Monday, November 19, 2012

Men's Hockey - Mercyhurst (16/17 Nov)

A turnaround was practically a necessity for the Engineers heading into a home non-conference weekend series against Mercyhurst, and with luck, that's exactly what they gained. RPI pulled off its first home weekend sweep since January 2011 and its first home non-conference sweep since October 2010 with 4-2 and 4-1 victories over Atlantic Hockey's Mercyhurst, a result that probably is not a cure-all but certainly helped to stop the bleeding from three consecutive weekends of bad results for the Engineers.




With Jacob Laliberte's return from injury and a "message received" return to the lineup by several regular starters, RPI's starting lineup looked much more impressive than it had in its last outing against Harvard. Laliberte and Ryan Haggerty specifically returned to reunite the "NHL line," RPI's top scoring line this year.

Milos Bubela got things going six minutes into the game with his second career goal, snapping RPI's scoreless stretch of 138:26 dating back to, interestingly enough, Bubela's first career goal, which was against Union in Schenectady. Craig Bokenfohr picked up his first collegiate point with an assist on the play, which put the Engineers ahead 1-0. Bubela redirected Bokenfohr's initial blast from the blueline into the net.

Nick Bailen notched his third tally of the year about four minutes later to put RPI up 2-0 by ripping a shot from the top of the slot that beat the goaltender on the stick side. All was looking pretty rosy for the Engineers at that point.

Unfortunately, the offense seemed to go into hibernation for the next 30 minutes or so. RPI mustered just 16 shots on goal in the game's first two periods, failing to score on any of five shots in the second despite two power play opportunities. Fortunately, Bryce Merriam continued his strong play in net for RPI, carrying over from a good showing at Harvard with 14 saves in the first 40 minutes.

Three minutes into the third period, some good stickwork behind the net by Mike Zalewski ended with the freshman registering his first point. Zalewski dished the puck quickly to Mark McGowan in front of the net, who one-timed it to the back of the net before his defender could react, giving RPI their first 3-0 lead of the season. Luke Curadi picked up the secondary assist, which was also his first collegiate point.

Mercyhurst didn't just roll over and play dead, however. In all, they put 15 shots on Merriam in the final period, including two in a span of 4:23 that eluded him, making it a 3-2 contest with nine and a half minutes left to play. The first Laker goal came on a power play that started with a somewhat dubious hooking call against Bubela, the second was a shorthanded goal off a too many men penalty against Mercyhurst, marking the third time in four games that the RPI power play had given up a shorthanded goal.

The Lakers pushed hard late for the tying goal, but Merriam stayed up to the task until an iffy cross-checking call against Mercyhurst with 1:45 remaining in regulation basically doomed their chances of tying the game. The Engineers deftly spent much of the power play's first minute simply playing keepaway in the Mercyhurst end, but Bailen eventually found a shooting lane at the top of the right faceoff circle and put a wrister into the back of the net, providing RPI with a little extra insurance and a 4-2 final score. The win snapped a five-game losing streak and a seven-game winless streak for the Engineers dating back to the first week of the season.

The one downside for the Engineers was the loss of C.J. Lee to injury at the end of the second period. Lee tried to make a check in the RPI zone, but hit the boards hard on his back instead. He favored his left leg as he was helped off the ice, he did not return to the game.




Lee's injury forced Matt Tinordi back into the lineup, taking the captain's place on the second line after he was unable to skate in the warmups - this was a game-time decision. Tinordi appeared likely to return to the lineup anyway, Greg Burgdoerfer was listed as the extra skater on the lineup sheet and simply returned to his place on the fourth line when Lee couldn't go.

Although Scott Diebold had been listed on the sheet as the likely starter, word came down early that freshman Jason Kasdorf would get his first collegiate start instead, giving the Houston Field House crowd their first real-game look at the Engineers' lone NHL draft pick.

RPI completely dominated pretty much every facet of the game in the first period on Saturday, outshooting Mercyhurst 12-3 in the opening 20 minutes. They were assisted by two almost back-to-back power play chances midway through the period, but they were unable to break onto the board.

A boarding call on Bubela six minutes into the second period changed the face of the game completely. While the Lakers had been continuing to trail RPI in shots significantly up to that point, the Mercyhurst power play unloaded an outright barrage on Kasdorf, eventually scoring on a poor defensive showing by the RPI penalty kill to go up 1-0 and practically even the shot output for the game.

Things threatened to get worse minutes later as a RPI turnover on the power play led to a breakaway for the Lakers, but Kasdorf came up with a huge save to preserve the one-goal deficit and keep the Engineers from giving up yet another shorthanded goal.

Just two minutes after the RPI power play opportunity expired, Bailen set up the Engineers' first goal by carrying the puck into the zone and behind the net before dishing it to Mark Miller in front, setting up the freshman's first collegiate goal, which knotted the game at one.

