Monday, November 29, 2010

Men's Hockey - Rensselaer Holiday Tournament (26/27 Nov)

It wasn't easy, but the streak is finally over for the Engineers in their own tournament. Given that it had been nine years since RPI won the Rensselaer Holiday Tournament - which has been known by many names over the 60 straight seasons it has run, it probably wasn't ever going to be simple for the Engineers to skate off with the title, even with the relatively weak field most observers saw coming to Troy. The Engineers had to fight back from a pair of 2-goal deficits on Friday but beat UConn 6-5, then had to bounce back from yet another late goal in the title game to win in overtime over Bowling Green, 3-2.




The big news on Friday before the game was sophomore Bryce Merriam getting his first action of the season in net, but also of note were the jumbling of lines. Tyler Helfrich was moved off the top line for the first time this season with the hopes of helping to develop a bigger second line scoring threat. Higgs was moved onto that line as well, moving Angers-Goulet down to the fourth line.

The Engineers dominated the first period, throwing an impressive 20 shots on net against UConn goaltender Garrett Bartus, but he was up to the task, making 20 saves. Instead, it was the Huskies that would take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission, scoring their goal on an odd-man rush created by a bad transition from the Engineers.

RPI got a rough start to the second period, failing to follow up on the dominance of the first that had fans expecting that the game was still in hand despite trailing by a goal. The Huskies started turning the shot disparity around and ultimately took a 2-0 lead on a power play goal following an interference call against Pat Koudys.

Things finally got going less than a minute later. Jeff Foss whipped a head-man pass up to Alex Angers-Goulet, who streaked up the boards and came in on Bartus all alone, putting it home to make it 2-1 just 55 seconds after the second UConn goal. Later in the period, Bryan Brutlag scored on a rip from near the blue line that tied the score at two. Things seemed to be going well for the Engineers as the third period began.

But early in the third period, RPI would go down again, and it happened in much the same fashion as the first goal of the game. UConn broke out of its own zone very well, getting an odd-man rush and scoring on a shot that Merriam probably would want to have back, regaining the lead at 3-2. About four minutes later, the Huskies had their two-goal lead back after the Engineers failed to clear the puck. Another shot that Merriam probably should have gotten to popped the top of the net to make it 4-2. Coach-for-a-night Bryan Vines called timeout to try and stem the tide.

The second comeback, like the first one, began in short order. About a minute and a half later, the Engineers cut the deficit in half with a rebound goal scored by Helfrich, and the momentum definitely began to go in RPI's direction. It started to look like the tying goal was inevitable.

Then the energy was sucked out of the building in a hurry. Patrick Cullen and C.J. Lee crashed the net in search of that tying goal, and Cullen, carrying the puck, was upended by a defender taking out his legs. Cullen went flying through the air, striking Lee in the head with his skate, and Lee crumpled to the ice in a hurry. The game was delayed for almost 15 minutes as trainers and EMTs attended to Lee, who had been knocked out for a short time. As a precaution, Lee was put into a neck brace, placed on a backboard, and stretchered off the ice. The Field House was extremely quiet throughout the ordeal.

Once the teams got back to it, however, the Engineers proved that they hadn't lost their momentum. Just seconds after the game resumed - and indeed, only about a minute-and-a-half of game time after the Helfrich goal - the tying goal came from Chase Polacek, who put back a rebound off a Mike Bergin shot to bring the game level once again.

RPI took the lead on one of the worst giveaways you will ever see. With UConn holding the puck in their own zone and every Engineer but Angers-Goulet falling back, the Huskies promptly passed it directly to Angers-Goulet, who was standing directly in front of the crease. Before Bartus could react to the turnover, Angers-Goulet had already rifled it past him for an unassisted goal to put RPI up 5-4. But the Huskies weren't done. After an RPI giveaway in the neutral zone, UConn entered the zone one-on-one and scored on another shot York probably would have had, knotting things a third time, 5-5.

