Monday, March 18, 2013

Men's Hockey - ECAC Quarterfinals (15/16/17 Mar)

Another year, another wasted opportunity for RPI in the ECAC playoffs. For the 11th consecutive season, the Engineers will miss the ECAC semifinal round, as they fell in three games against the 7th ranked Brown Bears, dropping Game 1 by a 3-1 score, bouncing back for a 6-2 victory in Game 2, and then losing a heartwrenching Game 3, 3-2, despite long stretches of dominant play.

Game 1
Lee-Laliberte-Haggerty
Zalewski-Higgs-Bubela
Neal-McGowan-Burgdoerfer
Rogic-Miller-Fulton

Leonard-Bailen
Leboeuf-Bradley
Curadi-Dolan

Kasdorf

No changes to the RPI lineup once again, marking the seventh straight game that the Engineers fielded the same lineup with the same lines.

Coming into the game, we mentioned that one of the things the Engineers needed to accomplish on the weekend was to stop the line that included sophomore forward Matt Lorito. Eight minutes into the first period, RPI got caught playing lax defense in their own zone with the Lorito line on the ice, and the Bears capitalized. With an extended opportunity in the RPI zone resembling a power play, Brown got on the board first with a goal by Lorito to make the score 1-0, a happenstance that allowed the Bears to push the focus on their forecheck and defensive mechanisms, which they tend to employ once they have a lead of any sort.

Poor decision making, passing, and puck handling were the stories of the night for the Engineers, who simply could not get any kind of sustained offense going for most of the first two periods of the game, especially following the Lorito goal. To make matters worse, RPI's outstanding power play was kept on the sidelines by an officiating crew that let pretty much anything go all night long for both teams, a net benefit to Brown, whose special teams on both sides of the puck were less than stellar during the regular season.

RPI did get two power play chances in the first two periods. The first came late in the first period, spilling over into the second period but yielding no results. The second occurred late in the second period, and this one proved fruitful as Jacob Laliberte scored his 10th goal of the season in the final minute of the period to tie the game up at one.

With the score tied, things opened up a bit more for the Engineers as Brown needed another goal. This gave the Engineers the opportunity to put more pucks on net than they had in the first two periods, but they were unable to find a way past Anthony Borelli, the other major factor for Brown heading into the weekend. Despite decent puck possession, RPI simply could not find the go ahead goal.

The tipping point came with about two minutes left in regulation. Mark McGowan was absolutely mugged on his way to retrieve the puck deep in the Brown zone, which would have left him in excellent position for a quality scoring opportunity. The uncalled interference - a penalty which went uncalled all night and only once all weekend despite copious examples from both teams - resulted in a turnover, and Brown rushed down the ice in transition, beating Jason Kasdorf with only 1:44 left in the third period to give the Bears a 2-1 edge.

RPI called timeout, and Kasdorf hit the bench after the Engineers got control of the ensuing faceoff. RPI put together few decent chances during the extra attacker stretch, and Brown eventually got it out and scored on the empty net from the RPI blue line, going up 3-1 with 10 seconds left and securing the Game 1 victory.

Game 2
Lee-Laliberte-Haggerty
Zalewski-Higgs-Bubela
Neal-McGowan-Burgdoerfer
Rogic-Miller-Fulton

Leonard-Bailen
Leboeuf-Bradley
Curadi-Dolan

Kasdorf

Despite the loss, injury concerns left RPI's lineup untouched for the eight straight game - essentially, there was no one left to be swapped in even if they wanted to change things up. With line chemistry essential this late in the game, a juggling of lines was also out of the question.

The Engineers came out on a mission with their backs against the wall, and they did a decent job of controlling play in the first 20 minutes despite not getting the results they were looking for. Then the officiating reared its ugly head once again. Seconds after Brock Higgs was taken down after blocking a shot into the neutral zone to negate what would have likely been a breakaway, Milos Bubela was called for elbowing on what appeared to be a clean hit, not only being called for the penalty but picking up a major and a game misconduct as well. That was a double whammy that put the Engineers on a long penalty kill situation late in the first period.

RPI knuckled down, killing off the first portion of the penalty in the first period, then a further 1:10 of the major in the first period before a Brown penalty for too many men ended the power play. That power play failed to produce, but the Engineers would grab the key first goal about two minutes later as C.J. Lee scored his sixth goal of the season to put RPI up 1-0. That was followed on three and a half minutes later by Curtis Leonard, whose blast from the blue line put the Engineers up 2-0.

Brown, to their credit, did not fold. They scored their first goal of the night in a similar way as their first goal from Friday, with an extended offensive zone push from the Matt Lorito line. This time, the Bears actually were on the power play, and Lorito's 19th goal of the season cut RPI's lead in half.

Two minutes later, the Engineers were back on the penalty kill when top Brown defenseman Dennis Robertson leveled Nick Bailen behind the play with a vicious knee after Bailen had cleared the puck down the ice. Bailen got up limping and left the game, while Robertson was assessed a five minute major and a game misconduct.

The power play got off to an ignoble start for RPI, as some lax moves to recover a puck outside the zone gave an opportunistic Brown the chance to pounce on the puck and create a shorthanded odd-man rush, which connected to tie the score at two. But minutes later, the Engineers converted on the power play as Jacob Laliberte scored in the last minute of the second period for the second time in as many nights to give RPI the lead once more, 3-2.

