Wry observations about RPI hockey, the ECAC in general, and the college hockey world as a whole.
Monday, February 17, 2014
Women's Hockey - Colgate & Cornell (14/15 Feb)
This weekend held one game the Engineers were predicted to have a good shot at winning, and one where most wouldn't have given them much of a chance. Continuing to turn logic on its head, RPI lost what should have been the winnable game, falling 3-1 to Colgate despite a 28-16 shot advantage, before taking #3 Cornell to overtime in a barnburner of a 6-5 loss.
Unfortunately for RPI, 61:19 of hard fought hockey on Saturday counted for nothing once Cornell scored the overtime game-winner, and the Engineers left another weekend with no points, and are winless in eight straight since sweeping Union. While they still control their destiny to make the playoffs, they are in a three-way fight for that last spot, and Dartmouth has a much easier path to it than the Engineers despite being a point ahead heading into the final weekend.
The Engineers have struggled all year to earn points against teams in the bottom half of the ECAC, and Friday night was no different as Colgate skated to a 3-1 victory over RPI at Houston Field House.
Colgate's first goal came in an opening period in which the Raiders only put three shots on net. After Brandi Banks opened the game's scoring at 11:02 with her first career goal, Colgate's Jocelyn Simpson erased that lead just 37 seconds later by deflecting a puck past Kelly O'Brien.
Colgate went on to score twice more, once each in the second and third periods, and both by Rachel Walsh.
Walsh scored a power play goal in the second period with Delaney Middlebrook sitting on an interference call. With O'Brien caught without her stick, Walsh was able to put a rebound past the RPI netminder.
Her second goal came when it was getting close to empty net territory for the Engineers at 16:19 of the third period. Instead of looking to erase a one-goal deficit, however, the Engineers found themselves two goals in the hole and unable to climb out despite putting 17 shots on goal in the period.
With Colgate going on to defeat Union on Saturday, it was the Raiders second weekend sweep of the year after they defeated Yale and Brown two weekends ago, and Colgate dug out of what could have been a solid entrenchment in the bottom four to put themselves in the hunt for the final playoff spot.
Sitting near the top of the ECAC standings, and #3 nationally, Cornell came into Saturday's game as the strong favorite. The script had played out multiple times in recent years, with Cornell dominating in shots and winning by a few goals in a game that was never really in question.
While the final result may have been the same, Saturday's game didn't follow the script, with the Engineers coming back four times from deficits to tie things up, only to eventually fall 6-5 in overtime after an ill-advised pass was picked off to allow Cornell to notch a goal they didn't have to fight very hard for.
RPI picked up a big chance early in the game, as a penalty committed by Cornell with a delayed call already coming put the Engineers on a 5-on-3 advantage for a full two minutes.
With about 40 seconds left in that advantage, A Cornell trip which would have extended the RPI advantage even longer went uncalled, allowing the Big Red a break down ice which they converted for a rare 3-on-5 shorthanded goal and 1-0 lead.
Fortunately for RPI, Toni Sanders got the goal back about 30 seconds later, before the power play expired.
Cornell went ahead 2-1 at 15:38 on a goal by Jillian Saulnier which came after a couple of scoring chances for the Engineers, including a breakaway for Alexa Gruschow which was turned away by Lauren Slebodnick.
Lauren Wash erased Cornell's lead once again a few minutes later on a beautifully executed 2-on-1 with Jordan Smelker. Smelker was able to feed the puck to Wash for an easy tap-in past Slebodnick.
After a hard fought and relatively even period, one might have expected some adjustments from Cornell which would see the second period go much more in their favor. It did seem to be headed that way as Cornell jumped to a 4-2 lead before the seven minute mark of the middle frame, but the Engineers would erase that deficit as well.
Cornell's third goal was Saulnier's second of the night, coming 3:57 into the second, and it would mark the end of O'Brien's night in net, as she was replaced by Brianna Piper.
The Big Red's fourth goal came on the power play with Jordan Smelker in the box for cross-checking a Cornell skater to the ice from behind which put Cornell up 5-on-3. The Engineers killed the first penalty but Emily Fulton put one home on the remaining advantage for a 4-2 lead.
RPI could have packed it in at that point and called it a night, but instead they fought back, with Laura Horwood drawing the Engineers back to within a goal at 9:39 after taking a feed from Lauren Wash behind the net and carrying it from one side of the crease to the other to beat Slebodnick.
Taylor Mahoney drew RPI even at 14:21 off a 2-on-1 rush with Gruschow. Mahoney carried the puck down ice and held it all the way, firing it past Slebodnick to make it 4-4.
Cornell regained the lead before the second period ended, capitalizing on one too many 2-on-1's allowed by the RPI defense. Hanna Bunton would notch the goal which made it 5-4.
The 5-4 lead held through most of the third period though the teams traded power plays, but with the net empty and the extra attacker on, RPI was able to knot the score one more time at 5-5 on an Ali Svoboda goal with 25 seconds left in regulation.
With all the excitement and momentum that came from evening the game up in the final minute and arguably outplaying the Big Red in the final frame, it was somewhat anticlimactic that a bad turnover would hand Cornell the game winning sixth goal on a platter just 1:19 into overtime.
It's now a three-horse race for the eighth and final playoff spot, with RPI in the lead, Dartmouth trailing by a point, and Colgate trailing by two.
Unfortunately for the Engineers and Raiders alike, Dartmouth draws Brown and Yale next weekend while RPI must take on Clarkson and SLU and Colgate faces Princeton and Quinnipiac, giving the Big Green (on paper at least) much better odds of earning points toward that last playoff spot.
In addition, by virtue of the season sweep, Dartmouth owns the tiebreaker over the Engineers. RPI and Colgate split their season series, so that tiebreaker will not be determined until after next weekend. Dartmouth swept the season series with Colgate as well so would own that tiebreaker, as well as a potential three-way tie. These facts improve Dartmouth's odds of taking eighth place as they own any potential tiebreaker they face.
Outside of the fact that the Engineers control their own destiny and four points next weekend puts them in, RPI's most likely chance of making the playoffs lies in a victory over SLU and hoping for Dartmouth to lose to one of Yale or Brown, with Colgate then picking up three or fewer points. Yale played Dartmouth close in a 5-4 Dartmouth win earlier in the season, though Brown picked up a tie against the Big Green despite being outshot 41-28.
If RPI does earn a single win next weekend, they would lose a potential tiebreaker with Colgate as the Raiders would need two wins to equal the Engineers point total and thus would win on the second tiebreaker of league wins. Three points would put RPI clear of Colgate and leave Dartmouth only to contend with.
Needless to say, there are still a number of factors which leave the eighth spot hotly contested. Things may get a little clearer after Friday night but don't be surprised if we don't know how things will shake out until after the final games are played on Saturday.