Monday, October 10, 2011

Men's Hockey - Minnesota State (7/8 Oct)

The season officially got underway this past weekend with a pair of home games against a WCHA opponent, the first time that's happened since November 2003, when St. Cloud State visited for a pair of non-league games. This time, the opponent was Minnesota State, a program which the Engineers had never faced before. The Mavericks were picked in both the media and coaches polls to finish 11th in the 12 team league, so there was a bit of optimism that the Engineers might be able to get out of the gate quickly. They did, but were unable to finish on Friday (hindered in part by a hot goaltender) and had to settle for a weekend split, falling 1-0 late in the Friday game before bouncing back for a 4-1 victory on Saturday night.




Greg Burgdoerfer and Mark McGowan were ruled out of this game due to injuries, while Bryce Merriam was considered questionable before ultimately dressing as the backup. Otherwise, the line sheets were almost the same as they had been against Acadia with the exception of the extra skaters.

The story of Friday's game was mostly of the goaltending, as Scott Diebold and Minnesota State's Austin Lee put on a show. The Engineers controlled play for much of the game and peppered Lee with shots throughout - especially in the third period - but simply could not gain a leg up on the Mavericks.

In stark contrast to their 5-for-7 power play performance against Acadia, the Engineers' power play was completely shut down on Friday, finishing without a single goal in 10 opportunities with the man advantage. That's not to say that RPI wasn't taking their chances, especially many of the younger players. Ryan Haggerty did everything but score for RPI, once hitting the post and once being robbed on the doorstep by Lee. The freshman forward had six shots on goal to lead RPI, Nick Bailen had four, while Patrick Cullen, Jacob Laliberte, Brock Higgs, Matt Neal and Mike Bergin all had three a piece, many in decent opportunities to put the puck in the net. Each time, they simply couldn't place the puck where they needed to, or Lee came up with a fantastic save.

Diebold was doing very well in more limited action at the other end of the ice as well. On more than one occasion, the freshman kept the Engineers from giving up the first goal with some brilliant play, including some outstanding lateral movement through the crease. Again, many observers compared his play to that of Allen York, with the main exception being a lack of proclivity for wandering out of the crease to play the puck.

Ultimately, as many of these games tend to conclude, the winning goal came on a very bad defensive play, and the responsible party, somewhat shockingly, was Bailen, RPI's returning All-American. A bad pass during a late four-on-four ended up on the stick of MSU's Eriah Hayes, who was in the zone with Cameron Cooper and only Bailen and Diebold to beat. Hayes' shot was kept out of the net by a brilliant save from Diebold, but the rebound bounced directly to Cooper, and Diebold's save left him unable to get to Cooper's shot (although he certainly tried), which went in just under the crossbar with 1:22 remaining in regulation.

Diebold was pulled for the extra skater almost immediately, but the five-on-four became a five-on-five just 22 seconds later, and the Engineers spent most of their time trying to keep the puck out of the empty net. They were successful in that task, but still had to swallow the pain of a late-goal loss.




The next day, Johnny Rogic got his first taste of the ice, replacing Matt Tinordi on the grind line, while Luke Curadi replaced Bo Dolan in the lineup. With assistant captain Justin Smith joining in as well and Bryce Merriam deemed healthy enough to get the start, the Engineers already have just two players - Mark McGowan and Jeremy Coupal - who haven't seen the ice at all this season.

Minnesota State also switched things up in net, turning on Saturday to Phil Cook, and replacing captain Tyler Elbrecht, who suffered a broken arm in Friday's game.

Unlike Friday's game, we didn't have to wait until the 59th minute of the game to get the first goal. 11 minutes in, Minnesota State went up 1-0 on a goal by Johnny McInnis. The Mavericks outshot the Engineers for the first and only time on the weekend in the 1st period, but Bryce Merriam showed early that he was up to the task of being RPI's top goaltender by stopping 12 out of 13 in the opening frame.

If you had Guy Leboeuf in the pool for RPI's first scorer of the season, you're weird, but that's exactly who finally landed the Engineers' first tally with a blistering slapper from the top of the faceoff circle in the final minute of the first, tying the score at one heading into the intermission.

