Monday, February 20, 2012

Men's Hockey - Quinnipiac & Princeton (17/18 Feb)

It's starting to look like the Engineers may play better on the road than they do at home. If that's the case, they could well start playing better permanently, since their play this past weekend in Troy guaranteed that they will not return to competitive hockey at the Field House until October, failing to win at home for the fourth and fifth consecutive times with a 3-1 loss to Quinnipiac and a 6-2 loss to Princeton.




It seems to have happened quite a few times this season that the Engineers have put the puck in the net only to lose the momentum in short order to great detriment. That's basically the story of the first period on Friday as the Engineers put themselves on the board first with Zach Schroeder's sixth goal of the season nine minutes in, giving RPI a 1-0 lead.

But just 23 seconds later, Quinnipiac scored the equalizer to make it 1-1, blunting any momentum that the Engineers could have hoped to gain from Schroeder's goal. A power play goal ten minutes later - with 16 seconds left on the clock - made it 2-1 Bobcats and represented yet another blow, the dreaded late goal which has also been a difficult one for RPI to bounce back from.

The Engineers picked up a pair of power plays in the first 13 minutes of the second period, but were unable to translate those advantages into the tying goal. About a minute after the second power play expired, Quinnipiac struck again to make it 3-1.

Two more power plays fell by the wayside in the third period as the RPI advantage went 0-for-5 on the evening, contributing to an overall bad night on special teams (1-for-7). The Engineers registered 7 shots on goal in the third but still couldn't add to Schroeder's goal, falling 3-1 as the team failed to beat Quinnipiac for the fourth consecutive outing against the Bobcats.




In part to ensure that seniors Josh Rabbani and Justin Smith got the opportunity to play on Senior Night, a shakeup took place in the RPI lineup. Johnny Rogic was also reinserted into the lineup, with Matt Neal, Jacob Laliberte, and Matt Tinordi sitting down, as well as Guy Leboeuf, who came out in favor of Pat Koudys.

The Engineers entered Saturday's game with a distinct advantage - thanks to an injury and a game disqualification to defensemen in Friday's game at Union, Princeton had only four healthy defensemen on hand to take on RPI.

That advantage gave the Engineers the opportunity to generally control the game early on, but it did not translate into goals right away. In fact, Princeton got on the board first on a bit of a weak goal off a faceoff in the RPI zone, but the Engineers did respond before the end of the first period. Mike Bergin scored his first goal of the season - and his first since December 3, 2010 - with a rip from the blue line about four minutes later.

Princeton broke the game open in the second period with four goals, picking up two in the first five and a half minutes of the second period on their first two shots of the period, making it 3-1 and chasing Bryce Merriam in favor of Scott Diebold. The Engineers responded about a minute and a half later with Josh Rabbani scoring his first goal of the season - and his first since February 18, 2011 - on a rebound to cut Princeton's lead in half.

As the Engineers tried going for the second tying goal of the game, a bad break that has created plenty of offensive opportunities for the opposition this season - a blocked blue line shot kicked into the neutral zone - led to a breakaway opportunity and a goal for the Tigers, making it 4-2. A five-on-three advantage three minutes later led to Princeton's fifth goal, and the rout was on. The Tigers picked up another marker eight minutes into the third to seal things up tight.

With 5:49 left in the game, Seth Appert called timeout and sent senior Jeremy Coupal into the net, which drew a standing ovation from the RPI crowd. In a similar circumstance two years ago in the Freakout, Princeton did not relent against the third-string seeing his first game action, scoring two goals on three shots. With Coupal in net, Princeton did visibly pull up a bit, but did squeeze off a couple of shots, one of which was on net and blockered aside for his first career save.

On the other end, RPI fired only 26 shots on net in the game, half of them in the second period. The loss, coupled with Yale's 7-1 slaughter of Harvard, sealed the Engineers' fate in the playoffs - they will be on the road for the first round. While they can potentially reach as high as the 9th seed, the reality is that they will probably finish in the bottom three of the league table.

Other junk - Ferris State remains the #1 team in the nation this week, picking up 36 of 50 first place votes, so congratulations to the Bulldogs on that for sure. They're in first place in the CCHA and hitting on all four cylinders right now with a nation-leading 14 game unbeaten streak, they haven't lost since December 30. Other teams on the RPI schedule ranked this week are #7 UMass-Lowell (down one), #8 Union (no change), #11 Cornell (up one), #16 Colorado College (down one), #18 Notre Dame (down five), and #20 Colgate (re-entering the rankings). Quinnipiac (8) and Clarkson (1) also received votes.

RPI has not beaten Princeton at home since the 2006-07 season - they are 0-5-0 since then and have been outscored 25-6, half of the Engineers' goals coming in last year's 4-3 loss.

Barring a miracle, the Engineers will fail to have any player reach double digits in goals scored for the first time since 2007-08, the only time it has happened in the modern era. C.J. Lee, Zach Schroeder, and Ryan Haggerty each have six goals this year, seven different players reached six that season and the lowest ever team-leading total was nine by both Tyler Helfrich (in his freshman year) and Jonathan Ornelas (in his senior season).

It gets worse on points. Brock Higgs' 18 points leads the team with only four guaranteed games remaining in the season. RPI has never failed to produce at least one player with 20 points in the modern era, coming closest in the disastrous 1965-66 season with Al Jones reaching 10 goals (the only player on the team with double digits that year) and 20 points. Helfrich and Chase Polacek had 29 and 28 points respectively in 2007-08, both were freshmen that year.

On the flip side, only three skaters - Justin Smith, Greg Burgdoerfer, and Luke Curadi - have not scored goals this year, and Curadi is the only skater that has not registered a point (Rabbani and Bergin scored their first goals on Saturday, Smith picked up his first assist). However, nine skaters have only one goal.

Assuming he doesn't get more playing time, Jeremy Coupal becomes the first RPI goaltender to register a 1.000 save percentage since Jim Palmer in 2001-02, who made 14 saves on 14 shots in 23:41 of game time, including a shutout first period against Bowling Green. Palmer is the last third-string goaltender with limited playing time to register more than one save in his career - he had 19 on 20 shots in 31:15 of playing time. Palmer, incidentally, played at Seton Catholic HS in Plattsburgh, NY with RPI teammate Glenn Coupal, no relation to Jeremy.

ECAC Standings
1. Union - 30 pts (13-3-4)
2. Cornell - 28 pts (11-3-6)
3. Colgate - 23 pts (11-8-1)
4. Clarkson - 22 pts (9-7-4)
5. Harvard - 21 pts (6-5-9)
6. Quinnipiac - 20 pts (8-8-4)
7. St. Lawrence - 19 pts (9-10-1)
8. Yale - 19 pts (9-10-1)
9. Dartmouth - 17 pts (7-10-3)
10. Princeton - 15 pts (6-11-3)
11. RPI - 13 pts (5-12-3)
12. Brown - 13 pts (5-12-3)

Quinnipiac at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
2/17/12- 7:00pm
RESULT: Quinnipiac 3, RPI 1



RECORD: 8-20-3 (5-11-3 ECAC, 13 pts)

Princeton at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
2/18/12 - 7:00pm
RESULT:  Princeton 6, RPI 2



RECORD: 8-21-3 (5-12-3 ECAC, 13 pts)

Upcoming games
24 Feb - at #20 Colgate
25 Feb - at #11 Cornell
02 Mar - at ECAC First Round, Game 1 (site/opponent TBD)
03 Mar - at ECAC First Round, Game 2
04 Mar - at ECAC First Round, Game 3 (if necessary)

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