Monday, December 5, 2011

Men's Hockey - at Princeton & Quinnipiac (2/3 Dec)

Things are officially getting worse for RPI even as certain elements get better. The offense, given the output of the games this past weekend, is certainly beginning to awaken from its slumber, hitting one-timers and getting to rebounds where they had not been earlier in the season. However, just in time for the offense to start firing, the defense became lax as the Engineers dropped their 11th and 12th games of the season - in 15 total outings - to move within one of last year's final number in the loss column during the first weekend in December. On Friday, three goals was not enough to overcome Princeton (5-3), while a last-second goal for Quinnipiac doomed the Engineers on Saturday (3-2).




Friday's lineup featured the same exact group sent out against RIT with two exceptions - Bryce Merriam returned between the pipes, and Patrick Cullen returned from injury, replacing leading scorer Ryan Haggerty, who missed the weekend with an undisclosed illness.

The even strength drought finally ended about six and a half minutes into the first period as Jacob Laliberte finally notched his first career goal, unassisted, to put RPI ahead 1-0. It was the fourth straight game in which the Engineers had struck first.

The lead lasted for about four minutes before Princeton struck back on a shot Bryce Merriam probably would like back. Jack Berger put it just over Merriam's glove and in to tie the game at one, and the Tigers struck quickly just over two minutes later on the power play, picking up a bad clearance by Nick Bailen and converting just 23 seconds into their first power play of the night to go up 2-1.

RPI fought back three minutes later as Matt Tinordi notched his first goal of the season and second of his career on a putback of a Josh Rabbani tip, knotting things up at two. Before the second period was over, it was already just the second RPI game of the season in which both teams reached two goals.

Last year's ECAC rookie of the year, Andrew Calof, made the score 3-2 seven minutes into the second period with a goal on another RPI turnover, but RPI again fought back to tie the game before the end of the middle frame. Marty O'Grady scored his first goal of the season from C.J. Lee and Zach Schroeder to square things once more.

That was as close as the Engineers could get in just their second time on the year reaching three goals. Calof scored again seven minutes into the third period to put Princeton up 4-3, and with the net empty, the Engineers could not convert despite a number of excellent opportunities. A bad move by Bailen to keep the puck in the zone ended up giving it to Princeton, and Berger scored into the empty net to finish the game at 5-3.

An offensive awakening coupled with a number of bad defensive turnovers that previously had been limited to only about one per week. Merriam did not fare terribly well in net - he faced only 23 shots on the evening but allowed four goals.





Haggerty was not ready to return on Saturday and Pat Cullen was removed from the lineup, possibly not ready to return from his injury suffered against Union. The only other change was in net as freshman Scott Diebold picked up his second start in three games.

The first period started out horribly for RPI. They were kept pinned in their own end for much of the first 20 minutes, and late in the period were being outshot by an eyepopping 12-3 tally. An early power play opportunity went nowhere, followed by a goal five minutes later by Quinnipiac freshman phenom Matthew Peca, who put a bouncing puck past Diebold to put the Bobcats ahead.

Despite the lousy start, the Engineers were fortunate to get into the locker room tied at one as Jacob Laliberte followed up his Friday goal with another one five minutes after RPI went down. Bailen and Higgs assisted to make the score 1-1 heading into the break.

The major event of the second period was certainly a serious contact to the head incident involving freshman Luke Curadi. He put a Quinnipiac player to the ice and the referees quickly issued a five minute penalty and a game misconduct. A retaliatory penalty on Quinnipiac meant that the Bobcat power play was reduced to three minutes, but RPI ended up down two men before the end of the kill with a cross-checking call against Bo Dolan. The Engineer penalty kill, long one of the few bright lights, hunkered down and got back to five a side with no damage.

The Engineers took their second lead of the weekend four minutes into the third quarter as a Brock Higgs shot was saved by Quinnipiac's Eric Hartzell but picked up in the slot by Zach Schroeder, who forcefully launched the rebound into the open net for his first career goal.

Unfortunately, that was when the defensive issues from Friday began to creep in. Two and a half minutes later, sustained pressure in the RPI zone led to a goal after the Engineers failed to clear the puck on two occasions. That tied the game at two, and RPI could not regain the lead despite some decent pressure late.

