Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Men's Hockey - vs. North Dakota (26 Mar)

They got very little attention ahead of what was possibly the biggest (easily, the latest) game in the program's recent history - at least since the turn of the millennium - but it turned out there was plenty of cause for that lack of attention. The North Dakota Fighting Sioux, ranked #1 in the country, put on a clinic of efficient hockey that, while never thoroughly dominating on the ice, was certainly dominating on the scoreboard. RPI ran into a more well-rounded and talent-laden team in the first round of their first NCAA tournament experience in 16 years, but the only truly disappointing element to the game was the team's inability, for the third consecutive NCAA appearance, to not score a goal as the Engineers fell 6-0 to North Dakota.

North Dakota



The 20-day layoff that the Engineers experienced between their last ECAC tournament game and their NCAA regional appearance represented the longest break between games since the tournament expanded to 16 teams in 2003. Some expected RPI to be rusty due to the layoff, others expected them to have more energy. Neither truly ended up being true, but the Engineers did seem to be able to at the very least run with North Dakota in the first period, and actually controlled play to some extent during portions of the opening 20 minutes.

RPI actually had the game's first decent scoring opportunity just seconds into the affair, forcing UND goaltender Aaron Dell to be sharp right away to keep the Engineers off the scoresheet. RPI was ready, willing, and able to set the physical tone early on, though that did lead to a penalty to Bryan Brutlag just 45 seconds into the game. That penalty was killed off, and a big, bruising hit by Josh Rabbani that leveled UND defenseman Brock Nelson (and led to his being helped off the ice, not to return) could have signaled a serious momentum shift, but North Dakota turned around rather quickly and notched the game's first goal on a bit of a dribbling puck. Brad Malone picked up a slow mover that he placed between Allen York's pads. York got a piece of it, but could not stop it from eventually crossing the line.

That would be the only goal of the first period, but the Engineers certainly had their chances, most notably on a shot taken by Chase Polacek that rang off the post loud enough to reverberate in the Resch Center. Brock Higgs also had an opportunity to light the lamp in the first period after finding the puck at his stick with Dell well out of the net, but he was unable to pull the trigger thanks in part to a solid backup from the UND defense.

Malone scored again early in the second period, this time on the power play, to put UND up 2-0, but the Engineers were still largely hanging with the Sioux. The game's turning point, however, came midway through the period. Shortly after killing off a short 5-on-3 after penalties to Brock Higgs and Jeff Foss - in fact, just seven seconds after Foss exited the penalty box to allow RPI to escape the penalty kill unscathed - UND's Danny Kristo scored a nifty goal on a toe drag, blunting any potential momentum from the penalty kill and giving the Sioux a comfortable 3-0 lead.

From there, the game was mostly academic. RPI began to look a little gassed, having given their all during the game's first 30 minutes to keep up with the Sioux and getting nothing to show for it. North Dakota would score on the next two penalties, netting a power play goal on a second penalty to Jeff Foss and a shorthanded goal with their captain, Chay Genoway, in the penalty box late in the second. While the end of the first saw the Engineers trailing only 1-0, the end of the second saw them back 5-0, a comeback looking quite unlikely even with 20 minutes left.

The coupe de grace came just 32 seconds into the third when Hobey Baker favorite Matt Frattin scored despite drawing a slashing penalty against Mike Bergin in the process - he was not about to be stopped. From there, the Sioux relented slightly, preferring to work for the shutout instead. The Engineers, meanwhile, were completely gassed. Their only offensive opportunities of the third period came on three power plays, but RPI still was unable to put anything home. In fact, on some of the man advantages, North Dakota continued to have a pretty solid control of the puck, occasionally pulling up rather than taking shots on Allen York. They put only eight shots on net after 14 in the first and 18 in the second.

Ultimately, RPI didn't play poorly despite their long layoff - they didn't seem rusty at all and they even seemed to play the type of game they set out to play. The only truly ugly element of the entire game was on the scoreboard. Who knows what could have happened if Higgs or Polacek had been able to put the puck home in the first period - but that is neither here nor there. Not scoring a goal, in the end, was the toughest part for RPI fans to have to swallow. The last goal RPI has scored in the NCAA tournament was the famous goal by George Servinis that won the 1985 national championship.

And so ends a remarkable season that had its share of highs and lows, characterized by the lowest of the low being followed by one of the highest highs in March. Seven seniors - Chase Polacek, Tyler Helfrich, Jeff Foss, Bryan Brutlag, John Kennedy, Scott Halpern, and Kevin Beauregard, have played their final games in an RPI sweater. Joel Malchuk is expected to return for his redshirt season - but there is one key underclassman who we know will not be returning.

Allen York on Tuesday signed a pro contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets, forgoing his senior season and becoming the fourth Engineer to sign his first NHL contract this season, following Jerry D'Amigo, Brandon Pirri, and Kirk MacDonald. That leaves a big gap for RPI next season, but fortunately Seth Appert has six months to decide what to do in net. Most likely, junior-to-be Bryce Merriam will be the man between the pipes, but another goaltender will be needed to come in on the roster. That could be the already-recruited Jason Kasdorf, who had been expected to replace York in 2012, or it could be another goaltender yet to be added, with Kasdorf replacing instead Jeremy Coupal on the roster when the practice goalie graduates next year.

Other junk - Chase Polacek finishes his career with 160 points, 19th place among all time scorers at RPI.

With 106 points, Tyler Helfrich finishes his career tied with Norm Bean '70 and Joe Ens '78 for 50th all-time.

Allen York finishes his career at RPI as the top goaltender in program history in goals against average with 2.47.

Greg Burgdoerfer has now been on the roster for three NCAA tournament games - two with Air Force in his freshman season, and one with RPI this year - but did not dress in any of them.

#4 RPI vs. #1 North Dakota
NCAA Midwest Regional Semifinal - Resch Center (Green Bay, WI)
3/26/11 - 1:30pm

RESULT: North Dakota 6, RPI 0

2. F Brock Higgs, 4 shots
3. F Chase Polacek, 3 shots

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