Monday, February 7, 2011

Men's Hockey - at Quinnipiac and Princeton (4/5 Feb)

A three-point weekend on the road is frequently better than expected. RPI accomplished that for the first time this past weekend, although it could have also been the much-sought road sweep if not for one bad play. As it is, the Engineers settled for a 3-3 tie at Quinnipiac and came back the next night to score a victory over #19 Princeton, 5-2 - their second consecutive Saturday win over a ranked opponent by that score.

Quinnipiac
Rabbani/Polacek/Helfrich
Cullen/Higgs/Malchuk
Angers-Goulet/O'Grady/Brutlag
Tinordi/Rogic/Burgdoerfer

Koudys/Bailen
Leboeuf/Foss
Kennedy/Dolan

York

Two injuries shaped the RPI lineup on Friday night - Mike Bergin's injury from the Freakout! which involved a deep cut on his leg, and an injury that C.J. Lee picked up in practice during the week. The Lee injury required a new winger for the Polacek line, and Josh Rabbani earned the spot.

Penalties have been a problem for the Engineers in the last several weeks, but they only made two trips to the penalty box on Friday night in Hamden. It still ended up getting them into trouble.

Bryan Brutlag scored his eighth goal of the year at the 6:41 mark of the first period to give RPI a 1-0 lead, but they would soon give that up on the penalty kill after a penalty to John Kennedy two minutes later. Jeremy Langlois scored near the end of that man advantage to tie the game up at one. The only other penalty the Engineers would have for the remainder of the night came from Nick Bailen at the end of the second period, a penalty that carried over into the second period, but ultimately one that Quinnipiac could not convert. All told, there were only two penalties called after the first 20 minutes were over, and both were on Quinnipiac.

Brock Higgs scored 7:47 into the second period and Jeff Foss notched his second of the year a little over two minutes later to put RPI up 3-1, but another goal by Langlois with just over a minute left in the second cut the lead to 3-2 heading into the third period, which is where the game took a bad turn for the Engineers.

In the first minute of the period, after being hit making his first save, Allen York fell over in his crease and had to come out of the game, eventually heading off to the locker room with what would eventually be diagnosed as a concussion. That left sophomore Bryce Merriam in charge for the rest of the game. Overall, Merriam did very well in the third period, making 11 saves in relief of York.

The one shot that he did not stop, however, was a breakaway by QU freshman Connor Jones caused by a giveaway in the neutral zone by Guy Leboeuf. It's tough to say whether York would have stopped it, since breakaways are tough for even the very best goaltenders to deal with, but Merriam couldn't stop Jones, and the game was tied at three.

One of those two Quinnipiac penalties came in overtime as Zach Hansen was called for Slashing midway through the extra period, and the advantage helped RPI earn a 5-2 shooting advantage in overtime, but it didn't produce the winning goal as the Engineers had to settle for a 3-3 tie that snapped a win streak of five consecutive games.

After the game, the concern was with Allen York. News came out that he would not be available for the Princeton game (marking the second consecutive time Princeton would miss him) but that he was potentially available for next weekend's games.

Princeton
Angers-Goulet/O'Grady/Brutlag
Cullen/Higgs/Malchuk
Rabbani/Polacek/Helfrich
Tinordi/Rogic/Burgdoerfer

Leboeuf/Foss
Kennedy/Dolan
Koudys/Bailen

Merriam

Appert chose to face the Tigers with essentially the same lineup that played against Quinnipiac, with the obvious difference in net. With questions abounding about Merriam's ability after his terrible Freakout! against Princeton last season and giving up five goals in his only full game this season against UConn, the sophomore set about to quiet the critics, and played phenomenally.

The first period largely belonged to Princeton, as they outshot the Engineers 11-3. Merriam came up big, stopping all 11 as the game remained scoreless throughout the 30 minutes or so. Princeton's dominating shot total continued into the second period, where Merriam needed to stand even taller, making 18 saves in the second stanza alone.

Despite the lopsided shot totals (29-11 by the end of the second), it was RPI who would do the scoring in the second period, each time in a penalty situation. Josh Rabbani scored his fourth of the season on the power play from Tyler Helfrich and Chase Polacek at 9:54 of the second to finally open the scoring.

RPI's second goal came under bizarre circumstances. Pat Koudys and Joel Malchuk were called for penalties about 1:30 apart, giving Princeton a 5-on-3 opportunity, but somehow, despite being down two men, Marty O'Grady got a breakaway on Princeton goaltender Sean Bonar. He was hooked by Princeton's Taylor Fedun, creating RPI's second penalty shot opportunity of the season. O'Grady scored on the shot, putting RPI up 2-0. It had been 11 years since RPI had scored on a penalty shot when Chase Polacek did it in overtime against Colgate, now the Engineers have two in three weeks.

The Engineers killed off the Koudys and Malchuk penalties, and then another penalty to Bailen that soon followed. All told, they would go six-for-six on the penalty kill on Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, a Princeton penalty in the final minute of the second produced a power play that RPI quickly converted on, as Polacek netted his 17th of the season to make it 3-0 RPI despite that lopsided shot count.

Princeton made a game of it early in the third period, as they scored about three minutes in and then four minutes later to cut the RPI lead to 3-2. Sensing the lead slipping away, Appert called timeout to allow his charges to regroup, and regroup they did. They took control of the game and did not turn back. When Princeton took another penalty six minutes after scoring their second goal, Rabbani quickly put RPI back up 4-2 for the Engineers' third power play goal and Rabbani's second of the afternoon.