The Engineers would pull ahead early in the third period with Jacob Laliberte's team-leading fifth goal of the season. The sophomore picked up a beautiful pass from Bailen to the Mercyhurst goaltender's left and slammed it home to put RPI up 2-1. Minutes later, a second effort by Greg Burgdoerfer after a wraparound attempt hit paydirt, giving the senior his first goal of the year and putting RPI up 3-1.

Again, Mercyhurst refused to die, eventually putting up a total of 13 shots on RPI's freshman goaltender, but he was equal to the task, sucking up a number of shots that might have otherwise led to rebounds on his way to a 30-save night and his first collegiate win. Marty O'Grady would hit his first goal of the year on an empty-netter with 1:10 left to produce the final 4-1 score.

The back-to-back victories were the first for RPI since they closed out the ECAC regular season with a shocking road sweep at Colgate and Cornell back in February (and extended to three games with a win in Game 1 of the ECAC First Round against Clarkson).

Other junk - Ranked teams in the ECAC this week include #8 Union (idle, down one), #11 Dartmouth (lost to Colgate and tied Cornell, up one), #13 Cornell (lost to Harvard and tied Dartmouth, down three), #17 Harvard (beat Cornell and lost to Colgate, no change), and #18 Quinnipiac (swept Clarkson/SLU, previously unranked). Also receiving votes were Yale (66), St. Lawrence (57) and Colgate (1). Other ranked opponents on the RPI schedule include #3 New Hampshire (up two, one first place vote), #10 Boston University (up one), #12 St. Cloud State (up three), and #16 Ferris State (up four). Minnesota State received one vote.

Cornell is off to a horrendous start in ECAC play. They lost four ECAC games all last season, they have already lost three just six games into this year's schedule.

The ranks of the ironmen continue to fall as C.J. Lee was sidelined by injury on Saturday, leaving Matt Neal, Nick Bailen, Brock Higgs, Mark Miller, Guy Leboeuf, and Milos Bubela as the only players on the roster who have seen ice time in all 10 games this season. All but two players on the roster have played in at least three games this season, Andrew Commers is the only one who has appeared just once and Jason Kasdorf the only one who has appeared just twice.

Zach Schroeder has missed four consecutive games with injuries, Ken Schott of the Daily Gazette reports that junior Johnny Rogic is also sidelined due to injury.

Jacob Laliberte remains near the top of the national race in scoring, he has 11 points in 8 games for a 1.38 points per game average, tying him for 11th in the nation alongside Dartmouth's Eric Robinson.

With three power play goals on the season, Nick Bailen is tied for 9th in the nation - the eight players ahead of him are tied for first with four. His nine points in 10 games has him tied for 11th in the nation in scoring among defensemen.

The defense has rebounded a bit, but is still down in the national doldrums, at a 3.20 GAA, RPI is tied for 48th in the nation out of 59 teams.

The Engineers have their second bye weekend of the still-fairly-young season coming up for Thanksgiving weekend, but their next two weekends will be key going forward, as they face four more ECAC games before the New Year. They've found ways to win against Mercyhurst, now they have to find a way to handle the somehow-always-monstrous-in-Troy Princeton Tigers on the last day of November before tangling with the as-yet-undefeated-in-the-ECAC Quinnipiac Bobcats on the first day of December. Then they hit the road to take on Yale and Brown. Points are a must, because the Engineers are the only team left in the league without any. In two weeks' time, we'll find out if this is a team that has a shot at the middle of the ECAC table, or whether it's going to be another scrape-and-claw for home ice in the first round season.

ECAC Standings
1. Dartmouth - 9 points (4-1-1)
2. Quinnipiac - 8 points (4-0-0)
3. Union - 6 points (3-1-0)
4. Harvard - 6 points (3-3-0)
5. Clarkson - 5 points (2-1-1, +3 GD)
6. Princeton - 5 points (2-1-1, +1 GD)
7. Colgate - 5 points (2-3-1)
8. Yale - 4 points (2-2-0)
9. Cornell - 4 points (1-3-2)
10. Brown - 2 points (0-2-2, -2 GD)
11. St. Lawrence - 2 points (0-2-2, -6 GD)
12. RPI - 0 points (0-4-0)

Mercyhurst at RPI
Non-Conference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
11/16/12 - 7:05pm

RESULT: RPI 4, Mercyhurst 2


Mercyhurst at RPI
Non-Conference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
11/17/12 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 4, Mercyhurst 1

RECORD: 3-5-2 (0-4-0 ECAC)

Upcoming games
30 Nov - Princeton
1 Dec - #18 Quinnipiac
7 Dec - at Yale
8 Dec - at Brown
27 Dec - at #12 St. Cloud State

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