Monday, February 4, 2013

Men's Hockey - Harvard/Dartmouth (1/2 Feb)

February is about the right time for teams to start making their moves, especially if they're near the bottom and looking to move up, and RPI put forward exactly the right signals on that front, pitching back-to-back shutouts in a home league weekend. They took care of Harvard and Dartmouth by twin 3-0 scores to earn four more big ECAC points as the stretch run begins.




Originally, Jacob Laliberte was slated to play against the Crimson, but he was a last minute scratch due to illness. Johnny Rogic was moved up to the top line to replace him, and Andrew Commers got the start on the fourth line instead, making his home-ice debut.

Rogic's time as the top line center was short and came to a very abrupt end just 10:37 into the game, when he was called for checking from behind thanks to a reckless hit at the Harvard bench on Alex Fallstrom. That ended his night early and put Harvard on a five-minute power play that had the potential to put the Crimson into a game they had been floundering in to that point. However, what transpired following the penalty was five solid minutes of the Engineers playing fetch with Harvard, as the penalty kill threw the puck down ice repeatedly. Only once, for a short time, were the Crimson able to even set up in the RPI zone during the long power play, and they were unable to put a single shot on goal while the Engineers managed two of their own.

Late in the first period, RPI put the first goal on the board as Mark Miller redirected a shot from the point by Luke Curadi into the back of the net, giving the Engineers a 1-0 edge heading into the locker room.

Shortly after another fairly easy penalty kill by RPI in the early part of the second period, the Engineers converted on their second power play opportunity of the game thanks to a highlight-reel goal by Mike Zalewski. The freshman skated with the puck from behind the net to the left of the goaltender, waiting so long to find his opening that he eventually went down to his knees and shot from the backhand to score and put RPI up 2-0.

Harvard put the majority of their shots on goal up in the second period, but even that wasn't much of a feat, as Jason Kasdorf stopped just six shots in the second to preserve the shutout going forward. The third was even quieter for him, with Kasdorf stopping only two shots in the third period for a total of 11 in the entire game in his first collegiate shutout.

Meanwhile, Miller scored his second goal of the game to put it away a little under three minutes into the third, shooting from the slot and beating the goaltender top shelf to make it 3-0, which would stand as the final score. The RPI penalty kill ended up 3-for-3 on the evening, including the five-minute major.




Laliberte, still feeling ill but well enough to give it a go, returned to the lineup on Saturday night for the Freakout!, arguably replacing Johnny Rogic, who was given a one-game suspension by the league thanks to his check from behind during the first period against Harvard. Functionally, it was Andrew Commers getting a second consecutive start due to the Rogic suspension.

A very physical first period was put together by both teams on Saturday night, but you'd never know it by looking at the box score, which shows no penalties whatsoever being called in the first 20 minutes. That set the tone for the rest of the evening, as both teams were called just three times over the course of the game, the second straight night that five-on-five action was the name of the game.

Dartmouth arguably had the best chance of breaking the deadlock early in the game as an initial shot was saved by Kasdorf, but the rebound dropped to a position that left him out of line for the followup save. Fortunately, Guy Leboeuf was standing in the crease at the right time and made a save of his own to keep the Big Green off the board.

Just as it appeared that Dartmouth and RPI were destined to hit the first intermission without scoring, RPI landed a confidence crusher with just 11 seconds remaining in the first period. Leboeuf didn't get all of a one-timer attempt to the goaltender's left off a pass from Matt Neal, but the momentum of the puck carried to Matt Tinordi, situated just a little farther back, and the junior one-timed the puck himself to the back of the net to make it 1-0 at the death of the first.

RPI got enough jump out of the gate early in the second period as well to make it 2-0 just 1:52 of game-time after the Tinordi goal. Brock Higgs found Mike Zalewski sitting alone at point blank range in the slot, and Zalewski one-timed the pass in for his second goal of the weekend.