Those two goals would be the only ones Merriam would give up on the game. He made 39 saves on 41 shots and was instrumental to the RPI victory. Assuming Allen York is back in the lineup this weekend (or maybe even if he's not), his injury may ultimately prove to be a positive for the Engineers - it allowed Bryce Merriam to get out there and prove his worth, and showed the world that there's depth at goaltender in Troy as well.

Tyler Helfrich sealed it in the final minute with an empty netter, his 13th goal of the season. The victory extended RPI's unbeaten streak to seven games, the longest since... the one they had at the beginning of this season. This one, of course, has more wins (6) than ties (1) in it.

Next up for RPI is a home weekend against last-place Colgate, who finally earned their first ECAC win of the season last week at home against Clarkson. Can they make it two in a row? Let's hope not. Saturday's game is being broadcast on the NHL Network at 3:30 pm, and will be against a resurgent Cornell which is riding an unbeaten streak of their own and are only a point back. Hopefully Union will toss them around a little bit on Friday night and the Engineers will be ready for a little revenge from their worst outing of the season in Ithaca a few weeks back. At any rate, a sweep this coming weekend would give RPI 25 points, meaning they'd reach the magic number for the first-round bye with two weeks to spare. Certainly something to shoot for.

Other junk - The Engineers' rise in the USCHO.com poll continues. They are up one this week to #8. That's not the all-time high for RPI in the USCHO poll, that would be #5 in November 1999, but if they keep winning... who knows? Other ranked ECAC teams this week are #2 Yale (up one, swept Harvard and Dartmouth), #9 Union (up two, swept Princeton and Quinnipiac, their first ever Top 10 ranking), #17 Dartmouth (no change, beat Brown and lost to Yale) and #20 Princeton (down one, swept by Union and RPI). Also ranked are #14 Boston University (no change) and #19 Colorado College (up one). Receiving votes were RIT (17), Cornell (3), and Quinnipiac (1).

Chase Polacek is quickly narrowing the gap to the top 20 scorers in RPI history. Three more points this weekend give him 154 for his career, one behind Barry Martinelli '76, who currently occupies 20th with 155 points. Larry Landon '81 is in 19th with 157. If he continues scoring at his current pace, Polacek will reach at least the top 15.

With 144 career games played, Polacek and Jeff Foss have tied Pete Gardiner '00 and Seth Klerer '09 for 4th all time for the Engineers. Neither senior has ever been a scratch. They can tie Matt Angers-Goulet '09 for third on Friday against Colgate, and tie Brad Farynuk '06 for second against Cornell on Saturday. If all goes well (that is, they stay healthy), they will set the RPI record for games in a career a week from Saturday in Potsdam against Clarkson, moving in front of Kevin Croxton '06. Bryan Brutlag, on the other hand, has only been scratched three times in his career. As long as all three stay healthy and in the lineup, they will be the top three in games played for RPI at the end of their collegiate careers.

Polacek leads the nation in game-winning goals, collecting the winner against Princeton for his eighth of the year. No one else has more than six, and he is only two away from the all-time NCAA record of ten.

Tyler Helfrich's four point outburst at Princeton put him on the cusp of becoming the 61st member of the Century Club. He needs just two points in the minimum of 8 games that the Engineers have remaining to get there.

I'm dispensing with the adjusted standings from here on out, since most teams have about the same number of games played now, with a few exceptions. The adjusted standings actually mirror the actual standings.

ECAC Standings
1. Yale - 13-3-0 (26 pts)
2. Union - 12-3-1 (25 pts)
3. RPI - 10-5-1 (21 pts)
4. Dartmouth - 9-5-2 (20 pts)
5. Cornell - 9-5-2 (20 pts)
6. Princeton - 9-6-1 (19 pts)
7. Quinnipiac - 6-7-4 (16 pts)
8. Clarkson - 6-8-1 (13 pts)
9. Brown - 5-9-1 (11 pts)
10. St. Lawrence - 4-10-1 (9 pts)
11. Harvard - 3-13-0 (6 pts)
12. Colgate - 1-13-2 (4 pts)

#9 RPI at Quinnipiac
ECAC Game - TD Bank Sports Center (Hamden, CT)
2/4/11 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 3, Quinnipiac 3

BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats
USCHO

RECAPS
RPI
USCHO

Troy Record
Albany Times Union
New Haven Register
The Quad News (QU Student Paper)


RECORD: 17-6-4 (9-5-1 ECAC, 19 pts)

Reale Deals
1. F Brock Higgs, 1 G
2. G Allen York, 26 saves
3. D Jeff Foss, 1 G

#9 RPI at #19 Princeton
ECAC Game - Hobey Baker Memorial Rink (Princeton, NJ)
2/5/11 - 4:00pm

RESULT: RPI 5, Princeton 2

BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats
USCHO

RECAPS
RPI
Troy Record
Albany Times Union
WNYT-TV

RECORD: 18-6-4 (10-5-1 ECAC, 21 pts)

Reale Deals
1. G Bryce Merriam, 39 saves
2. F Josh Rabbani, 2 G
3. F Tyler Helfrich, 1 G, 3 A

Upcoming games
11 Feb - Colgate
12 Feb - Cornell
18 Feb - at St. Lawrence
19 Feb - at Clarkson
25 Feb - #20 Princeton

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