Monday, January 6, 2014

Men's Hockey - Mariucci Classic (3/4 Jan)

It doesn't get much harder than facing the top two teams in the country on back to back nights on the same weekend, over a thousand miles from home, and taking on the #1 team on its own (larger) ice surface in front of 9,600 fans, but playing poorly for stretches of those games doesn't exactly make things easier. The Engineers didn't exactly look ready for prime time in a tough battle against Ferris State and Minnesota, showing flashes of brilliance but enduring rough stretches, especially in the 2nd period, that doomed them to a pair of 6-2 losses in the Mariucci Classic.

Ferris State



The break certainly helped get the Engineers relatively healthy. Jacob Laliberte and Matt Neal, both injured during RPI's last game weekend against Denver and the U-18 team, were back in the lineup.

Early on against the Bulldogs, RPI actually looked pretty decent. They were getting shots on goal, they were taking offensive opportunities as they came, and they were generally controlling play. Then a bad bounce - from the RPI perspective, anyway - combined with spot errors to put the Engineers behind the eight-ball. Ferris State scored the game's first goal on a bounce which put the puck right on a forward's stick in front of the net, and Scott Diebold could do little to get to it. The Bulldogs had a 1-0 lead after just over seven minutes.

From there, unforced errors helped build the Ferris lead. A cross-checking call against Mike Zalewski made it 2-0 at 13:45, marking the first time all season that the Engineers, who have dominated the opening 20 minutes in most of their games, gave up two goals in the first period.

RPI would get one back with about 2:30 left in the period as Milos Bubela finally broke off his long goal scoring drought, netting his second of the year on the power play shortly after a 5-on-3 ended to make the score 2-1 heading into the second period. The Engineers came out of the first with momentum and an 11-9 shot edge, but that was not to carry over into the second period.

One of the keys to Ferris State's success throughout the game was in blocking shots. The Engineers, as strong as they had been offensively in the first half, needed to put more pucks on net, and while they took more shots against the Bulldogs, many of them were not getting through thanks to a concerted shot-blocking effort by the designated home team.

A holding call on the power play against Bo Dolan can probably go down as the full turning-point in the game. After several golden opportunities for the Engineers were met with iron or a big save, Dolan turned the puck over and picked up the penalty while tracking down the short-handed counter. Ferris State scored with the subsequent 4-on-4 on the larger ice surface, then netted one on the power play that followed to make it 4-1, putting the Engineers in a serious hole.

The Engineers put 11 pucks on net in the final period of the game to officially outshoot Ferris State 34-30, but an early Ferris goal in the period had already made it 5-1. Mike Zalewski picked up a short-handed goal midway through the period to bring RPI back within three, but that was as close as they would get. The Bulldogs gained an empty net tally with three minutes left on the clock to cinch things up and advance to the championship game.




Colgate's shootout victory over Minnesota ensured that the Engineers' challenge would be the #1 team in the nation the next evening, a team that was getting its head coach and two top young players back on the bench following Team USA's unsuccessful conclusion to the World Junior Championship. The trio, unavailable for the first night due to their trip back from Sweden, were ready to go against the unlucky Engineers for the consolation game, which followed a much-maligned showing against the Raiders.

For the Engineers, Jake Wood returned from his knee injury, replacing Mark Miller in the lineup.

RPI had to weather the early storm from the Golden Gophers, a reversal of the usual script of the Engineers being the early aggressors, and for the most part things were looking good. Scott Diebold bounced back from a tough outing against Ferris State and picked up 14 saves in the first period alone against the high flying Gophers. The home team looked a bit frustrated in the early going.

Things looked bright indeed when Zach Schroeder and Brock Higgs linked up for the team's second shorthanded goal in as many nights with just over four minutes left in the first period, giving RPI a 1-0 lead against the general flow of play. After killing the penalty off, it even looked like the Engineers had the potential to take that lead into the locker room, but a shot from the blue line was redirected past Diebold in the final minute of the period, making it 1-1 after one.

