Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Men's Hockey - ECAC Quarterfinals (at Union, 9/10 Mar)

Sometimes, you can play very, very well and still lose. The Engineers began the season doing that against some very good teams, and ultimately they ended their season in the same fashion, playing well enough to challenge one of the nation's highest ranked teams, but falling on costly mistakes and breakdowns, losing to top-seeded Union 3-2 and 4-2 in some very tightly played games that were far better than the three previous outings against the Dutchmen on the season.

Game 1
Lee/McGowan/O'Grady
Cullen/Higgs/Tinordi
Neal/Laliberte/Haggerty
Angers-Goulet/Malchuk/Rogic

Leonard/Bergin
Leboeuf/Bailen
Curadi/Dolan

Merriam

The RPI lineup was unchanged from Game 3 against Clarkson. Zach Schroeder was out all weekend due to the injury he suffered in Game 2, which sounds like it might have been a torn labrum in his shoulder.

The Engineers got out of the gate in a hurry, announcing on just the second shift of the series that they were not going to be run out of the building by scoring on their very first shot of the game. Matt Tinordi picked up his sixth goal of the season on a blast from near the top of the faceoff circle to give RPI a 1-0 lead just 42 seconds into the first period.

That early lead was followed up with a pair of penalties against the Dutchmen, positioning the Engineers to take command of the game and the series, but the RPI power play was unable to replicate the success it had in Potsdam, failing to really even come close to scoring on either of the two early first period opportunities with the 1-0 lead on their way to an 0-for-4 night on the advantage.

Union tied things up shortly after the second penalty, with the penalized player sneaking behind the defense out of the penalty box and scoring just nine seconds after his penalty expired by beating Bryce Merriam on the short side to tie the game at one.

The Dutchmen dominated the first period while they were not in the penalty box, picking up a 13-6 shot differential in the first 20 minutes. Their six minutes of penalty kill time blunted their attack a bit, but without damage as RPI was unable to convert. On the flip side, the Union power play was brutally efficient, scoring on their first two opportunities. The first came  just 9 seconds into a penalty to Mike Bergin midway through the first, putting Union up 2-1, and the second came on a goal that had to be reviewed early in the second period. With the Dutchmen whacking away at a puck that sat on Merriam's outstretched pad, they managed to roof one before the whistle blew to make it 3-1.

From there, Union seemed to go into a shell, trapping and trying to keep the Engineers from getting through the neutral zone, much as they had in previous games after taking two goal leads. That did not keep RPI bottled up this time around, however, as the game started to be tilted a little more toward the Union end. Strong defense maintained the Dutchmen's two goal lead until midway through the third period.

With Joel Malchuk in the penalty box, Alex Angers-Goulet scored his second goal of the year - and second shorthanded goal of the year - with an opportunistic shot close to where Tinordi had scored his goal, cutting the Union lead in half. Strangely enough, the Engineers nearly scored again off the ensuing faceoff, which would have tied things up with two shorties on the same penalty kill, which, of course, had happened in the last playoff game between the two teams.

Union did take a penalty shortly thereafter, giving RPI the opportunity they needed to tie the game, but once again the Dutchmen penalty kill was up to the task. Still, with just a one goal lead, Union appeared lethargic, giving the Engineers plenty of puck control in the third period. Despite a late (and questionable) call against Guy Leboeuf for holding, RPI still buzzed about looking for the final goal, and came close a number of times in the waning moments with Bryce Merriam out of the net. Union struggled to hold on, but they managed to sneak out with a Game 1 victory that strangely left the victors more frustrated than uplifted, and the defeated more optimistic than disappointed.


Game 2

Lee/McGowan/O'Grady
Cullen/Higgs/Tinordi
Neal/Laliberte/Haggerty
Angers-Goulet/Malchuk/Rogic

Leonard/Bergin
Leboeuf/Bailen
Curadi/Dolan

Merriam

Given the number of things that went right for RPI despite losing the first game, it wasn't overly surprising to see the same exact lineup hit the ice the next night.

After a solid start to the game for RPI, a pair of phantom tripping calls, one called on both side, returned the game to some of the familiar themes from the previous night. Bo Dolan was called for tripping on a play that video replay showed was really not much of anything at all, and much like Union's first power play on Friday, they converted right away, going up 1-0 just 12 seconds into the penalty.

