Monday, March 16, 2015

Men's Hockey - ECAC Quarterfinals (13/14 Mar)

The Engineers needed an outstanding effort if they were going to survive a second consecutive weekend in the North Country get to Lake Placid. They got one on Friday, but it wasn't enough to overcome a St. Lawrence team that was right back on top of their game as RPI endured a heartbreaking, literally last minute 1-0 loss. That loss that proved too difficult to bounce back from on Saturday as their season ended with a 5-1 defeat in Canton.

Game 1



The conventional wisdom coming into the weekend had the play of Jason Kasdorf as the key for RPI - if he played up to his potential, the Engineers had a chance. On Friday night, facing off with the obvious choice for the ECAC's Ken Dryden Award given to the goaltender of the year, St. Lawrence freshman Kyle Hayton, RPI got the kind of play from Kasdorf that they needed to have that chance.

The RPI offense was grooving as well, controlling play and putting pucks on net. In fact, outside of a pair of penalty kills the Engineers needed to get through in the first 20 minutes, RPI had a pretty solid grip on possession throughout the first period. But while Kasdorf was playing well in net for RPI, so was Hayton for St. Lawrence. The freshman netminder made a number of acrobatic robberies throughout the first two periods to frustrate an Engineer attack that was otherwise functioning just as well, if not better, than it had for much of the season to that point.

No doubt, with the offense working hard, moving the puck well and taking shots, and with Kasdorf frustrating St. Lawrence's offense on the other end, RPI had the formula that they needed for victory. But Hayton's unrelenting play on the other end turned the contest into the consummate chess match as neither team wanted to be the one to blink first. In the first two periods of the game, each netminder made 21 saves on 21 shots. It was the very definition of a goaltender's duel.

Possession slowly started moving in the opposite direction midway through the second period, and where the Engineers had dominated the game early on, St. Lawrence began getting their opportunities later in the contest. But just as Hayton had generally weathered the storm well early, Kasdorf did the same for the Engineers. As time wound down, it became fairly obvious that the first goal of the game could well be the last as well, and that the tally would easily be the most momentous of the series, one on which the fortunes of both teams would rest.

RPI got their golden opportunity to be the one to score that goal with about 4:30 or so left in regulation. The Engineers, moving quickly in transition, took a shot that Hayton saved, but the rebound came free and a number of RPI players had the opportunity to pounce on it and potentially score. St. Lawrence captain Gunnar Hughes was not willing to let that happen, and he tossed the cage to stop play. That earned him a penalty for delay of game at a crucial point of the game, but the RPI power play was unable to capitalize.

As time drained away and overtime started to look inevitable, the game changed in a manner so common to hockey - a bounce. SLU's Chris Martin sent the puck weakly toward the net through traffic in an attempt to try and make something happen, and that's exactly what he got. The puck deflected off of Chris Bradley and into the back of the net with 51.5 seconds remaining in regulation, a bounce that St. Lawrence earned with strong penalty killing and the possession advantage late in the game.

The Engineers pulled Kasdorf from the net with 20 seconds left, but they were unable to get on past Hayton, who finished with 27 saves against 33 for Kasdorf.

Game 2



The ominous pre-game news was the loss of freshman forward Drew Melanson, the team's leading scorer, to an injury sustained the previous night. Kenny Gillespie, who had previously only seen time on the fourth line, slotted in on the right wing of Melanson's line, moving Lou Nanne to the left wing as Seth Appert sought to avoid disrupting the chemistry of the team's other three lines, which have been fairly static for the last couple of weeks.

RPI got their opportunity to put their stamp on a bounce-back effort early as SLU's Woody Hudson took a holding call 1:52, giving the Engineers a quick power play chance. That power play, however, went nowhere at all for an RPI team that would go 0-for-4 on the man advantage in Game 2 and conclude their season with just one power play goal in their final 17 games.

The Engineers certainly didn't back down after Friday night's loss. They sought to take the game to the hosts early, and for the second straight night, they peppered Kyle Hayton with shots in the first period, but once again, he was up to the task. Hayton made 16 saves in the first period alone, giving him 43 saves on 43 shots across the first four periods on the weekend. RPI was putting up a goose-egg on the scoreboard, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

Meanwhile, St. Lawrence took advantage of their opportunities in the first period, limited though they were. Another fortunate bounce for the Saints turned into the game's first goal at 5:45, and then a far more intentional redirection put SLU up 2-0 just 1:05 later, a devastating turn of events for an RPI team that had still been doing just about everything right on the weekend.

