Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Men's Hockey - Mayor's Cup (24 Jan)

Last week we talked about how quickly a season can turn around, often in the span of a weekend's worth of games. This week, it was illustrated that a weekend itself can be an eternity - all it can take is one game, or in this case, just two periods. RPI looked very much the aggressor against Union in the first period of the annual Mayor's Cup game, in line with their upward trend and Union's general downward spiral. Then, as the second period started, it all seemed to vanish completely. Horrendous play by the Engineers coupled with some nice finishing by the Dutchmen conspired to result in an 8-3 defeat for an RPI team that actually had a lead after 40 minutes, a stunning turn of events that put the brakes on the optimistic outlook that the previous three games had produced.




With Mark Miller and Travis Fulton still out to injuries and the Engineers coming off a four-point weekend at home, it wasn't a shock to see RPI put the same lineup out against Union as was dressed for the Cornell game.

The Engineers struck first, scoring first for the fourth game in a row on Drew Melanson's fifth goal of the year just 2:07 into the game. That lead lasted for only 27 seconds, however, as Union went down right away off the ensuing faceoff to tie things up at one.

Late in the first, shortly after coming out of the penalty box, Jacob Laliberte entered the Union zone with plenty of ice in front of him on the right wing, but he pulled up instead, allowing a couple of Union defenders to get back, and waited instead for wingmate Matt Neal to get into position. With the Dutchmen defenders getting in place, Laliberte put the puck behind them, threading it to Neal who one-timed it to the back of the cage for his fourth goal of the season.

RPI took the 2-1 lead into the second period, where things started to come unraveled mighty quickly. The Engineers were lucky not to give up the lead early in the period, getting stuck in their own end and repeatedly being unable to change personnel due to the long change of the second period (with both benches on the same side of the ice). The Dutchmen dominated possession and shots, but Jason Kasdorf looked very solid in front of his cage.

Well against the flow of play, the Engineers picked up a 3-1 lead with a little under seven minutes left in the middle frame. Luke Curadi took a big slap shot from the blue line that missed the net to the left, but the rebound off the end boards caromed to Melanson to the right of the net, and he deposited in a gaping cage for his second goal of the night.

The goal did absolutely nothing to change the flow of the game, however, as Union continued to win faceoffs, pick up loose pucks, and dig pucks out of the corners. RPI's inability to stay out of the box finally started catching up as well. Union scored on the power play with just under three minutes left in the period to cut the RPI lead to one, and heading into the third period, it was clear the Engineers were going to need a serious energy jolt in order to maintain their edge.

It didn't take long to realize that the second period would not be the aberration in this contest. 17 seconds into the third, Union had tied it, and a power play goal three minutes later put Union in front for the first time. From there, the floodgates opened as lethargic defensive play by the Engineers was added to the same woes they had been fighting in the second period. Two more Union goals were reviewed over the next six minutes - one was put in with a stick that was just below being a high stick, the other was initially called a glove save by Jason Kasdorf but later proved to have crossed into the goal. 8:58 into a period RPI had led entering, they trailed by three.

Kasdorf would be pulled from the net following Union's fifth goal of the period at 10:43, but literally none of the goals given up by the Engineers could be classified as being his fault. Screens, power plays, extended possessions in the RPI zone, and odd-man rushes simply added up, and he came out of the game if for no other reason than to keep his psyche fresh.

Union completed the scoring against Scott Diebold, who allowed one goal on two shots.

In the game's final minute, after Luke Curadi had been slashed, Jake Wood took out his frustrations on Union captain Charlie Vasaturo, who was hit from behind into the Union net. Wood received a major for hitting from behind and a game misconduct, but the league would later assess him a 2 game suspension, meaning he'll miss road games at Dartmouth and St. Lawrence. The Engineers, defending Mayor's Cup champions who had led heading into the final 20 minutes, departed without even as much as a whimper.

Despite the rough game there were a few bright spots. Kenny Gillespie picked up his first two collegiate points with assists on both of Melanson's goals. The Neal goal, and the pass from Laliberte, was probably the prettiest of the night. Four of the defensemen managed to have a plus rating for the night (we won't get into who the other two are - you can see for yourself in the box score anyway).

But regardless, the game wasn't completely meaningless. The good news is that it doesn't count in the league standings, but games against Union are never just throwaway outings. The challenge now for RPI is to put this awful performance behind them and focus on the final nine games of the regular season, the most crucial part of the stretch run is ahead. Despite the struggles this year, the Engineers find themselves in a good place for home ice in the first round at least, and potentially within striking distance of a lower-end first round bye position if they can get back to the form they had against Colgate and Cornell. Whether the Mayor's Cup represents another turning point in a season that has been full of them will help determine their fate.

Current ECAC Standings
1. Quinnipiac - 20 points (10-2-0)
2. St. Lawrence - 18 points (9-4-0)
3. Harvard - 18 points (8-3-2)
4. Clarkson - 16 points (7-4-2)
5. Colgate - 14 points (6-4-2)
6. RPI - 14 points (7-6-0)
7. Yale - 13 points (6-5-1)
8. Cornell - 12 points (6-6-0)
9. Dartmouth - 10 points (4-6-2)
10. Union - 9 points (4-7-1)
11. Princeton - 2 points (1-11-0)
12. Brown - 2 points (1-11-0)

By winning percentage
1. Quinnipiac (.833)
2. St. Lawrence (.692)
3. Harvard (.692)
4. Clarkson (.615)
5. Colgate (.583)
6. Yale (.542)
7. RPI (.538)
8. Cornell (.500)
9. Dartmouth (.417)
10. Union (.375)
11. Princeton (.083)
12. Brown (.083)

RPI vs. Union
Non-Conference Game - Times Union Center (Albany, NY)
1/27/15 - 7:30pm

RESULT: Union 8, RPI 3

RECORD: 9-17-1 (7-6-0, 14pts)

Upcoming games
30 Jan - at Dartmouth
06 Feb - at St. Lawrence
07 Feb - at Clarkson
13 Feb - Brown
14 Feb - #16 Yale (Big Red Freakout!)

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