Monday, March 4, 2013

Men's Hockey - Clarkson/St. Lawrence (1/2 Mar)

The RPI Engineers are firing on all cylinders, and they picked a perfect time of year to be doing it. For the first time ever, they picked up a season sweep of both North Country teams by finishing off the season with four points against the duo, 5-0 against Clarkson on Friday and 4-1 against St. Lawrence on Saturday, an impressive showing from a team that was sitting in last place in the ECAC after the first week in January and now finds themselves with a week to recuperate before the playoffs begin, earning a first-round bye as the #2 seed in the league.

Clarkson
Lee-Laliberte-Haggerty
Zalewski-Higgs-Bubela
Neal-McGowan-Burgdoerfer
Rogic-Miller-Fulton

Leonard-Bailen
Leboeuf-Bradley
Curadi-Dolan

Kasdorf

Besides the fact that the team has just one healthy player outside of the lineup it had fielded over the previous two weekends - Andrew Commers - it's generally a good idea to go with what has been working, and RPI went with the same lineup on both Friday and Saturday nights, running its streak to six consecutive games with identical lines and personnel.

After a scoreless first 15 minutes dominated by the Engineers despite power play opportunities from both teams, Milos Bubela broke the deadlock with his eighth goal of the season, one-timing a Brock Higgs pass that had been redirected by Mike Zalewski in front of the net for the 1-0 lead.

Zalewski, playing against his older brother's alma mater for the first time at home, would grab a second goal for the Engineers in the final minute of the first period, absolutely rifling a shot from the left faceoff dot that had eyes for the back of the net, giving RPI a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.

The freshman struck again just 1:31 into the second period, scoring a goal via the ancient method of "playing to the whistle." Clarkson netminder Greg Lewis stopped a shot by Higgs and tried to hold onto it, but Zalewski worked it free and quickly moved the puck around the frozen netminder into the open net, giving RPI a 3-0 lead and ending Lewis' night early for the second consecutive time against the Engineers.

The goaltending switch paid no dividends immediately for Clarkson. Guy Leboeuf made it 4-0 just over two minutes after Zalewski's second goal. After Mark Miller stole the puck while forechecking in the Clarkson zone, he zipped it up to the point for Leboeuf, whose slapper made its way through traffic and to the back of the net, the junior defenseman's first goal of the season.

The Engineers continued to pour it on. Through a pair of back-to-back power plays, RPI was unfortunate not to go up five or six goals. Zalewski hit the post in search of his hat trick goal. However, it wasn't until there were three minutes remaining in the second period that the Engineers made it 5-0 on a shot by Curtis Leonard that looked remarkably similar to Leboeuf's long-range strike. It came from almost the same place, just with a little taken off the shot, going in five-hole.

Meanwhile, it was a quiet night on the other end of the ice. Jason Kasdorf needed just 15 saves to pick up his third shutout of the season. Some said after the game that the 5-0 final was deceptively close - and 5-0 games aren't usually called close. The Engineers had a lackluster third period, but Clarkson almost never came close to scoring throughout the game. Kasdorf made one or two nice glove saves, but at the end of the night it was an easy two points for RPI.

Besides the Engineers' win, Union's victory over St. Lawrence and Dartmouth's tie against Princeton guaranteed that RPI would be the #2 seed even before Saturday night's game even started, which certainly took the pressure off for the final night of the season.

St. Lawrence
Lee-Laliberte-Haggerty
Zalewski-Higgs-Bubela
Neal-McGowan-Burgdoerfer
Rogic-Miller-Fulton

Leonard-Bailen
Leboeuf-Bradley
Curadi-Dolan

Kasdorf

The big news out of Canton coming into the weekend was the absence of captain and Hobey Baker finalist Kyle Flanagan, due to an appendectomy on Tuesday. He centered one of the best lines in the country, and his absence certainly showed in a 5-1 loss to Union on Friday. No longer able to play for the #2 seed, the Saints were desperate for points against RPI in order to secure the first-round bye in order to ensure that Flanagan would be able to return for SLU's first playoff game.

The Engineers wasted no time in establishing their dominance on Saturday. A screened shot by Curtis Leonard was redirected in front by Mark McGowan to a streaking Nick Bailen, who popped the puck into the net for a 1-0 lead just 2:04 into the contest. SLU goaltender Matt Weninger protested that McGowan had interfered with him, but to no avail.

From there, St. Lawrence's desperation for points showed, and Jason Kasdorf had to be on his toes to keep the Engineers' edge. Similarly, Weninger stood very tall in net to keep his team in the game, as early domination by RPI gave way to a back and forth game for much of the first and second period. The RPI attack was hindered by a number of penalties in the first two periods as discipline started to become a major problem, but the absence of Flanagan on the power play for St. Lawrence kept its potency in check. The Saints failed to score on their first five power play opportunities, which came in about a 20 minute interval between the first and second periods.

