Sunday, November 20, 2011

Women's Hockey - Wisconsin (18/19 Nov)

Last year, the Engineers opened their season with a road trip to Madison, WI, where the Badgers thoroughly dismantled RPI en route to 7-0 and 6-0 blowouts. In those games last year, there were few positives to be had, and it looked like RPI was playing shorthanded nearly the entire game.

This year, with nearly half the season gone before the teams met in Troy for a rematch, RPI was much better prepared to take on the #1 team in the country. While the Engineers again suffered two losses, Friday's game was a very close 4-3 contest in which RPI led twice, and Saturday's 8-2 final - while looking extremely lopsided - still offered more than a few positives and learning opportunities for the Engineers.

Friday

Cox/Smelker/Horton
Vandegrift/Guillemette/Harrison
Sanders/Mahoney/Svoboda
Letuligasenoa

Castignetti/Vadner
Le Donne/Marzario
Schilter/Walsh

O'Brien

Whether it was the result of a week off for the Badgers, the long trip to Troy, or a case of underestimating their opponent, Wisconsin looked a little off their game on Friday night, and all the Engineers had to do to get into the game was weather a few minutes of very strong Badger pressure to open the game.

In the opening four minutes of Friday's contest, Wisconsin had racked up a 10-0 shot advantage, but the Engineers did a good job of blocking shots from the front and limiting opportunities to sharp angles, giving Kelly O'Brien a good chance at each one.

Five minutes into the opening frame, RPI made it clear to the visitors that they weren't going to just sit back and take a beating, as Jordan Smelker and Eleeza Cox capitalized on a Wisconsin turnover at their own blue line to make it 1-0. Smelker broke past the backchecking Badger defense and fed Cox across the crease who beat netminder Alex Rigsby for the early lead.

The goal gave the Engineers life and for the next several minutes the play was remarkably close, with several opportunities each way, but the momentum shifted back in the Badgers' favor past the midpoint of the period when Jill Vandegrift was sent off on a hooking call. Less than a minute into the penalty kill, Amanda Castignetti tripped up a Badger skater and Carolyne Prevost beat O'Brien on the delayed penalty off a pass from Brooke Ammerman to tie the game at one - and send the Engineers back to the penalty kill for another two minutes.

RPI killed the ensuing penalty and held off Wisconsin's pressure for the remainder of the period, which saw a an 18-7 advantage in shots for the Badgers - relatively even once RPI held off the first 10 shots in the game's opening minutes.

Wisconsin struck again near the midpoint of the second period, after several more minutes of solid play from the Engineers, when a faceoff win sprung Brooke Ammerman and Carolyne Prevost on a 2-on-1 for the Badgers. Prevost fed Ammerman with a quick pass for an easy tap-in past O'Brien - a shot which the RPI netminder never had a chance at stopping.

By this point in the game RPI had been shorthanded four times, but shortly after Wisconsin's second goal RPI finally got their first power play opportunity, and they made good on it. With Alev Kelter off for hooking, Jill Vandegrift picked up a rebound in front of Rigsby and put it home to tie the game at two.

RPI made it 2-for-2 on the power play later in the period when Andie Le Donne was tripped by UW's Stefanie McKeough. Smelker and Cox again broke in 2-on-1, and when the Wisconsin defender dropped to the ice to prevent the pass, smelker fired a laser past Rigsby to take a 3-2 lead, which the Engineers held into the intermission. RPI actually held a 13-11 shot advantage in the period, which was one of the best played by the Engineers this year.

If not for one bad minute in the third period, the Engineers had every chance to win the game. However, a pair of ill-advised penalties taken by RPI set them up to be shorthanded for most of the opening five minutes of the third, and Wisconsin made quick work of getting back on top, with a power play goal by Brianna Decker followed up by a quick Blayre Turnbull goal just 42 seconds later to flip the score from 3-2 to 4-3 in what seemed like an instant.