RPI finally got one past Hayton early in the second period as Mark Miller picked up his seventh goal of the year 2:02 into the middle frame to cut SLU's lead in half at 2-1. The Engineers were very much alive at that point, and they pressed looking for the equalizer. That was, however, destined to be the only puck they could get past the Saints' netminder on the weekend. Hayton made another 11 saves in the second period, and added 11 more in the third period, giving him 65 saves on 66 shots over the course of the weekend. As good as Jason Kasdorf was, Kyle Hayton was simply even better, and that was the difference.

The Saints iced the series with two more goals, one late in the second and another late in the third to make the score 4-1, then with the Engineers pulling out all stops, added an empty netter with about 15 seconds remaining to make the final scoreline 5-1. The Engineers, two steps away from Lake Placid, finished their season with a 12-26-3, but had little to be ashamed about for their final effort of the season.

Semifinal matchups
#1 Quinnipiac vs. #6 Harvard
#2 St. Lawrence vs. #4 Colgate

RPI at St. Lawrence
ECAC Quarterfinals, Game 1 - Appleton Arena (Canton, NY)
3/13/15 - 7:00pm

RESULT: St. Lawrence 1, RPI 0

RECORD: 12-25-3 (8-12-2, 18pts)

RPI at St. Lawrence
ECAC Quarterfinals, Game 2 - Appleton Arena (Canton, NY)
3/14/15 - 7:00pm

RESULT: St. Lawrence 5, RPI 1

RECORD: 12-26-3 (8-12-2, 18pts)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Thank You

It's the end of a long, difficult season, and there's only one thing left to say.

Thank you.

#3 Kathryn Schilter - Aurora, ON - Business and Management
#4 Ali Svoboda - Arlington Heights, IL - Industrial Management Engineering (undergrad and grad)
#7 Delaney Middlebrook - Minneapolis, MN - Business and Management
#8 Taylor Mahoney - Cary, IL - Business and Management
#13 Mariana Walsh - Walpole, MA - Business and Management/Economics
#30 Brianna Piper - Oakville, ON - Biomedical Engineering
#31 Kelly O'Brien - Sussex, WI - Biomedical Engineering


#5 Luke Curadi - Cheshire, CT - Business and Management
#9 Matt Neal - Minesing, ON - Business and Management
#10 Curtis Leonard - Napanee, ON - Business and Management
#15 Jacob Laliberte - Rockland, ON - Business and Management
#21 Mark McGowan - Toronto, ON - Business and Management (undergrad)/Management-Finance (grad)
#34 Scott Diebold - Buffalo, NY - Industrial and Management Engineering

The Final Stand

It's heartache when you fight so hard and prove pretty much all the naysayers wrong, only to find yourself on the short end of the score due to a bizarro bounce - but that's pretty much the entire story of last night's epic game for the Engineers.

There's no shame, no shame at all in what happened last night. It was a goaltender's duel that any true student of the game would adore. St. Lawrence had the lion's share of the possession in the third period, so they earned the right to be in a position to benefit from a bounce off two players and into the net.

It was a performance to be proud of, but even if RPI had been blown out of the building last night, the situation would stand the same - down 1-0, staring into the end of the season for the second time in three games. There's only one thing to do now. Throw the sweater back on and prepare for war in the trenches once again. We saw last year that the road team can win games 2 and 3. Let's make it happen for us, this time.

Since it's the weekend of St. Patrick's parades and the theme (and the weather, in Troy at least) is about right... here's a solemn battle aire for tonight - a slower tune that can still send chills and adrenaline in a way only the Irish can.

Friday, March 13, 2015

House Money?

Week two. Another trip to the North Country. Another very low margin for error. Another chance to extend the season.

There's no pressure on RPI at all other than the pressure the team has on itself to achieve as much as they possibly can. Few observers think we have a prayer. Maybe they're right. But some of those same observers were delivering obituaries for this team in January and February. Oops.

There's no team out there that's still got a season in front of them that can't string together eight wins and lift the ultimate prize. It's true for everyone from North Dakota (25-7-3) to Niagara (7-26-4, although technically it's only seven for the Purps). How likely is that? It's not likely in the slightest.

But how about something closer to home? How about just going to Lake Placid? We don't need to take eight steps this weekend. Just take two - to a place we haven't been since a few scant months after 9/11.