With about five minutes left in the second, Mark Miller scored his third goal of the weekend on one of the most amazing moves you'll see. Leboeuf found him with a long up-ice pass, and the freshman darted in alone on the Dartmouth net. Despite being tripped up from behind (and no call on the play), Miller stayed with the play, firing the puck while stretched out in mid-air and beating the netminder for a 3-0 RPI edge.

Dartmouth regularly got the puck on Kasdorf, and Saturday night was nothing like Friday for the freshman goalie. He turned away as many shots in the second period - 11 - as he had the entire previous night, and was forced to step up for 12 saves in the third period, but despite the Big Green's fevered attempts in the final period to crawl back into things, Kasdorf and the defenders around him played shutdown hockey. C.J. Lee even chipped in early in the third by slashing apart the stick of a Dartmouth forward who had been in good position to score on a rebound - it resulted in a penalty, but RPI successfully killed it off.

Kasdorf ultimately stopped 28 shots on the night and 39 for the weekend in picking up back-to-back saves for the first time since Nathan Marsters accomplished the feat in 2004 against Cornell and Sacred Heart. More importantly for the Engineers, it was their fourth consecutive win in as many ECAC games, running their record in the last eight league outings to 5-1-2.

Other junk - Quinnipiac again just missed the #1 ranking in the nation this week, dropping two first place votes but still coming in at #2 with 20 first place votes after tying Brown and beating Yale. Also ranked this week are #10 Yale (beat Princeton and lost to Quinnipiac, down two), #17 Dartmouth (tied Union and lost to RPI, down one), and #18 Union (beat Harvard and tied Dartmouth, no change). Colgate (46) and St. Lawrence (2) also received votes. Other ranked teams on RPI's schedule this season are #4 New Hampshire (down one), #8 St. Cloud State (up four), #11 Minnesota State (up four), and #13 Boston University (down two). Ferris State (17) also received votes.

Jason Kasdorf holds the second best goals against average in the nation with a 1.44 GAA in 667:27 of game time. That trails only Miami freshman Ryan McKay, who has a 1.08 GAA in 612:33.  His .944 save percentage is good enough for fifth in the nation, second only to McKay's nation-leading .960 among freshman. Interestingly, both McKay and Kasdorf are 6-2-2 on the season.

Next weekend, RPI takes their ECAC streak up to the North Country, where on Friday they face one of the hottest teams in the nation outside of Quinnipiac - St. Lawrence is 4-0-2 in their last six games and as a by-product of that, are now sitting alone in fifth place in the ECAC. That's a spot that the Engineers covet, and they can pass the Saints with a win on Friday, where a loss puts them three points behind, making that a big game indeed. The Saturday game in Potsdam will be just as important for RPI, as they are currently tied with the Golden Knights in the ECAC standings.

If everything goes perfectly for RPI next weekend, they could be sitting in as high as 3rd (alone) at the end of Saturday. If everything goes badly, they could end up back in 11th. More likely, they should end up somewhere in between. That's the ECAC for you - but make no mistake every point is precious now, and the Engineers are undoubtedly playing their best hockey of the year.

ECAC Standings
1. Quinnipiac - 26 points (12-0-2)
2. Yale - 19 points (9-5-1)
3. Dartmouth - 16 points (7-6-2)
4. Union - 16 points (6-4-4)
5. St. Lawrence - 14 points (5-5-4)
6. Princeton - 13 points (5-6-3)
7. Colgate - 13 points (5-6-3)
8. Clarkson - 13 points (5-6-3)
9. RPI - 13 points (5-6-3)
10. Brown - 13 points (4-6-5)
11. Cornell - 10 points (4-8-2)
12. Harvard - 6 points (3-12-0)

Harvard at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
2/1/13 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 3, Harvard 0

College Hockey Stats

RECORD: 9-11-5 (4-6-3 ECAC, 11 points)

#16 Dartmouth at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
2/2/13 - 7:05pm

RESULT: RPI 3, Dartmouth 0

RECORD: 10-11-5 (5-6-3 ECAC, 13 points)

Upcoming games
08 Feb - at St. Lawrence
09 Feb - at Clarkson
15 Feb - Brown
16 Feb - #10 Yale
22 Feb - at Cornell

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