Monday, January 17, 2011

Men's Hockey - at Cornell and Colgate (14/15 Jan)

Another weekend, another split for the Engineers. Normally, when you're talking about a road series, a split is something you can walk away with and be OK. The problem is, the team hasn't been sweeping home series either, and this particular road series came against a couple of teams which RPI, the way they've been playing for most of the season, should have been able to handle, and came perilously close to being a zero-point weekend. The Engineers skated to their worst result of the year thus far, a 5-1 loss at Cornell, before squeezing out an improbably 2-1 overtime win over last-place Colgate - improbable not only for the closeness of the affair but also for the bizarre fashion in which it ended.




Marty O'Grady hurt a chest muscle in the waning moments last Saturday against St. Lawrence, so he was kept out of this contest as a precaution. Brock Higgs is still dealing with the injury he picked up in Alabama - though he may be back this coming weekend - as is Scott Halpern. Also, since Cornell likes to use big guys for intimidation, it wasn't terribly unexpected to see Rabbani, Burgdoerfer, Tinordi, and Smith all suited up, although to some extent there just wasn't much of an option anyway.

By most accounts, the Engineers didn't play poorly in the first period with the exception of the even-strength they gave up about midway through to go down 1-0, which was the score after 20 minutes. They outshot the Big Red 8-7 and took only one penalty during the period, which was a definite improvement over previous games.

Most have also said that the second period wasn't that bad either. An early Cornell penalty produced a power play (which was actually a 4-on-3 thanks to matching minors at 20:00 of the 1st) that was converted eight seconds later by Tyler Helfrich, who netted his 11th goal of the season from Chase Polacek and Nick Bailen to tie the game at one. Unfortunately, that would be about where the good news would end. Even though there was still some optimism heading into the third period, the score would not still be tied by the time the game reached that point, as Cornell scored a 4-on-4 goal about 14 minutes into the second period to retake the lead.

The bigger issue in the second period was that Bryan Brutlag was, according to eyewitnesses, essentially run from behind despite the penalty issued being for "interference." The appropriateness of the penalty and the relative intent being mostly irrelevant in the end, Brutlag left the game and did not return, the understanding is that he is now the fourth Engineer to be sidelined with a concussion this season.

Even into the third, it was still a tight contest through the first half of the third period or so, but that's when things definitively started falling apart for RPI. A pair of goals scored less than a minute apart by the Big Red midway through the third took things from a one-goal game, still potentially in hand, to being a three-goal game, out of reach against a Cornell team even slightly versed in its own system.

Frustration began to get the better of the Engineers as Greg Burgdoerfer and C.J. Lee were called for roughing penalties in the aftermath of the goals, and Cornell converted at 5-on-3 to take a 5-1 lead. That goal ended York's night, his 3rd goal allowed on 9 shots in the period, but it may just have been an opportunity to get a little playing time for Bryce Merriam in a game that was out of reach. Merriam played just under seven minutes and stopped the only shot he saw.

More distressing was the offensive effort in the third period - down a goal for half of the period, they managed only 4 shots on goal for the entire 20 minutes, though some of that can probably be attributed to Cornell's gum-up-the-works-with-a-lead gameplan. It was the first game all season that the Engineers did not win, tie, lose by one, or lose with an empty netter given up. It also put the 10th ranked team in the nation under .500 in ECAC play 9 games into the conference schedule.




The poor result the previous night made the game against last place Colgate, by some standards one of the worst teams in the nation, doubly important. The problem is that Colgate really isn't as bad as they appear on paper, or even in the computer rankings. Their problem is that they've lost a whole slew of one-goal games (as they had the previous night against Union) and their only wins on the season happen to be against some of the worst teams in the nation, putting the Raiders on their level.

Brutlag's injury put the team in a tough spot. According to what we've heard, Marty O'Grady volunteered to play despite not being at 100%, given that Higgs' injury has the Engineers with only three natural centers right now. Guy Leboeuf rotated in as well as the freshman defenseman rotation looks to be back in place, replacing Bo Dolan in the lineup.

