Monday, February 27, 2012

Men's Hockey - at Colgate & Cornell (24/25 Feb)

Road warriors indeed. For the fifth and sixth straight time away from Houston Field House, the Engineers picked up ECAC points, this time completing just their second weekend sweep of the season (the other was also on the road) with a 4-2 victory over Colgate and a 2-1 overtime win at Cornell. The surprise sweep, coming against the travel partner pairing with the most combined points on the year, followed a dismal Senior Night low, and the 4 points brought the Engineers' total in the last six road games to 11, a full 65% of their final total for the season.




Marty O'Grady was sidelined all weekend after picking up an upper-body injury - Seth Appert said he would have played had it been a playoff week, but was kept out to heal in time for the playoffs instead.

Penalties were the name of the game in the first period, with referees refusing to allow either team to get into a groove, calling nine minor penalties during the first 20 minutes including four which were coincidental (and another two close enough that they were almost coincidental), creating a lot of four-on-four action. Colgate's high-flying offense unleashed 18 shots in the first period alone, but Scott Diebold turned all of them away. The Engineers, meanwhile, managed just six in the first.

Johnny Rogic picked up a kneeing penalty five minutes into the second period to give Colgate their fourth power play of the game, but it was RPI who found the back of the net with Rogic in the penalty box. Just 16 seconds after the call, Mark McGowan scored a shorthanded goal, his second goal of the year, putting RPI up 1-0.

The Engineers maintained that lead for over 10 minutes, but a bad clearance attempt by Rogic put the puck on a Colgate player's stick right in front of the net, and just like that things were even again. Things got even worse 10 seconds later when Brock Higgs was called for elbowing, and a boarding call just over a minute into the ensuing power play against Mike Bergin gave Colgate a 5-on-3 advantage, and they capitalized with goal on that extra bonus, putting the Raiders up 2-1.

Colgate took a hitting from behind penalty with just six ticks left on the clock in the second period, which looked to give the Engineers a power play to start the third period on fresh ice with plenty of time to work with. Instead, Jacob Laliberte won the faceoff in the Colgate zone, sending it back to Nick Bailen who immediately blasted a shot that was redirected in front by Laliberte to the back of the net with two seconds left in the second period. It was Laliberte's fourth goal of the season, tying the game at two and giving RPI the momentum heading into the third.

That momentum powered the Engineers off the opening faceoff of the third, as just 15 seconds into the period - technically, 17 seconds removed from the tying goal - C.J. Lee scored his team leading seventh goal of the year to give RPI the lead.

From there, it was largely the Scott Diebold show. The freshman netminder stood on his head in the third period, making a total of 19 saves on 19 shots in the final frame to give him a total of 49 for the contest to power the Engineers to victory. McGowan would pick up an insurance goal just seconds after a late RPI timeout, his third point of the game and second goal of the night to put the Engineers up 4-2 with two minutes to play.

After years of failing to win at Starr Rink, the win was the second straight for the Engineers in Hamilton.




Despite - or possibly, because of - Diebold's amazing effort on Friday, junior Bryce Merriam returned between the pipes on Saturday for the final game of the regular season, a game Cornell needed to win in order to guarantee themselves the #1 seed in the ECAC Tournament. Size, as is always the case with Cornell, was also valued in the RPI lineup, as Pat Koudys and Greg Burgdoerfer also made return appearances.

As one would expect with a game at Cornell, the Engineers were the recipients of the only two penalties of the first period, but the Big Red were unable to get anywhere with them. Cornell looked fairly lost during the first 20 minutes, but RPI was unable to take advantage of the forecheck-induced possession advantage, pulling only a 6-5 shot edge out of the first period and nothing more.

The second period also ended with no pucks ending up in the back of the net, and unlike Friday's game, it was hardly a goaltender's duel. Merriam and Andy Iles combined for just 20 saves (10 each) in the first two periods, just two more than Diebold nabbed alone in the first period on Friday. Both teams had one power play chance in the second period, but there was still no scoring.

Cornell just missed scoring about six minutes into the period during a power play caused by a boarding call on Nick Bailen, but after a lengthy review the initial call of "no goal" was upheld. This was made moot, however, about two minutes later when the Big Red finally broke onto the scoreboard with a goal that came with 12 minutes left in regulation.

From there, Cornell was served up an additional two power plays (they had six against RPI's one on the evening), but the Big Red could not find the insurance tally and still led 1-0 as time began to get tight in the third period.

With just over two minutes left to play, the Engineers tied things up on a redirect in front by Matt Tinordi, scoring his fourth goal of the season by tipping a blast from Patrick Cullen to create the late tie for RPI.

