Monday, January 5, 2015

Men's Hockey - at Harvard, Miami (30 Dec, 2/3 Jan)

Having a schedule rife with the nation's top teams is a challenge under the best of circumstances, but when you're having to deal with continuing injuries to some of your most important players - and then having a team issue that ends with the suspension of the team's captains - it's a pretty tough row to hoe. Returning to play after a break of over two weeks, the Engineers briefly took a lead against #4 Harvard in ECAC play, but fell 6-2 after giving up the game's last five scores. Then, with a seriously depleted roster due to the aforementioned suspensions, RPI fought bravely twice against #6 Miami, but couldn't break out of their losing streak, dropping 3-2 and 3-0 games at home. RPI's losing streak is now at eight.

Fulton, Gillespie



The big question coming into the unofficial start of the second half of the season revolved around the health of several Engineers. The return of Drew Melanson from a bout with mono, of Travis Fulton and Zach Schroeder from shoulder and ankle injuries respectively, and of Jason Kasdorf from a lower-body injury were certainly big, but they came with a couple of disappointing caveats - Lou Nanne's shoulder was still bothering him, and the injury he appeared to have aggravated against BU apparently wasn't even the same injury that he originally suffered. Mark Miller, who had been playing with bruised ribs, suffered a freak ankle injury in practice, and Viktor Liljegren, previously unhurt, was out with a back injury.

The optimism that sprung with the return especially of Melanson and Kasdorf was dashed pretty quickly. The Engineers have been giving up the first goal of the game with some frequency this year (they've only scored first three times), but on Tuesday night in Boston, it took just 1:21 of game time for RPI to be trailing 1-0 as Luke Esposito scored unassisted after only 81 seconds to open the scoring.

RPI did not back down, and actually turned the game around rather quickly. As part of a fairly dominant first period performance, the Engineers netted a pair of goals from returning players to take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission. Melanson scored his second of the season from Jacob Laliberte and Matt Neal about three minutes after Esposito's goal, and Schroeder hit his second of the year all alone at 11:39. RPI outshot the home team 13-4 in the opening 20 minutes.

However, that was definitely the peak of the evening for the Engineers. They'd caught Harvard flat-footed in the first, and the Crimson rebounded in the second while RPI seemed a bit off from where they'd been to start the game. Harvard's Jimmy Vesey tied the game just 21 seconds into the second, then about three minutes later got a pair of goals nine seconds apart to break the game open at 4-2.

We've seen the Engineers struggle to come back from a bang-bang turn of events like that in the past, but a great deal of their problems came from the fact that the Harvard that played the last 40 minutes better resembled the one that's accrued only one loss all season and has arguably become the best team in the country. Steve Michalek stopped 22 shots in the final two periods, and the Crimson picked up two more goals, including a power play tally, in the third to cruise to the 6-2 victory and pick up another two points in ECAC play.

RPI, meanwhile, dropped their fourth straight league game after starting the ECAC schedule off with a 4-1-0 record.

Miami (Friday)
Bokenfohr, Gillespie



Viktor Liljegren, one of three very important freshman forwards who have been part of giving the offense what life it's had this season, returned to the lineup for RPI's non-conference series with Miami, but the story of the weekend wasn't who was playing, but rather, who wasn't. With Lou Nanne and Mark Miller still nursing injuries, the team's four captains - Curtis Leonard, Luke Curadi, Matt Neal, and Mark McGowan - were pulled out of the lineup as well, leaving the Engineers with just 10 forwards and 7 defensemen available to play - meaning it was literally an "all hands on deck" moment.

4:40 was the moment on Friday when the usual 1-0 scoreline appeared on the board with the Engineers trailing, as Miami's Riley Barber put one home to give the Redhawks the lead. Miami held an 8-6 edge in shots on goal after one period, as there was plenty of good back and forth action.

Chris Bradley scored his second goal of the season on the power play just 22 seconds into the second period, getting a good screen from Riley Bourbonnais in the process, to tie the game up at one, the third time in four games that RPI had responded with the game's second goal after initially falling behind.