Despite some very sloppy defense throughout - and repeated bailouts by Diebold, who shined with 35 saves, including 14 in the final period - the game appeared to be heading into overtime before the Engineers iced the puck in the waning moments. They gained a clearance, but then seemed to stop playing with intensity and the Bobcats, playing to the horn, went for broke. A bad attempt at taking out the puck carrier, Ben Arnt, left him alone with Yuri Bouharevich, who placed the puck perfectly into the net with just 2.4 seconds remaining on the clock, giving the Bobcats a 3-2 victory.

Ultimately, the Engineers lost a game they probably deserved to lose due to generally bad play for long stretches, but it was still a game they were very much in until the very end. It's a tough loss to swallow and an especially tough sweep to have to swallow given that both games were not only well within reach, but were downright winnable thanks to the rejuvenated offense.

Other junk - The reigning national champions, Minnesota-Duluth, are the #1 team in the nation this week following Merrimack's first two losses of the season at the hands of Providence. Ranked ECAC teams are #10 Union (tied Quinnipiac/Princeton, down one), #12 Colgate (swept Clarkson/SLU, up three), #16 Cornell (beat Clarkson and tied SLU, up one), and #17 Yale (split home and home with Brown, down three). Also ranked this week are #6 Colorado College (beat Denver, up two), #7 Notre Dame (swept by Northeastern, down five with one first place vote), #9 Ferris State (swept by Western Michigan, down three), and #18 UMass-Lowell (swept UNH, previously unranked). Also receiving votes were Quinnipiac (17) and Harvard (3).

RPI ultimately went 446:48 without scoring an even strength goal between Patrick Cullen's goal late in the 2nd period against Colorado College on October 28 and Jacob Laliberte's first career goal in the 1st period against Princeton on December 2. All five RPI goals this weekend were even strength, which doubled the team total for the season as a whole. They went 0-for-3 on the power play. That's right, only three power plays in 120 minutes. The penalty kill did OK, going 6-for-7 including the big major kill.

The abyss gets deeper now: the Engineers are in last place, and the rest of the league is four points clear - which means RPI could sweep a weekend series and they'd still only possibly be tied for 9th at best. Another problem: The next chance to do that doesn't crop up until after the new year. Next up is another game against Union on the big sheet at Lake Placid. The Dutchmen are banged up right now, but if things go the way they did this past weekend (and in the last game between these teams) it probably isn't going to matter. Then comes a tournament at UConn that looked like a cakewalk at the beginning of the season and now looks like another tough order as UMass-Lowell has looked very good this year.

ECAC Standings
1. Cornell - 13 pts (6-1-1)
2. Colgate - 12 pts (6-2-0)
3. Yale - 8 pts (4-2-0)
4. Union - 8 pts (3-2-2)
5. St. Lawrence - 8 pts (4-4-0)
6. Dartmouth - 7 pts (3-3-1)

7. Princeton - 7 pts (3-5-1)
8. Quinnipiac - 7 pts (2-4-3)
9. Brown - 6 pts (3-3-0)
10. Harvard - 6 pts (2-3-2)

11. Clarkson - 6 pts (2-4-2)
12. RPI - 2 pts (1-6-0)

RPI at Princeton
ECAC Game - Hobey Baker Memorial Rink (Princeton, NJ)
12/2/11 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Princeton 5, RPI 3

College Hockey Stats

RECORD: 3-11-0 (1-5-0 ECAC, 2 pts)

RPI at Quinnipiac
ECAC Game - TD Bank Sports Center (Hamden, CT)
12/3/11 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Quinnipiac 3, RPI 2

College Hockey Stats

RECORD: 3-12-0 (1-6-0 ECAC, 2 pts)

Upcoming games
10 Dec - vs. #10 Union (Lake Placid, NY)
29 Dec - vs. #18 UMass-Lowell (Storrs, CT)
30 Dec - vs. Army OR at UConn (Storrs, CT)
06 Jan - Dartmouth
07 Jan - Harvard

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