There's always hope, especially if this team is peaking at the right time. They could give it their all and still come out on the short end. But what if we have yet to see this team at their best this season, and we get it now? That would be something.

No fear.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ride or Die

I don't want to give the wrong impression from yesterday's editorial. I'm not warning Puckman Nation to moderate their feelings on the season for the better just because we just knocked off Clarkson. On the contrary - soak it in, people. Enjoy it. It's been a tough year, we've earned the right to be happy about it.

One of the things I'm proudest of in WaP's coverage of the team this season is that almost at the same time, we got a couple of pieces of opinion from people complaining about said coverage. One was an e-mail that accused us of being a "cheerleader" for the team. The other was a tweet lambasting our "negative" coverage and questioning our loyalty.

That pretty much sealed it for me right then and there - we were getting it right. When those two criticisms came down in succession, I knew that our quest to be bluntly honest was getting it absolutely right.

Let there be no confusion at all. We're fans. All of us here are RPI fans - through thick and thin.

My favorite tweet of the year, I wrote the morning after the Freakout! was over. The weekend after the gut punch that was getting swept by Brown on the season and having Yale suck the energy out of a packed house early.
The frustration was destined to mount just a little bit more as the winless streak extended a further three games, but there we were throughout, hoping for the best, even as we criticized uneven play. That's all we've ever wanted to do here. We didn't want to be cheerleaders. We didn't want to be strictly dour, either.

And here we stand - on the other side of a season that at times was a long slog, on the precipice of a series no one thinks we're going to win.

That's why I want to take this opportunity to go out on a limb here.

We're going to go back to Lake Placid. If it's not next week, it's going to be soon, and we're going to win it all there.

We're going back to the NCAA Tournament. Probably not this year. But eventually.

That third national championship? It's coming someday.

I don't have any proof. I can point to Union winning it last year as proof that we (that is, anyone) can win it all, but it doesn't mean we're going to.

So how do I know? Because I'm a fan. I believe. Do you? If the answer's no... why are you a fan? What are you hoping for?

I've been blessed to be a part of this family called RPI Hockey for basically my entire life. I was too young to remember the '85 championship, but I remember the '95 title well. We have high expectations on our team because we know where they've been and what they're capable of.

Never forget that the team places high expectations on itself, and that every player in that locker room has the same hopes and dreams that their fans do. They want it even more, trust me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What Makes a Good Season?

(This is Part 1 - Stay tuned for Part 2 tomorrow.)

Last week, we called the ECAC Tournament "a new season." And it is, in almost every way that matters. The only thing that really carries forward from the regular season are the built-in advantages in the first two rounds. Home ice for the middle four teams in the first round. A week off for the top four followed by home ice. After you get past that, it's eight pairings of two teams trying to be the first to two wins until the league gets whittled down to four.

The tournament has drama and allure to it. Following the four month grind of the ECAC season, there's a three week stretch where anything can, and frequently does, happen. Everything is earned when a miscue at the wrong time means you're hanging up the sweater until next year, or for the last time if you're a senior, no matter how good or bad your regular season was.

So what's more important, then? Having a good regular season, or having a good tournament? If one is good, does it matter if the other is awful?

It's a fair question to ask, especially when it comes to RPI - a team that for years has pretty much only ever had a good season OR a good tournament, never both, rarely neither.

Growing up, I remember a time when RPI could practically do no wrong in the ECAC Tournament. Even during an age where getting to play in the tournament was never a given - the league admitted only eight of 12 teams following the Hockey East split until 1990, then 10 of 12 until 2003 - the Engineers always managed to find a way.

* The '87 Engineers finished in a tie for 7th, and ended up reaching the third-place game.
* The '92 Engineers finished 10th, and took eventual champions St. Lawrence to overtime in the semifinals after knocking off Vermont and Harvard in succession on the road.
* From 1992 to 2002, RPI missed out on the semifinals only three times.
* The '95 Engineers finished in 6th, and still became ECAC champions.
* The '02 Engineers resurrected their season at the very end, reached a home ice spot, and made their way to Lake Placid, finishing third.

That was quite a stretch. More often than not, RPI was either one of the top teams during the regular season and they translated that to the tournament, or they made up for lost time in the tournament.

Perhaps now, as we sit 13 years removed from that epic stretch, we can see that nothing should ever be taken for granted.

