Monday, November 21, 2011

Men's Hockey - Union (15 Nov)

The hole keeps getting bigger for the Engineers, and this time it gets much worse. A mid-week game, at home, on Greek Night, against Union - the opposite side of a rivalry that has produced heart-stopper after heart-stopper over the last three years. The setting was right for RPI to break out and finally get themselves out of first gear offensively, but instead of more of the same that we've seen from RPI-Union, we got more of the same that we've seen from RPI 2011-12: a relatively silent offense, and a loss, this time by a 5-1 margin.




Coming just three days after the Engineers' first win of the ECAC schedule against Brown - albeit of a less-than-inspiring 1-0 variety - Seth Appert went to war with the same exact lines that produced the victory, with no changes whatsoever to personnel, lines, pairings, or the crease.

Early on, the Field House was electric. The combination of Greek Night adding a solid number of rowdy students in attendance and the rivalry aspect helped contribute to an excellent start for RPI. The Engineers controlled the puck well and got a good number of early opportunities to score, cashing in with a power play goal on the first advantage of the night as Nick Bailen scored his second goal of the year from Jacob Laliberte and Ryan Haggerty - two freshmen playing on the power play - to put RPI up 1-0 for the second game in a row and the third time this season. It was also by far the earliest in a game the Engineers had put the puck in the net, notching a goal in the first period for only the fourth time all season.

Now, one thing Union certainly has going for it is its offense, so it was pretty obvious that the Engineers weren't going to be able to pull off a 1-0 victory for the second time in a row. After the Bailen goal, RPI went right back to work and continued to control play for another couple of minutes, again getting some good opportunities, especially a mini-breakaway by Alex Angers-Goulet that could have been a solid scoring opportunity, but a perfect backcheck poked the puck away from him, and he didn't get a shot off.

Union counter-attacked quickly, and on a defensive breakdown in transition, the Dutchmen ended up with a 2-on-1 that ended with Merriam committing to a shot that ended up being a pass that was one-timed to the back of the net, tying the game at one.

That became the moment of truth for RPI, and the Engineers did not answer the bell. After Union converted on their first power play opportunity of the game in relatively short order four minutes later, it seemed apparent that RPI was not going to put up much of a fight given the way they were playing - lethargic in chasing after pucks, lazy in the neutral zone, and predictable in the increasingly rare opportunities they were getting in the Union end.

A heads up play by Johnny Rogic to dump the net and take a delay of game penalty rather than risk what probably would have been a Union goal early in the second period could be counted as one of the best plays the Engineers put up in the final 40 minutes of the game, and that's saying a lot. Union didn't score on that man advantage, but they did just a few minutes later in a four-on-four situation, and then again before the period was halfway in the books on the power play to make it 4-1. Whatever atmosphere was left at the Field House at that point was pretty much gone.

Union went into lockdown mode after going up by three, but the way RPI was playing it wouldn't have mattered if they decided to continue to push the envelope. The Engineers got a pair of power play opportunities in the third period, practically back to back, that they never came close to threatening with. Out of realistic options, Seth Appert pulled Bryce Merriam with about eight minutes left in the game, desperate to park something - anything - that would get RPI going. The move did help the Engineers bottle Union up in their own end for nearly five minutes, but eventually Union did get the puck moving and finished things off with an empty netter.

The offensive woes have now reached epic proportions: RPI's tally in the last seven games can be submitted in binary: 1, 1, 1, 0, 0, 1, 1. Since the 100-001 victory over Minnesota State on the first night of the season (see what I did there?), the Engineers have scored more than one goal in just one game out of ten.

RPI now is in the middle of a 10 day break between games, ending this coming Friday with a visit to RIT. We'll see then if the time off has been what they've needed to get unstuck, or whether this season is likely to be one of the longest on memory. That game will be broadcast live on Time Warner Cable, if you dare to watch.

Other junk - An interesting turn of events in the poll as Merrimack, the last remaining team without a loss in the nation, is the #1 team in the nation for the first time. Three years ago, this would have been a joke - something to keep in mind. Ranked ECAC teams this week are #8 Yale (up one), #13 Union (no change), #16 Colgate (up one), and #17 Cornell (up one). Also ranked are #2 Notre Dame (up two, with 10 first place votes), #4 Colorado College (up one, with one first place vote), and #7 Ferris State (down one). Also receiving votes were UMass-Lowell (15), Clarkson (10), and RIT (2).

RPI has a total of 27 points as a team this season - 11 goals, 16 assists. Their opponents have put up 84 against them. Only Alabama Huntsville has a worse offense - they have just 10 goals in 12 games, so it's a matter of one goal.

Most embarrassing of all? No fewer than five individual players - Colgate's Austin Smith, Minnesota's Nick Bjugstad, Notre Dame's Anders Lee, Minnesota-Duluth's Travis Oleksuk, and Nebraska-Omaha's Terry Broadhurst - have more goals so far this year than RPI does combined. Notre Dame's T.J. Tynan has more assists than RPI does combined, which is even more impressive when you consider that a team can pick up two assists on the same goal.

Not helping matters are the penalties for the Engineers - they're averaging 17 per game, good for 8th in the nation.

Green Bay certainly seems like a very long time ago.

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

#13 Union at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
11/15/11 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Union 5, RPI 1

College Hockey Stats


RECORD: 2-10-0 (1-4-0 ECAC, 2 pts)

Upcoming games
25 Nov - at RIT
02 Dec - at Princeton
03 Dec - at Quinnipiac
10 Dec - vs. #13 Union (Lake Placid, NY)
29 Dec - vs. UMass-Lowell (Storrs, CT)

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