Despite RPI's efforts to tie the game back up, including two power play opportunities, Wisconsin's conditioning got the best of the Engineers, who were unable to mount any sustained pressure even during the man advantage, and Wisconsin took a little-too-close-for-comfort 4-3 win heading into Saturday's rematch.

Saturday

Cox/Smelker/Horton
Guillemette/Harrison/Vandegrift
Sanders/Mahoney/Svoboda
Letuligasenoa

Castignetti/Vadner
Schilter/Walsh
Le Donne/Marzario

Piper/O'Brien

Several of those in attendance for Friday's game looked at RPI's performance and predicted a much different flow to the game on Saturday; that RPI would not have as much left in the tank as Wisconsin and would face a much tougher game than they did on Friday. Those predictions turned out to be pretty accurate.

Despite another great effort from the Engineers, Wisconsin's top scorers were too much to contain, with the Badgers' top line combining for seven goals and 15 points en route to a 8-2 victory for the visitors.

The Badgers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first half of the opening frame, with Hilary Knight poking home a rebound and Brianna Decker picking up another from close range, beating Brianna Piper with a nifty move to double the lead.

RPI answered back with a power play goal on their first opportunity of the game, with Sierra Vadner sliding a shot in from the point which was tipped past Rigsby by Ali Svoboda. Wisconsin regained their two-goal lead before the period ended, on yet another play off a rebound, this time by Prevost.

The second period saw Wisconsin and RPI trade goals in the opening two minutes, with Brooke Ammerman scoring on the power play for the Badgers before Taylor Horton fed Eleeza Cox for a quick tap-in less than a minute later.

That would mark the end of the Engineers' scoring as Wisconsin never let up through the remainder of the game, picking up goals by Prevost and Brooke Ammerman later in the second, while Decker notched the Badgers' final two goals in the third period to complete her sixth career hat trick. Decker also saw her point-scoring streak extend to 24 straight games on Saturday.

After playing the first two periods, Piper was replaced in net by O'Brien for the third period. Although the numbers may not reflect it, both netminders played well on the weekend, with more than a few of Wisconsin's goals coming on tic-tac-toe passing plays that left the goalie no chance at making a save.

While the Engineers dropped both games, the level of play RPI brought to the ice this weekend beat anything seen thusfar in the season. Friday's game in particular was marked by extremely smart hockey - short shifts, a lot of blocked shots (20 to be exact), and good use of turnovers and mistakes by Wisconsin to create opportunities. If RPI can carry this weekend's level of play back into the remainder of the ECAC schedule, there's not a game on the schedule they wouldn't have a fair shot at winning. The key will be to see if the Engineers can bring their A-game when they're not playing the top-ranked team in the country.

RPI is home again next weekend for a non-conference pair against Syracuse before facing Clarkson and SLU on the road before the holiday break. The games against Syracuse are extremely winnable and would give the Engineers a chance to get some momentum going into the remainder of the ECAC schedule. With the men playing at RIT on Friday, the only potential radio coverage would be Saturday's game, although nothing has been confirmed by WRPI as of yet. As usual, video and live stats will be available from the RPI Athletics website, along with tweets from WaP at twitter.com/without_a_peer.

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RPI vs. Wisconsin
Non-Conference Game – Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
11/18/11 – 7:00pm
Wisconsin 4, RPI 3

BOX SCORES:

RECAPS:
Video Highlights (no audio): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7_rakImhUt0

RECORD: 3-8-4 (1-3-2 ECAC)

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RPI vs. Wisconsin
Non-Conference Game – Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
11/19/11 – 4:00pm
Wisconsin 8, RPI 2

BOX SCORES:

RECAPS:
Video Highlights (no audio): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tolFHChov5E

RECORD: 3-9-4 (1-3-2 ECAC)

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Upcoming Games

Nov. 25 - Syracuse (7pm)
Nov. 26 - Syracuse (4pm)
Dec. 2 - at Clarkson (7pm)
Dec. 3 - at St. Lawrence (4pm)
Jan. 6 - Colgate (3pm)
Jan. 7 - Cornell (3pm)

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