The response was relatively quick, and it was assisted by a pair of calls against UConn. The first was an interference call shortly after the ensuing center ice faceoff that put RPI on the power play, and Chase Polacek converted, threading the needle between Bartus and the post to put RPI back up 6-5. The second penalty came with less than 3 minutes left in the game, giving the Huskies little opportunity to come back. They did give the Engineers fits with the goaltender pulled - something isn't new for RPI this year - but the home team survived to advance to the title game after a wild, back and forth affair.

Merriam made 30 saves on the night, but many of the goals were relatively soft. It was reminiscent of his rough outing against Princeton in last year's Freakout.

Lee was taken to Albany Med, where a battery of tests were run, all thankfully negative.

The Engineers advanced to take on Bowling Green on Saturday. The Falcons had been 5-1 winners over Alabama-Huntsville in the first game of the tournament.

Bowling Green



Lee was back at Houston Field House on Saturday night, having been diagnosed with a concussion but alert and otherwise fine. He was held out on Saturday and will be held out this coming weekend as a precaution, just to make sure there are no lingering effects - see the interview linked below.

With Lee out, Seth Appert needed to jumble the lines once again. Bryan Brutlag was moved to the top scoring line for the first time, and Marty O'Grady centered the second line in place of Joel Malchuk, who apparently also had his bell rung in the UConn game.

Allen York was always likely to play the second night, especially if the Engineers were playing for a title, but given Merriam's struggles, it was practically a sure thing.

The first period was a relatively placid and ultimately boring affair. Both teams had one power play, neither of which got anything going. BGSU led 5-3 in shots after the period, which underscores the lack of scoring chances either way.

The scoring started early in the second instead, as Tyler Helfrich put back a shot from Marty O'Grady to make it 1-0. Just over a minute later, Nick Bailen, playing against his former team, brought the puck up ice and whipped a wrister from the top of the right faceoff circle, finding the back of the net to give RPI a 2-0 lead.

Bowling Green cut the lead in half on the power play late in the period as sophomore Jordan Samuels-Thomas, the Falcons' top scorer, scored on an odd bounce that found its way behind York to make it 2-1.

The Falcons controlled play throughout the third period, and the longer time went by, it was becoming fairly obvious that the Engineers were going to need a third goal in order to be able to breathe easy. After both teams had only one penalty each in the first two penalties, both took three apiece in the third, including a pair of matching minors that set up four-on-four situations, but BGSU outshot RPI 13-5 in the third. With the 2-1 score holding into the final minute, Bowling Green pulled the goaltender and held the RPI zone, and once again, the inability to clear the puck came back to haunt the Engineers. Brutlag nabbed the puck with about 12 seconds left but couldn't get it out, turning it over to Brett Mohler, who found David Solway. Solway (who originally joined Nick Bailen in leaving Bowling Green before changing his decision upon a firm commitment from the school to its program) ripped a shot with less than 10 seconds left in regulation that beat York to tie the game - reminiscent of the Union game in Lake Placid and the Harvard game.

RPI was determined to get it back. Off the overtime faceoff, Chase Polacek had a scoring opportunity that drew a faceoff in the BGSU zone, and while the Falcons won that faceoff, they couldn't clear the zone as expected, and Polacek zipped the puck behind the defense to Bryan Brutlag, who scored to alleviate his error just 30 in-game seconds after Bowling Green had tied it to give RPI the overtime victory, 3-2, and their first RPI Tournament title since 2001.

Brutlag was named the MVP of the tournament for his two goals and one assist on the weekend. Also named to the all-tournament team was Allen York for his 24 save showing on Saturday, Nick Bailen (1 goal, 2 assists) and Jeff Foss (2 assists, +3) were the all-tournament defensemen, and Chase Polacek (2 goals, 1 assist) and Tyler Helfrich (2 goals) were all-tournament forwards. The only non-RPI player on the all-tournament team was Jordan Samuels-Thomas of BGSU (2 goals, 1 assist on the weekend).