The numbers are stark. No home playoff series wins since 2004, a drought of five series in a row (Quinnipiac, Brown, Colgate, Brown, and Dartmouth). No semifinal appearances since 2002, coming within a single victory of playing in a semifinal in 2004 (Dartmouth), 2009 (Cornell), and 2013 (Brown), but coming no closer.

It's a heartache lane that has even the most stalwart RPI backer just waiting for the next hit sometimes. The ECAC's final four took place in Albany, literally down the road, for eight seasons. We never went. It moved to Atlantic City for three years. We never went. Now it's back in Lake Placid again, a place we rarely missed out on the last time the tournament was held there every year.

Here's a tale of two seasons for you to ponder: 2009 and 2013.

There were a lot of warm fuzzies coming out of 2009. The Engineers won a playoff series on the road at Dartmouth, their first playoff win in five years. They beat Cornell in Game 1 of the quarterfinals. It was Allen York's coming out party. The future looked a lot brighter. People felt good about the team again.

But that was five games. The team was 3-2 in those five games. It was a near sight better than the absolutely dreadful season RPI fans had to endure ahead of that, finishing next to last and in serious danger until the very end of the season of finishing dead last in the ECAC, something the team had never (and has never) done since the mid-1960s. Did those five games seriously make that season better?

Contrast with 2013. A wonderful regular season. Won 11 of their last 12 games, really rolling. Highest finish in the ECAC standings in 20 years. And then, disaster in the tournament. 1-2 in three games, ended their season prematurely. Did those three games seriously make that season worse?

The answer to both questions - yes. Games mean more - far more - in the tournament. But they don't ever erase what happened in the regular season. We shouldn't ignore the bad seasons that precede good tournaments, and vice versa.

I recall hearing from Brown fans that 2010, the year they beat RPI and then top-seeded Yale to reach Atlantic City, was one of the best seasons they'd had in years, and that they were "climbing the ladder." They finished 11th in the ECAC that season. They'd finish 9th and 12th in the next two years. Now, bear in mind that Brown is used to finishing in the bottom four (9 times in the last 10 years), but still... how can you apply two weekends worth of success to wipe out four months of futility? Sure, at least your last impression left you smiling, but... how long did it take you to get there?

It's just a little something to remember when you look back on this season. It's very, very acceptable to be happy with what happened last weekend in Potsdam. Hope springs that a Cinderella run is in store for this coming weekend and beyond. Hopefully at the very least we see, as in 2009 and 2012, hope for the near future. But when the book is written on 2015, it's been a rough season. It's hard to get beyond that.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Quarterfinal Breakdown

ECAC fans are in for a real treat this coming weekend. While the quarterfinal round typically produces some interesting matchups, this year has produced four very intriguing combinations, none of which should be completely open and shut cases (although there are some distinct favorites, as always).

Gary put together the matrix for the semifinals in Lake Placid. The highest seed and the lowest seed play each other in the early game on Friday, March 20 (the first day of spring), the middle two seeds play the nightcap - the concept being that the highest seed would have a little more rest before the title game on Saturday. In case you missed it last year, there's no more consolation game. Losers on Friday go home.

The quarterfinal round goes to chalk more frequently than the first round does - it has happened five times out of the 12 seasons under the current playoff structure, including twice in the last three seasons. Only one first-round bye team has failed to advance to the semifinals in that span (yup, yup). The reasoning is simple - they're the cream of the crop, and they have the added benefit of getting a week off to heal injuries.

Road teams in the quarterfinals have won just 10 of 48 series to date (20.8%). 20 home teams have swept (41.7%). Only 4 road teams have swept (8.3%).

#10 Union (18-16-2; 8-13-1 ECAC) at #1 Quinnipiac (21-9-4; 16-3-3 ECAC)
KRACH: Quinnipiac 12th (226.3); Union 32nd (110.4).
Since February 1: Quinnipiac 5-1-2; Union 5-5-0.
Season series: 4-0 Quinnipiac.
November 14 (Schenectady) - Quinnipiac 4, Union 3
January 10 (Hamden) - Quinnipiac 4, Union 3
Union on the road: 10-7-1; 5-6-0 ECAC
Quinnipiac at home: 11-4-3; 8-1-2 ECAC

This may well be one of the most interesting 1 vs. 10 matchups you will ever see, and it's rooted almost entirely in the fact that Union won the national championship last year and just took Cornell behind the woodshed. The Jekyll and Hyde act that the Dutchmen have been putting on pretty much all season turned again over the last two weekends as they spiked a five-game losing streak by turning it into a four-game winning streak, and doing it against some of the same teams against which they'd just lost. They're starting to look more like the team that went on a long run to national glory last year - just after looking a lot like a team that was finishing 10th in the ECAC.

