Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Men's Hockey - UConn Holiday Classic (29/30 Dec)

The unofficial start of the second half arrived with a great deal of promise for the struggling Engineers. With three weeks off and the team finally back to 100% health for the first time all season, hope seemed to be on the horizon. Unfortunately, the games turned out to be more of the same as RPI was savaged in the opening game of the UConn Holiday Classic, 7-2, and followed with a dismal consolation game, falling to Army 3-2.




The big news before the game was certainly the lineup. With no injuries to work around, Seth Appert was free to start whatever team he thought gave him the best chance to win for the first time all season, and the result was a number of seniors, especially Pat Cullen and Josh Rabbani, sitting in the stands. All seven freshman skaters started, as did freshman goaltender Scott Diebold. Matt Neal made his long awaited return to the lineup after missing more than two months with an ankle injury, and Ryan Haggerty came back after missing three games with the flu.

The optimism that came with the opening of the second half lasted precisely 43 seconds. That's how long it took the River Hawks to score, following a defensive breakdown that resulted in Lowell sending two forwards in alone on Diebold to make it 1-0. They made it 2-0 about 10 minutes later on a second defensive breakdown, and scored a shorthanded goal just two and a half minutes after that to make it 3-0. All three first period goals came as part of a lightning transition through the neutral zone that the RPI blueliners simply could not stop, leaving Diebold high and dry.

The Engineers tried to pick things up in the second period with Ryan Haggerty notching his team leading fourth goal of the season - yes, that's right - on the first opportunity of the middle stanza. The momentum didn't last long, however, as yet another defensive breakdown led to a Lowell goal just 30 seconds later, making the score 4-1 and immediately and visibly demoralizing RPI. Lowell picked up another goal about 10 minutes later to all but ice the game with almost a full half of the game left to be played.

Former RPI recruiting target Terrance Wallin - who reportedly had Lowell and RPI as his two finalists before choosing the River Hawks - made things worse three minutes into the third with his fourth of the season, making it 6-1. Zach Schroeder picked up his second of the year with just over three minutes left to play, but by that time it was far too late for anything to get going for the Engineers. Lowell added a power play goal with 10 seconds left just for good measure, and RPI limped away with a five-goal loss for the first time since the North Dakota NCAA game last year (which was six).

It was the first time since the "unspeakable Freakout!" two years ago that anyone had hung seven goals on RPI. The glaring issue was not between the pipes, as Scott Diebold frequently was left hanging by his defensemen and actually had a halfway decent appearance otherwise, although the goalfest left his numbers for the season significantly damaged.

Army, 2-0 losers to the homestanding UConn Huskies, became RPI's consolation game opponent.




The response was immediate. Joel Malchuk was benched for the first time this season, and defensemen Pat Koudys and Guy Leboeuf were also yanked, resulting in only five defensemen dressing. Bryce Merriam got the start in net, and senior Justin Smith skated as the extra forward.

With the Black Knights coming in with just one victory on the season, this had all the hallmarks of a must-win game for RPI, if only to maintain some semblance of confidence moving forward.

Once again, the Engineers got off on the wrong foot by getting behind early. After both sides had failed to score on their first power play of the game, Army was first to the scoresheet by notching a power play goal on Matt Neal's second penalty of the first period to go up 1-0.

RPI's power play struggles continued into the second period, as an opportunity right from the get-go fell by the wayside. In fact, it was not until Army went down two men six minutes into the second that the Engineers were able to get on the board, tying things with Brock Higgs' first goal of the season, getting the monkey off his back but keeping the Engineers somewhat behind the eight ball, as their efforts at even strength proved futile for the remainder of the period. RPI dominated the second in shots, 15-2, yet could only muster the two-man advantage goal.

Matt Neal's first career goal also came on the power play, arriving three and a half minutes into RPI's fifth man advantage of the game, giving the Engineers the lead for the first time in the tournament, but once again, the momentum was fleeting.

Just over two minutes later, following an interference call against Bo Dolan that Dolan, Appert and most RPI fans in attendance thought was a bit of a phantom call, Army scored on the ensuing faceoff to tie the game at two.

The Engineers pushed forward in an attempt to retake the lead, but just as they picked up the pressure, a slap shot by Nick Bailen broke the glass behind the Army net, resulting in a delay of about half an hour while  repairs were made. When play resumed, the momentum built by the pressure was gone.

In heart-breaking fashion, a weak shot by Army with only 93 ticks remaining on the clock eluded Merriam and gave Army the late lead. The Engineers did what they could to get things square again with the empty net, but they could not get one past Army's Ryan Leets, who made 29 saves on 31 shots for the victory. Merriam finished with just 13 saves on 16 shots, while the Engineers allowed 10 goals on 40 shots on the weekend.

RPI now limps home to begin the second half of the ECAC schedule, in desperate need of a bounce their way in order to salvage the season.

Other junk - Plenty of movement in the national rankings this week. RPI opponents on the chart this week are #5 Notre Dame (no change), #6 Colorado College (no change), #9 Colgate (up three), #12 UMass-Lowell (up five), #13 Cornell (no change), #14 Union (down four), #17 Ferris State (down six), and #20 Yale (down one). Also receiving votes were RIT (12) and Harvard (4).

RPI's three leading scorers - Nick Bailen, Brock Higgs and Ryan Haggerty - have scored 100% of their goals on the power play, accounting for 8 of RPI's 10 power play goals.

All of RPI's freshmen forwards - Haggerty, Jacob Laliberte, Zach Schroeder, Mark McGowan and Matt Neal - have now notched their first career goal.

Bailen, Schroeder, C.J. Lee, Alex Angers-Goulet, Mike Bergin and Curtis Leonard are the only remaining players who have not missed a game this season.

RPI's next game is their first home game since November - and it's a big one as it's not only a league game, it's also a nationally televised game as the first college game to air on the newly rechristened NBC Sports Network.  Unfortunately, it comes at a time when students are not on campus, against a team that doesn't travel well and with the team struggling significantly, so this showpiece game could be played in front of a fairly weak crowd. If you can get to the Field House on Friday, please do so.

ECAC Standings (by win% in parentheses)
1 (1). Cornell - 13 pts (6-1-1)
2 (2). Colgate - 12 pts (6-2-0)
3 (8). Quinnipiac - 9 pts (3-4-3)
4 (3). Yale - 8 pts (4-2-0)
5 (4). Union - 8 pts (3-2-2)
6 (7). Harvard - 8 pts (3-3-2)
7 (10). St. Lawrence - 8 pts (4-5-0)
8 (9). Clarkson - 8 pts (3-4-2)
9 (6). Dartmouth - 7 pts (3-3-1)
10 (11). Princeton - 7 pts (3-7-1)
11 (5). Brown - 6 pts (3-3-0)
12 (12). RPI - 2 pts (1-6-0)

#17 UMass-Lowell vs. RPI
Non-Conference Game - Freitas Ice Forum (Storrs, CT)
12/29/11 - 4:00pm
RESULT: UMass-Lowell 7, RPI 2

College Hockey Stats

RECORD: 3-14-0 (1-6-0 ECAC, 2 pts)

Army vs. RPI
Non-Conference Game - Freitas Ice Forum (Storrs, CT)
12/30/11 - 4:00pm
RESULT: Army 3, RPI 2

College Hockey Stats

RECORD: 3-15-0 (1-6-0 ECAC, 2 pts)

Upcoming games
06 Jan - Dartmouth
07 Jan - Harvard
10 Jan - American International
14 Jan - at #14 Union
20 Jan - at Brown

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