Niagara the power play early in the 3rd period, and the Purps converted for a goal just a few seconds after Goulet left the box, cutting the RPI lead in half. The goal sparked the Engineers in the immediate aftermath, and Chase Polacek scored about two minutes later to bring the lead back to two at 3-1. In previous years, we'd seen two goal leads evaporate quickly after giving up goals in the 3rd period, and after Polacek's goal, it appeared that had been mitigated to some degree.

But then, discipline became a problem for the Engineers, and the penalty kill, which hadn't been as sharp as usual all night long, started to break down. Foss was in the box when Marc Zanette scored to make it 3-2, and then Rabbani took a penalty shortly after the ensuing faceoff, eventually leading to a Marc Zanette goal that came just two minutes after his brother's, tying the game at three.

In other years, that might have been about it for the Engineers - they would have completely packed it in and either settled for a tie or lost the game late or in overtime. When Matt Tinordi took yet another penalty shortly after the Purps tied the game, it appeared they were doomed for a bad result. But the penalty kill finally came through again, and the Engineers came out aggressive for the overtime. Captain John Kennedy took an opportunistic shot from the top of the faceoff circle that came free to Marty O'Grady in front. O'Grady dished it off to Brock Higgs, who was wide open on the left side of the net, and Higgs shoveled it in for his third goal of the weekend to give RPI a 4-3 overtime victory - their third win in a row to extend their overall unbeaten streak to five games.

Veteran teams find ways to win games when they don't have their best stuff, and they did that on Saturday. At various times this weekend, RPI played with a suffocating forecheck, with brutal force physically, with impressive finishing touch, and with tough defense emanating from both the goal and the blueline. If they find a way to put all of that together regularly, the sky is the limit.

Other junk - On the heels of the 2nd longest active unbeaten streak in the nation, the Engineers are now nationally ranked. Barely. RPI received 57 votes in this week's USCHO.com poll, tying them with Minnesota for 20th in the nation. The Engineers become the 4th team in the ECAC to be nationally ranked, also ranked are #5 Yale (no change, idle), #14 Cornell (down one, won a pair of exhibition games), and #16 Union (up two, beat Niagara and RIT). Also ranked are #6 Boston University (up two, 2 first place votes), and #19 Colorado College (no change). Also receiving votes were Quinnipiac (10) and Northeastern (3).

Patrick Cullen and Greg Burgdoerfer have not played in three consecutive games, and they could be facing extended periods of time in the stands if the lines, as presently constituted, continue to click as well as they have. The fourth line of Tinordi/Rogic/Halpern were impressive as a checking line all night on Friday, especially Tinordi and Halpern. The Polacek line has been impressive all year, and the Malchuk line is seeing good results as well. The revelation this week was with the Higgs line, especially Higgs himself, although Rabbani and O'Grady had outstanding offensive showings this weekend as well. C.J. Lee was the only top-three line forward without a point this weekend, but he was dangerous as well.

The RIT goal ended 22 consecutive penalty kills for the Engineers, but the PK unit is still among the best in the nation. They have converted 37 of 42 penalty kill opportunities (RPI is tops in the nation in penalty kill chances). The difficult third period against Niagara pushed the Engineers below 90%, but they are still 9th in the nation on the penalty kill.

Allen York has keyed a big defensive front. The Engineers currently have the 2nd best defense in the nation, trailing only Boston College, having given up only 10 goals in six games, a rate of 1.67 GAA. York has a personal GAA of 1.62 (with the difference coming in times when he was off for a sixth skater), 5th in the nation. His 370:38 between the pipes remains tops in the nation. He has 166 saves on 176 shots, for a save percentage of .943, which is 4th best in the nation.

The next test for RPI is big - local rivals Union on the big sheet in Lake Placid. Both teams have played two games on Olympic sized ice this year (RPI in Colorado, Union in Alaska), and both teams boast one of the best goaltenders in the nation, and likely the top two goaltenders in the league. Union has displayed that its offense has the potential to be potent, as they have beaten up on a slew of marginal teams. This matchup will come down to York vs. Kinkaid, and may the best team win.

RIT at RPI
Nonconference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
10/22/10 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 4, RIT 1

BOX SCORES
RECAPS
VIDEO
RECORD: 2-1-2 (0-0-0 ECAC)

Reale Deals
1. F Brock Higgs, 2 G
2. G Allen York, 24 saves
3. F Marty O'Grady, 2 A

Niagara at RPI
Nonconference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
10/23/10 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 4, Niagara 3 (OT)

BOX SCORES
RECAPS
VIDEO
RECORD: 3-1-2 (0-0-0 ECAC)

Reale Deals
1. F Brock Higgs, 1 G, 1 A
2. D John Kennedy, 2 A
3. F Chase Polacek, 1 G

Upcoming games
30 Oct - vs. #16 Union (Lake Placid, NY)
05 Nov - at Dartmouth
06 Nov - at Harvard
12 Nov - at #16 Union
13 Nov - #16 Union (Black Saturday)

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