Quinnipiac, on the other hand, has been remarkably consistent all year long. They saw a nine-game unbeaten streak snapped on the last day of the regular season (in a game that really only had national tournament implications), they won 14 of 18 games in a row from the beginning of November through mid-January. Their only major hiccup since the New Year was in being swept in a home-and-home weekend against Merrimack - their only overly questionable loss in league play was to Clarkson, and that was in Potsdam.

A top defense and a top-end offense has made the Bobcats tough to beat all season long. When they're playing well, Union can produce similar results. That's the kind of play Union needs to get if they're going to get a crack at defending their ECAC title in Lake Placid. If they are uneven at all, Quinnipiac is a team that can take advantage of that in a hurry. Spot mistakes kill against the Bobcats, so it's incumbent upon the Dutchmen not only to play error free, but to have that same kind of killer instinct on offense that saw them outscore Cornell 11-2 last weekend - not the kind that they displayed ahead of the final weekend of the regular season, when they were being outscored 14-2 in the five games prior.

Adding it all up, Union should be considered the underdogs this weekend, but not by nearly as much as you'd expect in a 1/10 matchup. Quinnipiac is in a position where they can lock up a berth in the NCAA Tournament by advancing to Lake Placid, so they've got the added motivation in that corner. But as far back as Union finished in the standings, it's never wise to count out the defending champions, especially since they've won this tournament three times in a row. Nobody on this team even knows how to lose in the ECAC Tournament - the Dutchmen seniors are 14-0 in tournament play across their collegiate careers, an impressive tally that any team, even one as strong as Quinnipiac this season, would be hard-pressed to overcome. That's what makes this series very, very intriguing from top to bottom.

#9 RPI (12-24-3; 8-12-2 ECAC) at #2 St. Lawrence (18-13-3; 14-7-1 ECAC)
KRACH: St. Lawrence 26th (139.9); RPI 42nd (56.6).
Since February 1: RPI 3-6-2; St. Lawrence 4-3-1.
Season series: Tied, 2-2.
February 6 (Canton) -  St. Lawrence 3, RPI 1
February 28 (Troy) - RPI 4, St. Lawrence 3
RPI on the road: 6-13-2; 2-8-1 ECAC
St. Lawrence at home: 9-5-1; 8-3-0 ECAC

By most national metrics (national polls, KRACH, PairWise), this is by far the weakest matchup of the four quarterfinal series. It matches the lowest ranked Top 4 team in KRACH and the PairWise against the lowest ranked quarterfinal road team in both of those ratings. For RPI, they have to be somewhat thankful that they ended up with St. Lawrence rather than any of the other options. For St. Lawrence, the feeling is definitely mutual.

This should be a matchup in which St. Lawrence has the advantage - as long as the Saints who were unbeaten in 11 of 13 ECAC contests after the New Year heading into the final weekend of the regular season shows up and not the Saints who appeared to sleepwalk through that final weekend in the Capital District, finishing their season by dropping two games to the travel pairing with the fewest combined points on the year.

Kyle Hayton was the key behind one of the stingiest defenses in the entire country, to say nothing of the ECAC, but he looked beatable down the stretch, giving up three goals in each of his last three contests, and allowing four against the Engineers, who looked confident shooting on him. For their part, the Engineers are again getting good goaltending from Jason Kasdorf, who basically did what Hayton did during his own freshman season in backstopping an unheralded team to a solidly outstanding year.

Kasdorf playing as well or better than he did against Clarkson is the only thing that's going to give RPI a shot in this series, considering St. Lawrence's well balanced attack. The Saints are probably going to score some goals - they were shut out only once all season - but limiting that total will be crucial for the Engineers. If they don't get goaltending, they're not going to have a ghost of a chance in this series. RPI looks to have been doing a better job of finishing on scoring opportunities over the last three weeks, but it's not going to matter unless they stay "in" games. They can't win a track meet.

One advantage that RPI may have coming into this one: its juniors and seniors know how it feels to be where St. Lawrence is. Two years ago, it was RPI shocking the conference, winning games left and right down the stretch, finishing second, and having an upstart bottom end team coming into town. They know that upstart team can win. They saw it happen to them. They've played SLU tough twice this year, and with everything on the line once more, they'll need to do it again this weekend to reach Lake Placid.

