Monday, January 3, 2011

Men's Hockey - at Alabama-Huntsville (30/31 Dec)

It was back to the ice for RPI for the final two calendar days of 2010 at college hockey's lone outpost in the South against, statistically, one of the weakest teams in the country, if not the weakest. On the ice, they hardly looked like a weak team though, as the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers put up a good fight both nights (although the ice conditions certainly qualified as a little down South home cooking). RPI was faced with a couple of tough games, and befitting their displayed abilities thus far, they were able to walk away with a pair of 2-1 victories.

Thursday
Lee/Polacek/O'Grady
Brutlag/Higgs/Helfrich
Cullen/Malchuk/Angers-Goulet
Halpern/Burgdoerfer

Bergin/Foss
Bailen/Dolan
Koudys/Kennedy
Leboeuf

York

The big news coming into Thursday's game was the return of John Kennedy to the lineup after missing six games with a hand injury. That led to some minor debate over which of the three freshmen defensemen would sit, but given how well all of them were playing in Kennedy's absence, Seth Appert made the decision to dress all seven and go with 11 forwards instead.

That decision was called into question fairly quickly as Scott Halpern suffered a lower body injury on his very first shift and did not return, leaving RPI, for the time being, with just 10 forwards. As Halpern was being attended to on the bench, Mike Bergin came by and checked his man through an open door, onto Halpern and trainer Chris Thompson. The check itself didn't seem too contentious, though the referee likely took note of the open door and called Bergin for roughing.

UAH wasted no time in going to work on the power play, one of the things they've proven this year to be fairly good at. Charger defenseman Tom Durnie took the puck low in the zone and zipped a shot from near the goal line that fooled Allen York, as he had been playing the pass, and seconds after Bergin hit the box, UAH was up 1-0.

The Engineers tied it up about 8 minutes later as Marty O'Grady left a drop pass for Bergin, who blasted a shot that O'Grady subsequently tipped into the back of the net for his third goal of the season.

RPI got four power plays during the second period, including a lengthy 5-on-3 chance, but did not capitalize on any of them. They were 0-for-6 on the evening with the man advantage, but it was the sequence that led to the 5-on-3 that was the event of the 2nd period - and difficult to witness.

UAH's Keenan Desmet tripped up Chase Polacek at the Charger blue-line, sending him head over feet towards the ice. As Polacek fell, his skate blade came up and caught Brock Higgs in the neck, slicing the area near his throat pretty good. Higgs, for his part, tried to deflect the blade, and never hit the ice, immediately skating to the RPI bench, where pressure was immediately applied to the gushing wound. Alex Angers-Goulet attended Higgs back to the dressing room (his father is a doctor and he's planning to follow his brother into med school), where a local doctor in attendance at the game helped stem the bleeding until the ambulance arrived and brought Higgs to the hospital. He had surgery after the game - the cut just barely missed his carotid artery and jugular vein.

Back on the ice, the Engineers - now with only 9 forwards and 7 defensemen - took the lead on a bizarre goal. With time winding down in the period, Nick Bailen hefted a weak shot from the neutral zone as he was fading backwards (and eventually onto the ice surface). That shot was redirected in front of the net by Tyler Helfrich, who tipped it past UAH's John Griggs with just two seconds left in the period to put RPI up 2-1.

RPI blasted Griggs with 11 shots in the third period but couldn't get the insurance goal. That forced them to have to hold onto their lead late, but some good puck management in the game's waning moments only allowed UAH 27 seconds with the extra attacker, and the Engineers hung in there for the 2-1 victory. Allen York made 19 saves on 20 shots to pick up the win.

Friday
Lee/Polacek/O'Grady
Brutlag/Malchuk/Helfrich
Cullen/Rogic/Angers-Goulet
Rabbani/Burgdoerfer

Bergin/Foss
Bailen/Dolan
Koudys/Kennedy
Leboeuf

York

Higgs was back with the team after being released from the hospital on Friday morning, while Halpern was seen on crutches (although walking fairly easily without leaning on them after Friday's game). Since Matt Tinordi, Justin Smith, and Kevin Beauregard didn't make the trip, the only two scratches on Thursday, Josh Rabbani and Johnny Rogic, were pressed into action, and this time RPI was forced out of necessity instead of preference to dress 7 defensemen.

RPI got its second long 5-on-3 opportunity of the series early in the first period after a pair of penalties to UAH called just 13 seconds apart, but as in the first game, the Engineers were unable to convert on the opportunity. The first period ended with no score, and in fact the Chargers outshot RPI 9-6 in the first 20 minutes.

Just like the first night, it was UAH that got on the board first, this time scoring an even strength tally from Joey Koudys, Pat Koudys' cousin, to put the Chargers up 1-0 on another goal Allen York probably wants back.

It would be another 15 minutes before RPI was able to knot the score again, and it was last second heroics getting the job done once again. With the Engineers on their 10th power play of the series, Bryan Brutlag was able to punch one in from a crowded slot with only one second left on the clock in the second period, making it 1-1 at the second intermission.