Both teams had early opportunities on the power play that were not converted, but finally, for the first time in six games, the Engineers struck first midway through the first period with Joel Malchuk scoring on a tip-in off a rip by Mike Bergin to put RPI up 1-0. It was his third of the season and his first that wasn't scored shorthanded.

The penalties started to pile up for RPI in the aftermath, however. Four consecutive penalties on the Engineers during the second half of the first period and into the second period gave Colgate five power plays by the time the game was 26 minutes old. Fortunately, the Colgate power play has been a major problem this year and the kills were relatively easy for the Engineers - more Colgate's problem than RPI's success, honestly, because the Engineers' play in the second period and well into the third was pretty putrid. It was in a situation where the Engineer defense was completely discombobulated about 15 minutes into the second that the Raiders got themselves on the board with a goal that one could see coming from about 30 seconds away, given the way RPI was playing in its own zone.

Meanwhile, RPI gave up another pair of power plays in the third period, and those were turned aside as well. But despite the dire situation of being tied with a team that had earned only one point in nine league games, the Engineers managed only five shots on goal for the entirety of the third period. Allen York made eight saves to give him 23 on 24 shots for regulation, but the game was destined for overtime, which is where things got weird.

Just 15 seconds into the extra period, C.J. Lee was called for a reckless hit from behind that was entirely justifiable, putting the Engineers down a man for the rest of overtime since he was assessed a five-minute major and ejected. A game disqualification, which would suspend him for the Harvard game, was announced and added to the box score, but the Times Union and WRPI reported that was in error and that it was merely a game misconduct. Still not sure of which is accurate.

At any rate, the penalty seemed to kill any hope the Engineers had of winning and seemed to put them in very real danger of becoming the first team to lose to Colgate in league play. The Raiders sensed it too, they put six shots on Allen York in the first three minutes of the extended power play, as many as they put on him in the entire first period. York stood on his head occasionally to keep the puck out of the net and preserve the tie.

After three minutes of the Lee penalty, the Engineers managed to clear the zone with a bounce off the boards toward the center ice circle, and seeing an opportunity with Colgate not in any rush to collect the puck, Chase Polacek burst forward and scooped it up, heading into the Colgate zone on a breakaway. He had an opportunity to score, but was definitely impeded from behind by Colgate's Kevin McNamara on his way to the net. With a minute and a half separating the Engineers from a potential tie or loss, referee Tim Kotyra, long reviled by the Engineer faithful, raised his arms over his head to signal a penalty shot.

After discussions with Kotyra (during which time the RPI section, situated right behind Colgate goaltender Eric Mihalik, spent time heckling him and trying to get in his head), Appert elected to give Polacek the opportunity to win the game rather than take the minor for hooking to even the odds. Polacek responded by casually skating in on Mihalik and floating one into the net after Mihalik committed early, ending the game 2-1 in favor of the Engineers in unbelievable fashion. It was the first penalty shot goal for RPI in over 11 years, dating back to Brad Tapper scoring on BU in October 1999. I'm probably not going out on a limb saying that it's the first time RPI has ever won a game on a penalty shot in overtime.

The win did put a happy ending on what otherwise was a miserable game and a miserable weekend for the Engineers. Ten games into the ECAC schedule, they are only at .500 and in danger of falling behind in the race for the bye. The saving grace is that with 12 games left, 8 are at home, including 4 in a row over the next two weeks that will be crucial in determining the team's fate not only for the ECAC playoffs but also as a potential NCAA team. They have split every single league weekend thus far - they need sweeps now.

If they were to start this coming weekend, the dividends would be great. Harvard is 1-11-0 in their last 12 games (though they play Wednesday against Northeastern before coming out to the Capital District), and completing a season sweep of Dartmouth would give the Engineers points few other teams will be getting this year. Bear in mind that RPI is 8-1-0 at the Field House this year, with the one loss coming in overtime against Clarkson. Anything's still possible.