Things get serious this week, as the Engineers depart on what is arguably the most difficult road weekend on the ECAC schedule - that is, of course, given that RPI and Union, unlike the rest of the league, don't have to worry about the newly dreaded weekend in the Capital District. Yale (8-1-0) is first on the docket this Friday, and while the Engineers are no longer the top defensive team in the nation after giving up 5 goals to UConn on Saturday (that's actually Union now), RPI will be the most difficult defense that the Bulldogs have faced to date. Brown (3-2-3) have proven that they are no slouches this season either, having forced high-ranking UNH and BU to have to come from behind in order to settle for ties in the last two weeks, and we saw at the end of last season what they are capable of. Points this weekend will be made of gold, because Yale and Brown are likely to be tough for other teams to beat in their building (much like Dartmouth).

This may be one of the biggest travel partner weekends in recent memory in the ECAC - it includes all three of the ECAC's ranked teams (more on that in a moment) with the fourth nearly ranked. With a big non-conference game at home against BU right around the corner the following weekend, these next two weeks could be a big coming out party for the Engineers if all goes swimmingly well.

Other junk - The tournament victory moved the Engineers up the ladder in the USCHO poll for the second consecutive week, drawing 231 votes to land as the 16th ranked team in the nation this week. #2 Yale (up one, beat Sacred Heart at home) and #13 Union (no change, idle) are the only other ECAC teams ranked this week. Once again, #2 Boston University (no change, tied Brown at home) is the only other opponent on the RPI schedule this year that is ranked this week, BU and Yale both received 901 votes (with one first place vote going to BU) to tie for #2. Other RPI opponents receiving votes this week were Dartmouth (21), Brown (15), Clarkson (2), Niagara (2), and Colorado College (1).

With the ECAC table getting very unbalanced - as usual, Princeton (due to their exam schedule), Harvard (due to the Beanpot and their exam schedule), Quinnipiac and Dartmouth (as travel partners) have an inordinate number of games played compared to most of the remainder of the league. So we've added the usual ranking by winning percentage to assist you in interpreting the ECAC table.

ECAC Standings
1. Dartmouth - 5-2-1 (11 pts)
2. Princeton - 5-2-0 (10 pts)
3. Yale - 4-0-0 (8 pts)
4. Quinnipiac - 3-3-1 (7 pts)
5. Brown - 2-1-1 (5 pts)
6. Union - 2-1-1 (5 pts)
7. Clarkson - 2-2-1 (5 pts)
8. RPI - 2-2-0 (4 pts)
9. St. Lawrence - 2-3-0 (4 pts)
10. Cornell - 2-4-0 (4 pts)
11. Harvard - 2-6-0 (4 pts)
12. Colgate - 0-5-1 (1 pt)

Adjusted Standings
1. Yale (1.000)
2. Princeton (.714)
3. Dartmouth (.688)
4. Brown (.625, 4 GP, +3 GD)
5. Union (.625, 4 GP, +1 GD)
6. RPI (.500, 4 GP)
7. Clarkson (.500, 5 GP)
8. Quinnipiac (.500, 7 GP)
9. St. Lawrence (.400, 5 GP)
10. Cornell (.333)
11. Harvard (.250)
12. Colgate (.083)

UConn at #17 RPI

RPI Holiday Tournament First Round - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
11/26/10 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 6, UConn 5

RECORD: 6-3-3 (2-2-0 ECAC, 4 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Chase Polacek, 2 G
2. F Alex Angers-Goulet, 2 G
3. F Bryan Brutlag, 1 G, 1 A

Bowling Green at #17 RPI
RPI Holiday Tournament Championship - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
11/27/10 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 3, Bowling Green 2 (OT)

RECORD: 7-3-3 (2-2-0 ECAC, 2 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Bryan Brutlag, GWG
2. D Nick Bailen, 1 G
3. G Allen York, 24 saves

Upcoming games
03 Dec - at #2 Yale
04 Dec - at Brown
11 Dec - #2 Boston University
19 Dec - US Junior National Team (exhibition)
30 Dec - at Alabama-Huntsville

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