Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Brown

This year's final entry in the Know Your Enemy journal is one that has left RPI fans shaking their heads at the end of the season twice in the last four years. For a team that the Engineers have fairly regularly dispatched with some ease in the regular season, the playoffs sure have been a completely different story. Last year's Brown team, however, was one of the best in recent memory, and the future seems to hold good things for the Bears - provided that they get some more goaltending.

Nickname: Bears
Location: Providence, RI
Founded: 1764
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 1993
Last Frozen Four: 1976
Coach: Brendan Whittet (5th season)
2012-13 Record: 16-14-6 (7-9-6 ECAC, 7th place)
Series: RPI leads, 57-24-7
First Game: December 28, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: March 16, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last Brown win: March 17, 2013 (Troy, NY)

2013-14 games: February 8, 2014 (Troy, NY); February 28, 2013 (Providence, RI)

Key players: G Marco DeFilippo, sr.; F Garnet Hathaway, sr.; F Mark Hourihan, sr.; D Dennis Robertson, sr.; D Matt Wahl, sr.; D Joey de Concilys, jr.; F Matt Harlow, jr.; F Ryan Jacobson, jr.; F Massimo Lamacchia, jr.; F Matt Lorito, jr.; F Nick Lappin, so.; F Mark Naclerio, so.; D Brandon Pfeil, so.; F Andrew Doane, fr.; D Tyler Wood, fr.

Key losses: G Anthony Borelli, D Richie Crowley, F Chris Zaires, F Jeff Ryan

Previous KYE installments:
Brown's win in Game 1 of the ECAC quarterfinals was their first over RPI in just over three calendar years - the previous win had been Game 3 of the ECAC First Round in 2010. Brown's last regular-season win over RPI came on January 29, 2010 in Providence, and their last regular-season win in Troy was all the way back on January 2, 2004 - a 1-0 victory.

More than anything, those stats simply put an exclamation point on just how much success RPI typically has against Brown. The lack of losses in Troy is especially stunning when you consider just how bad some of those RPI teams were after 2004 - and it makes the playoff successes that Brown had in 2010 and 2013 even more difficult to take.

The Bears made their first appearance in the ECAC championship game in 20 years last season, shocking high-powered Quinnipiac in the semifinals with a shutout, but failing to muster any major offense or defense against Union in the title game. Needing the Whitelaw Cup to go to the NCAA tournament (a win which, in hindsight, would have displaced their travel partners, Yale, from the field - think about that one for a while), the loss was undoubtedly disappointing but came at a point beyond which most observers thought the team capable.

The engine that made Brown a contender was Borelli - a revelation in his senior year when he displaced DeFilippo as the top goaltender the weekend Union and RPI came to Providence. Having started just two games in his previous three seasons, Borelli managed to keep the Bears around long enough to salvage ties in both games that weekend where they'd fallen behind, a trend that would continue for much of the rest of the season, and as time went on, Brown started winning games they'd previously been tying, and tying games they'd previously lost.

With the exception of a sub-par Capital District road weekend, the Bears picked up points in every single ECAC weekend after Borelli became the starting goaltender. That led into the team's first home playoff series since 2005, a relatively easy sweep of a punchless Clarkson team. Then, the Bears essentially snuck out of Troy with a 2-1 series victory after holding on for dear life in Game 1 and Game 3 victories that bookmarked a 6-2 beatdown in Game 2.

Offensively, Brown is encountering a renaissance, and it's led by Lorito, one of the top offensive threats in the league. Last season, he paired largely with Naclerio and Lappin, helping them become the team's second and fourth leading scorers. Hathaway, Robertson, and Harlow all return as key parts of Brown's offense this season.

Robertson, one of the better two-way defensemen in the league, is part of a far better than average blue-line showing that includes Wahl and Pfeil. The biggest question, though, is in net. DeFilippo had been rather shaky early last season, which made it all the more easy for Borelli to swoop in and take the top spot. The Bears do add a freshman goaltender, Tyler Steel, but presumably DeFilippo will get a second chance to be Brown's top netminder in his senior season.

That won't matter to RPI, since the Bears are, perhaps frustratingly, the last team they will see on their schedule - it will have been nearly 11 full months from the early playoff exit when the Engineers get their chance for revenge, and it will be at home in the Big Red Freakout!, something that should play into their hands nicely. The goaltending situation is likely to have some kind of solid answer by then. Whether that answer has them winning games the way Borelli managed is yet to be seen.

The question for Brown this season is thus - can they do something similar to what St. Lawrence did last season, and get enough offense to make what could be a mediocre defense hold up? If so, Brown can certainly find itself shooting for the stars with an outside shot at being a first-round bye contender. If not, treading water is going to be perhaps as much as they can hope for.

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