The biggest knock on RPI all season long has revolved around poor play in the second period, and that poor play reared its ugly head again against the Gophers. The top team in the nation won't frequently fail to take advantage of a situation like that. Three goals in the first seven minutes of the second period made the score 4-1 for the second consecutive evening. All told, Minnesota scored four times in just under eight minutes of game time to seize control of the game. The RPI attack picked up slightly late in the second period, but the damage was done.

Unlike Friday's game, however, it was RPI who would score the first goal of the third period as Matt Neal put one away to make it 4-2 and bring the game within reach once more. However, another turning point was coming four minutes later.

Just as Ryan Haggerty appeared to have scored top-shelf off the faceoff to make the score 4-3, the Engineers were whistled instead for interference. The call was originally on Haggerty, who was at the point for the shot, then it was changed to Jimmy DeVito, who wasn't even on the ice. Regardless of the phantom call, RPI went from feeling back in the contest to having to kill a penalty, and only 28 seconds after they'd thought it was 4-3, the real score was 5-2 as the Gophers quickly converted. Another empty-netter given up by the Engineers made it back to back 6-2 losses, with neither score really doing justice to the work RPI put in, but both losses certainly deserved.

Other junk - Losing games, even against the best, doesn't do much for a team outside of the rankings. The Engineers fell further in the vote tally, accruing only three this week. #4 Union (idle, up one), #7 Quinnipiac (beat Sacred Heart and Maine, up one), #10 Yale (tied Vermont, no change), #11 Clarkson (tied and lost to UMass-Lowell, no change), and #12 Cornell (idle, up three) were the ranked ECAC teams this week. Colgate (13) also received votes. Other ranked teams on RPI's schedule include #1 Minnesota (no change with 42 first-place votes), #3 Ferris State (down one), #5 Boston College (up one), #17 Denver (down one), and #20 New Hampshire (previously unranked). No other opponents received votes.

RPI is 1-6-3 against currently ranked teams. There it is. Not something that's going to be a bright spot on the NCAA resume, even if they can turn things around in ECAC play.

Despite his four-game goal drought, Ryan Haggerty continues to lead the nation in goals with 18. As of the Minnesota game, he has fallen under 1 goal per game. BC's Johnny Gaudreau is right on his heels now with 17. Brock Higgs is tied for 5th in the nation with 13 goals.

Haggerty's 1.37 points per game has him tied for 9th nationally. Higgs, Matt Neal, and Jacob Laliberte are all among the top 100 in the nation in points per game. Haggerty's 8 power play goals is now tied for first in the nation with Minnesota State's Jean-Paul Lafontaine.

Guy Leboeuf and Brock Higgs each have two short-handed goals this season. That's the first time the Engineers have had two players with two shorties in a season since Chase Polacek and Joel Malchuk in 2010-11. RPI had two as a team all of last year (Higgs had one of them), the six that the team has scored is the most since 10 in 1999-2000 (they had 6 in 2000-01 as well).

Defensively, the Engineers are now in the bottom half of the nation in a tie for 33rd with a team GAA of 2.85. The offense has slipped to 15th at 3.30 goals per game.

It's back to ECAC play for RPI this coming weekend with a road series at Princeton and Quinnipiac. The way the Tigers' season has gone, points are a must out of that game, while the Bobcats present another serious challenge as the Engineers tangle with their third high-flying offense in four games by the time they get to Hamden.

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

RPI vs. #2 Ferris State
Mariucci Classic Game - Mariucci Arena (Minneapolis, MN)
1/3/14 - 5:00pm

RESULT: Ferris State 6, RPI 2

RECORD: 8-7-4 (3-3-3 ECAC, 9 pts)

RPI at #1 Minnesota
Mariucci Classic Consolation - Mariucci Arena (Minneapolis, MN)
1/4/14 - 8:00pm

RESULT: Minnesota 6, RPI 2


RECORD: 8-8-4 (3-3-3 ECAC, 9 pts)

Upcoming games
10 Jan - at Princeton
11 Jan - at #7 Quinnipiac
24 Jan - Dartmouth
25 Jan - vs. #4 Union (Albany, NY)
31 Jan - at #11 Clarkson

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