The third period was almost entirely RPI, as they outshot UAH 12-2 in the final period, but Allen York came up with the stop of the week as he reached with the glove to snatch away a puck that was destined for the net early in the 3rd period, keeping the score tied, especially important in a series that had already proven that goals would be at a premium. The shot tally is actually a bit misleading, as RPI blasted far more shot attempts toward John Griggs, but the UAH defense did a superb job of blocking shots or forcing them wide.

A combination of a poor defensive zone breakout by UAH and solid forechecking by Patrick Cullen in the final minute of regulation finally broke the deadlock and sent Charger fans home heartbroken after a pair of solid efforts from their team. Cullen intercepted a lazy pass and fed C.J. Lee, who burst into the zone with Cullen and Polacek on a 3-on-1. Lee left the puck for Polacek, who beat Griggs top shelf for his 9th goal of the season with only 25 ticks left on the clock to put RPI in front 2-1. UAH pulled Griggs immediately, but they couldn't get anything started, and the Engineers completed the weekend sweep.

The games weren't pretty, but RPI got what they needed out of them - two victories. The ice conditions throughout the weekend likely contributed to the poor power play and the inability to get the offense moving, as the ice was very soft in a number of places around the rink.

The ECAC schedule beckons for the Engineers as they close out the 2010-11 campaign with 16 consecutive league contests, starting at home this coming weekend against Clarkson and St. Lawrence. The Knights have a pair of games at home against #5 Minnesota-Duluth tonight and tomorrow night, then have two days of rest before traveling to face off with RPI. St. Lawrence, meanwhile, upset then-#2 New Hampshire in Durham last night. RPI will have to keep the throttle open full bore, there's no question. These teams are not the dominating forces they can sometimes combine to be, but they are not about to be dismissed easily, either.

Gotta keep winning. The win streak is at 4 in a row and RPI has won 7 of their last 8, with the one loss at the hands of #1 Yale. The next five are very winnable contests against lower end ECAC teams. They keep tearing it up, and the sky is the limit.

Other junk - It's been a while since the last USCHO poll was released, so all of the results since mid-December have gone into this week's poll, which sees the Engineers jump four places to 10th in the nation, their highest position in over a decade - RPI has not been in the national Top 10 since February 14, 2000. Other ECAC teams ranked this week are #1 Yale (45 first place votes, demolished Holy Cross at home 10-3), #15 Union (down three, swept by Western Michigan, beat Minnesota, lost to Bemidji State), and #19 Princeton (previously unranked, won the UConn Holiday Tournament). #14 Boston University (down four) and #18 Colorado College (up two) are also ranked this week. Other opponents with votes are Clarkson (40 - six points away from #20 Ferris State), Dartmouth (26), Quinnipiac (2), St. Lawrence (2), and Niagara (1).

Chase Polacek continues his climb through the record books. His game winning goal on Friday gave him 137 points for his career, moving him past Trevor Kaye '62 and into a tie for 30th all time with Mo Mosco '55 and Richard Scammell '69. Looming next in a tie for 28th with 138 points each are Dick Chiarelli '57 and Don Armstrong '78, and Dale Watson '69 is in 27th with 139 points. If he continues scoring at his current pace, Polacek will reach 150 points for his career - only 20 players have reached that lofty level, and none since Matt Murley in 2002.

Meanwhile, Tyler Helfrich's chase for the Century Club continues. With a bare minimum of 18 games left to be played, Helfrich needs 14 points to become the 61st member of the Century Club.

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

Adjusted Standings
1. Yale (1.000)
2. Dartmouth (.688)
3. Princeton (.667)
4. Clarkson (.643)
5. Union (.583)
6. RPI (.500)
7. Quinnipiac (.450)
8. St. Lawrence (.429)
9. Brown (.417)
10. Cornell (.333)
11. Harvard (.222)
12. Colgate (.083)

#14 RPI at Alabama-Huntsville

Nonconference Game - Von Braun Center (Huntsville, AL)
12/30/10 - 8:00pm

RESULT: RPI 2, Alabama-Huntsville 1

BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats
USCHO

RECAPS
RPI
Troy Record
Albany Times Union

RECORD: 10-4-3 (3-3-0 ECAC, 6 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Marty O'Grady, 1 G
2. D Nick Bailen, 1 A
3. F Tyler Helfrich, 1 G

#14 RPI at Alabama-Huntsville
Nonconference Game - Von Braun Center (Huntsville, AL)
12/31/10 - 4:00pm

RESULT: RPI 2, Alabama-Huntsville 1

BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats
USCHO

RECAPS
RPI
Troy Record
Albany Times Union

RECORD: 11-4-3 (3-3-0 ECAC, 6 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Chase Polacek, 1 G, 1 A
2. F Bryan Brutlag, 1 G
3. F C.J. Lee, 1 A

Upcoming games
07 Jan - Clarkson
08 Jan - St. Lawrence
14 Jan - at Cornell
15 Jan - at Colgate
21 Jan - Harvard

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