The Engineers turned on the afterburners in the third period, playing their best hockey of the weekend and quickly ensuring that there would be hockey on Sunday night. Mike Zalewski scored a pair of even strength goals a little over two and a half minutes apart to make the score 5-2, chasing Anthony Borelli out of the Brown net. Chippiness ensued for the remaining 10 minutes, including  late hit by Greg Burgdoerfer that probably should have seen the senior forward tossed from the game but didn't even result in a penalty. Burgdoerfer would then score with 9 seconds left in the contest to make the final score 6-2 in favor of the home team.

Game 3
Lee-Laliberte-Haggerty
Zalewski-Higgs-Bubela
Neal-McGowan-Burgdoerfer
Rogic-Miller-Fulton

Leonard-Dolan
Leboeuf-Bradley
Curadi-Hampton

Kasdorf

Nick Bailen, it was announced in the newspaper on Sunday morning, had suffered a charley horse and would be ready to go by game time. However, as he came out for warmups, he was certainly missing something on his stride and he quickly returned to the locker room. Unable to play, the Engineers' leading scorer was replaced by Phil Hampton, RPI's only healthy reserve defenseman, who had appeared in just three games prior to Sunday night's deciding Game 3. The only other option that the Engineers had would have been to roll with five defensemen, adding Andrew Commers to the lineup as an extra forward.

The Engineers dominated puck possession practically from start to finish on Sunday night, outshooting the Bears on a 2-to-1 ratio in the first period alone, but costly mistakes in transition were capitalized upon by the visitors. Brown scored two goals 50 seconds apart in the middle of the period to go up 2-0, a deficit that seemed enormous due to Brown's proclivity for playing lock-down defense with the lead.

That margin only worsened five minutes into the second period, as another fast-breaking transition turned into a Brown goal on a weak move by Jason Kasdorf, sending Brown up 3-0 and making things look very bleak indeed. That all three goals happened against the flow of play, which was still being dominated by RPI, made things all the more frustrating for the Engineer fans filling Houston Field House.

But rather than pack it in, RPI came back with a renewed effort, especially late in the period. Mark McGowan broke the Engineers onto the board with 2:35 left in the second to cut Brown's lead to 3-1, then just under two minutes later, in the final minute of the second period, Mike Zalewski scored to make it 3-2, injecting life into the crowd and giving RPI the momentum and the initiative heading into the third period.

There, in the final period of the final game, the Engineers poured it on in search of the tying goal. With the Field House rocking, Brown retreated almost completely into their own zone, turning the third period into one giant penalty kill, albeit at even strength for basically the entire period. They committed to keeping the Engineers limited to mostly low percentage opportunities, but RPI came oh so close to tying the score on multiple occasions. It seemed as though a tying goal was practically inevitable, but eventually, time became a factor and the Engineers still had yet to find that goal.

With 1:40 left in the game, both teams used their timeouts, and Jason Kasdorf was pulled in favor of the extra attacker. Brown's desperate defense bent practically all the way over, but never broke. A boarding call against the Bears produced a 6-on-4 situation with 16 seconds remaining, but even that extra advantage was not enough, and far less than winning, the Bears escaped with a 3-2 victory, enough to give them a 2-1 series win, ending RPI's dreams of a berth in the league semifinals for the first time since 2002.

With the loss, the Engineers are now at the mercy of the Pairwise Rankings to find out if their season will continue. The good news is that they are not done yet, but they do need a few things to go their way if they are to continue playing in the NCAA tournament in two weeks. Nothing to do now but wait and see if things fall into place as they did two years ago for a berth in the regionals.

Other junk - RPI dropped three spots from 16th to 19th in the national rankings due to their series loss to Brown. Other ranked ECAC teams include #2 Quinnipiac (beat Cornell 2 games to 1, down one with 27 first place votes, more than any other team), #11 Yale (swept SLU, up two), and #18 Union (swept Dartmouth, up one).

Mike Zalewski's three goals in the series gives him 12 for the season, which is the most for an RPI freshman since Kevin Croxton netted 15 in 2003. That ties him for the team lead in goals with Nick Bailen and Ryan Haggerty, making him the first freshman to lead the team in goals since Tyler Helfrich with 9 in 2008 (tied with senior Jonathan Ornelas).

Seth Appert is a finalist for the ECAC's Coach of the Year award. Player nominations have yet to be announced, but one has to suspect that Jason Kasdorf will be a finalist for both the Rookie of the Year and the Goaltender of the Year awards.

RPI had not lost at home for the first time since December in Game 1, snapping a nine-game winning streak.

ECAC Semifinals
#7 Brown vs. #1 Quinnipiac
#4 Union vs. #3 Yale

Brown at #16 RPI
ECAC Quarterfinal Game 1 - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
3/15/13 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Brown 3, RPI 1

BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats
USCHO


RECORD: 17-13-5 (12-7-3 ECAC, 27 points)


Brown at #16 RPI
ECAC Quarterfinal Game 2 - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
3/16/13 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 6, Brown 2

BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats
USCHO


RECORD: 18-13-5 (12-7-3 ECAC, 27 points)


Brown at #16 RPI
ECAC Quarterfinal Game 3 - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
3/17/13 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Brown 3, RPI 2

BOX SCORES
College Hockey Stats
USCHO


RECORD: 18-14-5 (12-7-3 ECAC, 27 points)

Upcoming games
29 Mar or 30 Mar - NCAA Regional (if qualified)
30 Mar or 31 Mar - NCAA Regional Final (if qualified)
11 Apr - NCAA Frozen Four (Pittsburgh, PA, if qualified)
13 Apr - NCAA Championship (Pittsburgh, PA, if qualified)
05 Oct - Exhibition Game

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