The second period got off with a bang, as well as groans from the RPI faithful. 15 seconds in, a scrum in front of the Mankato net caused by a quick stop in front of the goaltender by speedy Johnny Rogic somehow resulted in a two minute five-on-three for the Mavericks - and RPI backers will be unsurprised to learn that Bryan Hicks was in the stripes for this one. Despite a number of long and difficult defensive situations in the RPI zone, the Engineers held firm, and kept the game tied by the end of the penalties.

Mankato would get a tough call in their direction as well just a couple of minutes later, as Eriah Hayes was sent to the dressing room early for a contact-to-the-head penalty, which is an area of emphasis this season. That put RPI on a five minute power play, and they capitalized late in that long advantage with a goal from the power play quarterback, Nick Bailen, putting the Engineers up 2-1.

In the final minute of the period, a fortuitous bounce gave RPI some insurance. With the puck heading to the back of the net, Cook went back to retrieve it and tried to clear the zone himself, but it ended up on Joel Malchuk's stick, who quickly fired it into the open net before Cook could return to give the Engineers a 3-1 lead at the second intermission.

A holding penalty against Cameron Cooper in the third period led to RPI's second power play tally of the night when Pat Koudys ripped a laser from near the blue line that managed to evade everyone and everything in front to find the back of the net and give the Engineers a rock-solid 4-1 edge that they would not relinquish.

Bryce Merriam, just as Scott Diebold had the night before, looked very comfortable in net, and RPI appears to have two fantastic options in goal behind a set of blueliners that not only was very capable in allowing just one goal each night, but showed ability in shooting from the outside as well with three of RPI's four goals coming from defensemen.

The Engineers now hit the road for three straight games in the midwest, starting this coming weekend at Seth Appert's alma mater, Ferris State. The Bulldogs had a solid year last season and got their season started with a weekend sweep in Canton against St. Lawrence. They're part of a difficult set of upcoming games that will challenge the team in advance of the start of league games at the beginning of November.

Other junk - With the split weekend, the Engineers fell to the edge of the USCHO poll, staying in at number 20, just a few votes ahead of ECAC rivals Colgate, who impressed by winning the Maverick Stampede in Omaha with victories over Robert Morris and Nebraska-Omaha. Ranked ECAC teams are #10 Yale (idle, down one with one first place vote), #11 Union (beat Army, no change), and #19 Cornell (idle, up one). Other ranked teams on the RPI schedule are #2 Notre Dame (split with Minnesota-Duluth, down one with seven first place votes) and #7 Colorado College (idle, no change). Colgate (71 votes), Ferris State (60), Dartmouth (31), RIT (8), Harvard (6), Quinnipiac (3), and Minnesota State (2) each received consideration this week.

On injuries, with Merriam and Haggerty already returning to action, the word is that Burgdoerfer and McGowan will be able to return in the near future, with the Colorado College weekend at the end of the month eyed as the potential return point for both players.

Also, it's worth pointing out that the reported "eighth defenseman" position was not filled before the season began. It had been expected that a walk-on would join the team in an emergency role.

Minnesota State at #18 RPI
Non-Conference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
10/7/11 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Minnesota State 1, RPI 0




RECORD: 0-1-0 (0-0-0 ECAC)

Reale Deals
1. G Scott Diebold, 19 saves
2. F Ryan Haggerty, 6 shots
3. F Brock Higgs, 3 shots

Minnesota State at #18 RPI
Non-Conference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
10/8/11 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 4, Minnesota State 1




RECORD: 1-1-0 (0-0-0 ECAC)

Reale Deals
1. F Ryan Haggerty, 2 A, 5 shots
2. G Bryce Merriam, 31 saves
3. D Guy Leboeuf, 1 G, 3 shots

Upcoming games
14 Oct - at Ferris State
15 Oct - at Ferris State
21 Oct - at #2 Notre Dame
28 Oct - #7 Colorado College
29 Oct - #7 Colorado College

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