10 minutes later, Miami got their lead back, followed by a second tally from Barber, this time on the power play, at 14:36. That put the Redhawks ahead 3-1 heading into the second intermission. RPI's defensive miscues in the middle stanza put them in a hole that ultimately they would not be able to recover from.

Arguably, however, the Engineers did have the better of the play in the third period. Melanson's third goal of the season and second in as many games cut Miami's lead in half with about eight and a half minutes remaining, and RPI certainly had opportunities to complete the comeback, especially late when they were practically gift wrapped a lengthy two-man advantage, but the home team failed to uncork even a single shot on the power play, and a penalty to Jake Wood just as the second penalty expired scotched any chance the Engineers had to complete the comeback.

Miami (Saturday)
Bokenfohr, Gillespie



The following night, it was learned that the Engineer captains had been suspended "indefinitely" for an unknown violation of team rules. That suspension continued into the back end of the Miami weekend, which resulted in RPI, out of necessity, putting the exact same lineup out the next night, dressing one fewer man than allowed.

The relative evenness of Friday night's game was not seen on Saturday, and a lot of that had to do with strong play from Miami netminder Jay Williams, who made 22 saves on 22 shots to shut out the Engineers. Meanwhile, the return from the World Junior Championship of Team USA's Anthony Louis injected a bit more life into the visitors. Louis set up Miami's first goal of the night by feeding Cody Murphy in the slot from behind the RPI net to put the Engineers in that oh so typical 1-0 hole.

RPI held their own during the first period, outshooting Miami 12-9 due in large part to a pair of power plays late in the period, but Williams was equal to the task. With RPI not coming terribly close to scoring, the Redhawks basically shut the door midway through the period with a quick burst of two goals reminiscent of RPI's experience against Harvard - this time, the goals were just seven seconds apart. In the blink of an eye, a one goal game was a three goal game.

Miami's physical play disrupted the Engineers all night long, and one RPI player who seemed to take significant umbrage was Milos Bubela. The junior was tagged for interference 18 seconds after the third Miami goal, and was fortunate not to pick up a major and a game misconduct (or more) for what ended up being a boarding penalty in the third period.

The loss extended the season-long losing streak to eight in a row (three in ECAC play), the team's longest drought since an eight-game losing streak in 2011-12.

RPI has now gone 11 consecutive games without reaching 3 goals scored. They also had 11 straight games of two or fewer goals in 2011-12 (which included the aforementioned eight-game schneid). One more would tie the school record of 12 in a row, set between 1912 and 1916 (when hockey was played rather differently).

It's all ECAC matchups from here on out (excluding the Mayor's Cup, played against league foes Union but not counting in the standings), so the time is now if the season is going to be salvaged. RPI does head into the meat of the league schedule with eight crucial points, but many teams have games in hand over the Engineers. It starts with another tough outing against nationally ranked Quinnipiac, followed by what absolutely must be a must-win game no matter what happens against a Princeton team that has been one of the worst in the nation in pretty much every category.

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

By winning percentage
1. Quinnipiac (.800)
2. Harvard (.778)
3. Clarkson (.714)
4. St. Lawrence (.571)
5. Colgate (.583)
6. Yale (.562)
7. Cornell (.500)
8. RPI (.444)
9. Union (.438)
10. Dartmouth (.438)
11. Brown (.125)
12. Princeton (.100)

RPI at #4 Harvard
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
12/30/14 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Harvard 6, RPI 2

College Hockey Stats

RECORD: 6-13-1 (4-5-0, 8pts)

#6 Miami at RPI
Non-Conference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
1/2/15 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Miami 3, RPI 2

College Hockey Stats

RECORD: 6-14-1 (4-5-0, 8pts)

#6 Miami at RPI
Non-Conference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
1/3/15 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Miami 3, RPI 0

RECORD: 6-15-1 (4-5-0, 8pts)

Upcoming games
09 Jan - at #15 Quinnipiac
10 Jan - at Princeton
16 Jan - #17 Colgate
17 Jan - Cornell
24 Jan - vs. Union (Albany, NY)

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