St. Lawrence got on the board on a 4-on-3 situation, with Flanagan's co-Hobey candidate and linemate Greg Carey scoring the goal from the top of the slot to tie the game at 1-1, but a key mistake by Carey moments later would reverse momentum in a hurry.

With SLU still on the power play (now 5-on-4), Carey misplayed the puck at the point and tried to wrestle Bailen for it near the point. Higgs swooped in and scooped it up, bringing it the other way, going around a man, and cutting across the goalmouth to score his first goal of the season on the backhand. That shorthanded goal made the score 2-1 late in the second period.

St. Lawrence had more opportunities to come square once again as the RPI discipline problem carried over into the third period, but the Engineers' penalty kill continued to stay strong, eventually finishing the night 7-for-8.

RPI got their insurance goal with just over nine minutes left in the third period, as Mark Miller beat the defense back to the St. Lawrence zone to negate an icing call, then whipped the puck in front for Travis Fulton, who one-timed it to the back of the net for his second goal of the year to give RPI a 3-1 advantage.

Four minutes later, Johnny Rogic put the icing on the cake with his third goal of the season, a speedy streak up the right side boards following a steal in the neutral zone by Bailen. With plenty of room to operate, Rogic let one fly from the top of the faceoff circle, beating Weninger under his glove and caroming in off the post to make it 4-1. For the second consecutive night, the Engineers managed to chase the starting goaltender as Rogic's goal ended Weninger from the net.

Jason Kasdorf continued his hot streak at home, stopping 19 of 20 shots on Saturday to make it 34 of 35 on the weekend to run his home winning streak to eight in a row.

The loss, coupled with Union's victory over Clarkson, sent St. Lawrence tumbling from the top four, which means they'll have to host a first-round series next weekend in Canton.

Other junk - RPI has returned to the national rankings this week, now 17th in the nation according to the latest USCHO poll with 207 votes, just three behind #16 Nebraska-Omaha. Other ranked ECAC teams include #1 Quinnipiac (lost to Harvard and beat Dartmouth, no change with 36 first place votes), #13 Yale (swept Colgate/Cornell, up two), and #20 Union (swept SLU/Clarkson, previously unranked). Also receiving votes were Dartmouth (58) and St. Lawrence (2). Other teams on the RPI schedule ranked this week are #4 New Hampshire (up one), #8 St. Cloud State (down one), #10 Minnesota State (down one), and #19 Boston University (no change). No other opponents received points this week.

Nick Bailen had five points on the weekend, propelling him up the national scoring charts. At 0.94 points per game, he is now second in the nation in scoring among defensemen, just one point behind St. Lawrence's George Hughes (who picked up that point with an assist on SLU's only goal on Saturday). His 7 power play goals have him tied for 7th in the nation in that category, and tops among all defensemen.

Jason Kasdorf's 1.51 GAA has him fourth in the nation in that category (and, oddly, third among freshmen) and his .940 save percentage is sixth in the nation. Last week he was named national rookie of the month for February.

With a team GAA of 2.35, RPI is 11th in the nation in team defense.

RPI has not lost at home since December 1, a 3-1 loss to Quinnipiac. Since then, they have rattled off nine straight victories by a combined total of 35-8.

By virtue of finishing in second place (for the first time in 20 years), the Engineers have earned a bye through the first round of the ECAC playoffs and will not play in this coming weekend. Instead they await one of Brown, Princeton, Cornell, Clarkson, or Colgate in two weeks at Houston Field House - a rest that is certainly the spoils of victory.

Final ECAC Standings
1. Quinnipiac - 37 points (17-2-3)
2. RPI - 27 points (12-7-3)
3. Yale - 25 points (12-9-1)
4. Union - 24 points (10-8-4)
5. Dartmouth - 22 points (9-9-4)
6. St. Lawrence - 22 points (9-9-4)
7. Brown - 20 points (7-9-6)
8. Princeton - 20 points (8-10-4)
9. Cornell - 19 points (8-11-3)
10. Clarkson - 19 points (8-11-3)
11. Colgate - 15 points (6-13-3)
12. Harvard - 14 points (6-14-2)

ECAC First Round
#12 Harvard at #5 Dartmouth
#11 Colgate at #6 St. Lawrence
#10 Clarkson at #7 Brown
#9 Cornell at #8 Princeton

Clarkson at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
3/1/13 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 5, Clarkson 0

BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats
USCHO

RECORD: 16-12-5 (11-7-3 ECAC, 25 points)


St. Lawrence at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
3/2/13 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 4, St. Lawrence 1

BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats
USCHO


RECORD: 17-12-5 (12-7-3 ECAC, 27 points)

Upcoming games
15 Mar - ECAC Quarterfinals Game 1
16 Mar - ECAC Quarterfinals Game 2
17 Mar - ECAC Quarterfinals Game 3 (if necessary)
22 Mar - ECAC Semifinals (Atlantic City, NJ - if qualified)
23 Mar - ECAC Championship (Atlantic City, NJ - if qualified)

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