Thursday, March 28, 2013

Luck of the Draw

Tunnel vision is rarely a good thing. It may keep you focused on what's important, but you miss all the stuff around the edges that can have an impact on that which is important.

It's been about a week and a half since RPI's unexpected end to their season (and a little under a week since that was made official by a string of bizarre results across the nation), and the frustration has some people getting upset with the prolongation of the team's struggle to reach the ECAC semifinals. The drought now sits at 11 straight without making an appearance in either Albany or Atlantic City, and it's in no small part due to three home playoff series in the last four years that the Engineers were unable to win.

If you've got tunnel vision, the answer is simple. RPI simply can't get over the hump, and it's the coach's fault.

Here's the problem with that line of thinking - each series is different, even if the end result is the same.

And yet, as different as those series were, there's one thing about them that needs to be pointed out: what happened afterwards.

You see, tunnel vision ignores the input of the other team in how things turn out, and in all three cases, that other team was pretty clearly doing OK.

In 2010, RPI dropped a three-game series to Brown. The Engineers weren't huge favorites to advance to Albany that season, but for the first time in several years it didn't seem like something that would have been a shock if it had happened. As the home team, they were favored to beat a Brown team that had gone 3-10-3 since New Year's. They dropped Game 1, came back strong in Game 2, and lost a comeback attempt in Game 3 by one goal, 3-2.

What happened after that? Well, Brown went on to play against the #1 seed in the ECAC, Yale. They went down to Ingalls Rink and defeated the best team in the league in three games, eventually claiming 3rd place in Albany.

In 2011, RPI dropped a three-game series to last place Colgate. Despite a rough stretch late in the season that cost the Engineers a crack at a first-round bye, optimism was high that RPI could at least dispatch a Colgate team suffering a horrendous season to earn the right to take on a Cornell team that they'd tied in the standings. Again, as the home team, they were favored over a Colgate squad that had failed to register a victory in each of their first 15 league games. They dropped Game 1, came back strong in Game 2, and took Game 3 to two overtimes before falling.

What happened after that? Colgate went to the #1 seed in the ECAC the following week, taking on Union. They defeated the best team in the league in three games and earned the right to head to Atlantic City despite  not picking up their first league win until February.

This season, RPI dropped a three-game series to Brown once again, with the major difference being that this time, it was in the quarterfinal round thanks to a torrid end to the season for the Engineers. This time it was Atlantic City or bust, and even though Brown certainly had some things going for them, RPI was still the solid favorite. They dropped game one, came back strong in Game 2, and lost a comeback attempt in Game 3 by one goal, 3-2. (Whoa. Deja vu.)

What happened after that? Brown went to Atlantic City to take on the #1 seed in the ECAC, Quinnipiac. They not only beat the best team in the league - and for much of the season, the nation - they did it going away, with four goals in a little over 35 minutes for a 4-0 victory.

So before you become obsessed with the tunnel vision look, remember these two very important items.

1) RPI did not roll over for these teams. In each case, the Game 1 loss resulted in a fired-up, big victory in Game 2, eventually creating an all-out war in Game 3 that RPI came up just short in each time.

2) Each of the teams the Engineers faced went on to take on the top seed in the tournament afterwards, and defeated them - in other words, it wasn't just some fluke.

After pointing out item 2 on Twitter last week, I got a response (the seriousness of which I am unsure of) which claimed that 2010 Brown, 2011 Colgate, and 2013 Brown found success against the #1 seeds because they were energized after beating RPI, who played poorly.

I honestly don't know what to say to that. Beating a team that's playing poorly all it takes to get up and beat the best team in the league, or perhaps the best team played poorly too?

At any rate, understand that there's no RPI fan who isn't disappointed by what we've seen in the last four years in terms of playoff hockey in Troy - but sometimes, you just end up with a team that is figuring things out at the right time, and you make little mistakes. For instance, Game 1 was not good for RPI, and the team made little errors early in Game 3 that ended up costing them the game and the series.

But let's not blow this into something it's not. It would be one thing if RPI was just playing poorly and getting run by losers. It's another thing to simply have the bad luck to run into a number of teams willing and, more importantly, able to turn their seasons around at the end.

Put this a different way - RPI finds some bounce of the puck against Colgate in 2011 that allows them to score during some part of the 30 minutes of overtime that was played in Game 3, and there's not much of a link anymore, is there?

Time to suck it up and go back at it next season... which is shaping up to be a fun one if we can meet potential.

1 comment:

  1. Do you know of any statistics on whether teams tend to win a 3 game series if they won the Friday game? As in, team A wins Friday, team B wins Saturday, statistically who is more likely to win Sunday, A or B?

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