Other junk - The big loss to Cornell predictably dropped the Engineers in the poll for the first time this season. RPI fell four spots to #14 in the nation this week. Five different ECAC teams are ranked this week, including #1 Yale (38 first place votes), which stays at the top of the poll despite its loss last night at the hands of Brown. #12 Union (up two, swept Colgate/Cornell), #18 Dartmouth (newly ranked, beat UNH), and #20 Princeton (newly ranked, idle) are the other three ECAC teams in the top 20 this week. #15 Boston University (up one) is the only other RPI opponent ranked this week, as Colorado College (28 votes) fell out of the rankings. Clarkson (4), RIT (2), Niagara (1), and Northeastern (1) also received votes this week.

Chase Polacek's penalty shot goal gave him 142 points for his career, moving him past George Servinis '85 and tying him with Ray Belasky '60 for 25th place in RPI history with 142 points. Next up is Kevin Croxton '06 (143), Garry Kearns '58 (144), and Alain St. Hilaire '99 (145).

With 87 assists, Polacek is alone in 19th all-time in the category in school history. Bruce Coles '91 is 18th with 90.

Tyler Helfrich is up to 88 points for his career, but his average has moved just below a point per game for the season. With a minimum of 14 games left in the season, he's still got an chance at 100.

Not that this is something you can really quantify until after his RPI career is over, but Allen York's career GAA of 2.48 currently has him number one all-time in that category in school history (minimum 540 minutes, York has over 4,000). His .912 save percentage is third behind Joel Laing '00 and Nathan Marsters '04. His next win, a more quantifiable statistic right now, will tie him with Gerry Fink '83 for 10th place in wins. If he plays all 120 minutes this coming weekend, he will move past Bobby Fox '55 for 6th in school history for time between the pipes. On the flip side, he is two losses away from tying Laing, Steve Duncan '90, and Mike Tamburro '96 for fifth place in career losses - partially a function of there being more games in a season today (as is the wins record).

ECAC Standings
1. Yale - 9-1-0 (18 pts)
2. Union - 7-2-1 (15 pts)
3. Princeton - 7-4-1 (15 pts)
4. Dartmouth - 6-3-1 (13 pts)
5. Quinnipiac - 5-6-2 (12 pts)
6. Clarkson - 5-3-1 (11 pts)
7. Cornell - 5-5-0 (10 pts)
8. RPI - 5-5-0 (10 pts)
9. Brown - 4-5-1 (9 pts)
10. St. Lawrence - 3-6-0 (6 pts)
11. Harvard - 2-9-0 (4 pts)
12. Colgate - 0-9-1 (1 pt)

Adjusted Standings
1. Yale (.900)
2. Union (.750)
3. Dartmouth (.650)
4. Princeton (.625)
5. Clarkson (.611)
6. Cornell (.500)
7. RPI (.500)
8. Quinnipiac (.462)
9. Brown (.450)
10. St. Lawrence (.333)
11. Harvard (.182)
12. Colgate (.050)

#10 RPI at Cornell
ECAC Game - Lynah Rink (Ithaca, NY)
1/14/11 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Cornell 5, RPI 1

College Hockey Stats

Troy Record
Albany Times Union
Ithaca Journal

RECORD: 12-6-3 (4-5-0 ECAC, 8 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Tyler Helfrich, 1 G
2. D John Kennedy, E
3. D Pat Koudys, E

#10 RPI at Colgate
ECAC Game - Starr Rink (Hamilton, NY)
1/15/11 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 2, Colgate 1 (OT)

College Hockey Stats

Troy Record
Albany Times Union
Madison County Courier

Polacek's penalty shot

RECORD: 13-6-3 (5-5-0 ECAC, 10 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Chase Polacek, PSG
2. F Joel Malchuk, 1 G
3. G Allen York, 29 saves

Upcoming games
21 Jan - Harvard
22 Jan - #18 Dartmouth
28 Jan - Brown
29 Jan - #1 Yale
04 Feb - at Quinnipiac

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