The game went into overtime, and the Engineers took complete control during the extra period. Despite the much shorter length of the overtime period, the Engineers put an amazing seven shots on goal, which was more than either team had done in any one period all night long. In the end, good forechecking by the Engineers kept the puck in the Cornell zone late, and Patrick Cullen blasted home a Tinordi rebound into an open net to give the Engineers a 2-1 victory, their first in the regular season at Lynah Rink since the 2003-o4 season.

The victory deprived Cornell of the #1 seed, which went to Union thanks in part to the Dutchmen's victory over Colgate minutes before.

The win, coupled with Princeton's 1-1 tie against Brown that afternoon, pushed the Engineers past the Tigers into sole possession of 10th place in the final reckoning. That draws them against 7th place Clarkson, who were in 4th place coming into the week but were swept by Harvard and Dartmouth in the final weekend to drop them down. In typical ECAC fashion, only 4 points separated 3rd place (Harvard) from 8th place (St. Lawrence).

Other junk - After two weeks on top, Ferris State fell out of the #1 slot this week, falling two places to #3 (with one first place vote). Other RPI opponents ranked this week are #7 Union (up one), #8 UMass-Lowell (down one), #13 Cornell (down two), #18 Notre Dame (no change), and #19 Colorado College (down three). Also receiving votes were Quinnipiac (26), Harvard (25), and Colgate (ex-#20, 12).

The Engineers were the only team in the ECAC to pick up four points on the road against Colgate and Cornell this season.

Defense has played a huge role in RPI's success on the road. In the last six road contests, the Engineers have given up just seven goals, one less than they gave up in the Freakout! loss to Colgate alone. On the flip side, RPI has scored 15 markers of their own outside of the Capital District in 2012.

The weekend sweep guaranteed RPI its 30th consecutive season of 10 wins or more. The Engineers nabbed only 9 wins in 1981-82, and reached double digits by the slimmest of margins - exactly 10 - in 1995-96, 2006-07, and 2008-09. The team could technically still notch its second straight 20-win season, but it would require winning the national championship, and would still result in a losing overall record.

This will be Seth Appert's fourth losing season behind the bench for RPI - Dan Fridgen and Mike Addesa also had four losing seasons.

Believe it or not, RPI and Clarkson have met only once before in a playoff series. The #5 Golden Knights won a two game series in Troy over the #4 Engineers  3-1 and 6-4 to end the defending national champions' season. On the flip side, however, Clarkson is 0-2 (0-4 in games) as the #7 seed hosting the #10 seed.  Clarkson fell 3-2 and 6-1 to Vermont in 2003 and lost 2-1 and 6-4 to Harvard in 2011.

RPI was a Dartmouth loss (to Clarkson, on Friday) away from skating away with their best possible result coming into the weekend. That result would have put the Engineers in a tie with the Big Green, which they would have won based on a better record against the Top 4 teams (which would have seen Clarkson as #4) thanks to RPI's win over Cornell. That would have had the #9 Engineers playing at #8 St. Lawrence rather than at Clarkson.

Final ECAC Standings
1. Union - 32 pts (14-4-4)
2. Cornell - 30 pts (12-4-6)
3. Harvard - 25 pts (8-5-9)
4. Colgate - 23 pts (11-10-1)
5. Quinnipiac - 23 pts (9-8-5)
6. Yale - 22 pts (10-10-2)
7. Clarkson - 22 pts (9-9-4)
8. St. Lawrence - 21 pts (10-11-1)
9. Dartmouth - 19 pts (8-11-3)
10. RPI - 17 pts (7-12-3)
11. Princeton - 16 pts (6-12-4)
12. Brown - 14 pts (5-13-4)
RPI at #20 Colgate
ECAC Game - Starr Rink (Hamilton, NY)
2/24/12- 7:00pm
RESULT: RPI 4, Colgate 2



RECORD: 9-21-3 (6-12-3 ECAC, 15 pts)

RPI at #11 Cornell
ECAC Game - Lynah Rink  (Ithaca, NY)
2/25/12 - 7:00pm
RESULT:  RPI 2, Cornell 1 (OT)



RECORD: 10-21-3 (7-12-3 ECAC, 17 pts)

Upcoming games
02 Mar - at Clarkson (ECAC First Round, Game 1)
03 Mar - at Clarkson (ECAC First Round, Game 2)
04 Mar - at Clarkson (ECAC First Round, Game 3, if necessary)
09 Mar - at #7 Union, #13 Cornell, or Harvard (ECAC Quarterfinals, Game 1, if qualified)
10 Mar - at #7 Union, #13 Cornell, or Harvard (ECAC Quarterfinals, Game 2, if qualified)

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