A minute and a half later, Patrick Cullen managed to draw a tripping call against Union in much the same way, but the RPI power play once again could not get the job done. And, much like Friday night, it was a costly error shortly after the power play ended that led to a Union goal as the Dutchmen took a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.

Once again, Friday seemed to be the script for things as Union again seemed to go into a shell and RPI again took the initiative with puck control. Unlike Game 1, however, the Engineers managed to score in the second period, putting together a pair of goals 1:33 apart to tie the game. Brock Higgs scored his third of the season to bring RPI within one. A power play followed just 18 seconds later, and on the man advantage Matt Neal struck with a shot that was redirected into the net by a Union stick for his second goal of the year, and just like that the game was square once more.

RPI needed to reach the second intermission with the score tied, or better, with the lead, but Union seemed to wake up in light of the game being tied, and just 1:01 later they put one home to go back up 3-2, blunting the Engineers' momentum.

That didn't stop RPI's frantic attempts to pull even again, however. The Engineers by and large controlled the game the rest of the way, but were unable to find another tally. The hole was made deeper by a Union goal six minutes into the third period, after almost total domination by RPI to start the period, created by a turnover, a good Union transition, and a bad finishing defense. Once, again a momentary mistake cost the team and made the comeback more difficult to complete.

Despite arguably outplaying Union overall two nights in a row, the season ended with a 4-2 loss.

Other junk - Ranked teams that the Engineers played this season heading into the end of the conference tournaments are #6 Union (up two), #8 Ferris State (down six), #10 UMass-Lowell (down three), #13 Cornell (no change), #18 Notre Dame (down one), #19 Harvard (not ranked last week) and #20 Colgate (not ranked last week). Also receiving votes were Colorado College (31) and Quinnipiac (10), both of their seasons are over.


For what it's worth, in addition to Ferris State and the ECAC teams, ranked teams on RPI's schedule next year are #5 Boston University and #14 Western Michigan. Rumored St. Cloud State picked up 49 votes.


The team that scored first lost the first four games on RPI's playoff schedule. Union in Game 2 was the only team scoring first to come away with a victory.

C.J. Lee's eight goals on the season led the team, and is the lowest team-leading total in the modern history of the program.

Brock Higgs picked up his 23rd point of the year with his goal in Game 2, which led the team in scoring this year but represented the lowest team-leading point total since Al Jones in 1966.

At times this year, the team's winning percentage threatened to rival that 1966 team for worst in school history, but at .346 at season's end, it's not even in the bottom three over the past ten years. Worse seasons by winning percentage in the modern era were in 1951, 1966, 1982, 1996, 2003, 2008, and 2009. It is, however, the school's sixth losing season in the last eight years, which follows 12 winning seasons in 15 years.

At 39 games, the Engineers actually played one game more than they did last season when they went to the NCAA Tournament. Chalk that up to the First Round series victory, which they didn't have last year. It's one game shy of the record for games in a season, set in 2003 with 40 (the team played two schedule exempt games in the Icebreaker that year). While we're on the topic, current Providence assistant coach Ben Barr and current RPI assistant coach Nolan Graham set individual marks that year by appearing in all 40 games.

Speaking of total appearances, Alex Angers-Goulet finishes his career with 140 in the Cherry and White, the most from this year's seniors, but not enough to crack the all-time top 10. His brother, Matt, had 145, giving us a total of 285 Goulet games, certainly the most of any two family members in school history.

Nick Bailen becomes the active leader in games played with 114, but the first 37 of those were in his freshman season at Bowling Green. Marty O'Grady leads among games at RPI with 105.

O'Grady's 22 career goals leads returning players, Bailen's 53 assists and 74 points leads in those categories, 43 and 58 of which have been in the last two years at RPI to lead both of those categories anyway.



ECAC Semifinals
#4 Colgate vs. #1 Union
#3 Harvard vs. #2 Cornell

RPI at #8 Union
ECAC Quarterfinals, Game 1 - Achilles Center (Schenectady, NY)
3/9/12 - 7:00pm
RESULT:  Union 3, RPI 2

BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats
USCHO

RECAPS
RECORD: 12-23-3 (7-12-3 ECAC, 17 pts)

RPI at #8 Union
ECAC Quarterfinals, Game 2 - Achilles Center (Schenectady, NY)
3/10/12 - 7:00pm
RESULT: Union 4, RPI 2

BOX SCORES
RECAPS

RECORD: 12-24-3 (7-12-3 ECAC, 17 pts)

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