#6 Harvard (17-11-3; 11-8-3 ECAC) at #3 Yale (17-7-5; 12-6-4 ECAC)
KRACH: Yale 16th (195.6); Harvard 20th (166.6).
Since February 1: Harvard 5-6-1; Yale 5-1-2.
Season series: 6-0 Yale.
November 15 (Boston) - Yale 2, Harvard 1
January 10 (New York) - Yale 4, Harvard 1
February 6 (New Haven) - Yale 3, Harvard 0
Harvard on the road: 9-4-1; 6-4-0 ECAC
Yale at home: 7-3-3; 5-3-3 ECAC

This is a series which has a lot of potential to be the most exciting of the entire weekend. It's also got the potential to be much ado about nothing if current trends in this historic rivalry continue.

Yale-Harvard has been an intense athletic rivalry dating back to the mid-19th Century, but only recently has it begun to heat up on the ice. While Harvard continues to struggle to fill their home games, the nature of the historic aspect of the rivalry helped bring nearly 12,000 people to watch the two schools compete at Madison Square Garden this year. It's likely that we'll see some more non-conference games like that one in the future as the programs look to play off that historic element.

These past three seasons, however, Yale has certainly had Harvard's number. That isn't overly surprising in the past two seasons, both of which were relatively dreadful for the Crimson, but this year the Bulldogs have taken down Harvard three times, adding up to a 9-0-1 record for Yale against the Crimson across the past three seasons. That's even more dominating than the lopsided Union/RPI series before last season.

Ignoring that, however, the matchup pairs two teams that, in all honesty, have been two of the very best teams in the entire ECAC when they're playing well. Both are nationally ranked. Both are firmly in the bubble for the NCAA Tournament - which makes the stakes incredibly high for both teams in this series. Toss in the rivalry aspect and you've got a quarterfinal series that is certainly going to be worth the price of admission.

As their February record suggests, Yale has been firing on all four down the stretch, and while Harvard stumbled late, they bounced back well last weekend in fairly quickly disabusing the idea that Brown had a shot against them. Harvard's offense looked good and has for the duration of the season been the best in the league, but it'll have to be right on top of its game against Yale, who boasts the best defense in the nation.

Yale's mastery of their nemesis bodes well for them this coming weekend, but comparing these two teams this season when they were playing at their best, one would have to give Harvard at least a chance in this one - then again, Yale beat Harvard when the Crimson were at their best, and they did it twice: after the Bulldogs' victory in Manhattan, they accounted for the only two losses Harvard had suffered to that point. Factoring all of that in, it's hard not to give the edge to Yale, but it's likely to be fun to watch no matter what.

#5 Dartmouth (17-10-4; 12-8-2 ECAC) at #4 Colgate (19-11-4; 11-7-4 ECAC)
KRACH: Colgate 19th (168.8); Dartmouth 24th (157.1).
Since February 1: Dartmouth 8-2-0; Colgate 5-2-1.
Season series: 3-1 Colgate.
January 23 (Hamilton) - Dartmouth 2, Colgate 2
February 14 (Hanover) - Colgate 3, Dartmouth 0
Dartmouth on the road: 6-3-3; 6-3-2 ECAC
Colgate at home: 8-5-2; 5-4-2 ECAC

Nothing separated the Raiders and the Big Green from one another with the exception of Colgate's road victory over Dartmouth on Valentine's Day, the sole reason why this matchup takes place in Central New York rather than on the banks of the Connecticut River in New Hampshire. These two teams bounced back well in the month of February, resurrecting what had been middling ECAC campaigns and, in league with Harvard's dismal showing for most of the month, raced each other up the league standings in hot pursuit of that last bye.

More than any other pairing, this one perhaps is the best combination of two teams who have both been playing good hockey down the stretch consistently - it reminds me a great deal of the Dartmouth/RPI 4/5 pairing from 2004, which turned into a dogfight of a series, a chess match between two talented teams that both deserved to win (Dartmouth took an absolute war of a Game 3, 1-0). We would be fortunate to see something similar in Hamilton this weekend, and it's no stretch of the imagination to think that we could.

Colgate is definitely on the NCAA bubble and needs wins in order to have a shot at an at-large bid. Dartmouth is realistically outside the bubble and probably needs to win the ECAC title to advance to their first national tournament appearance in 35 years. Like the Yale-Harvard pairing, that adds to the win-or-else mentality that always exists in a playoff series.

The Raiders gave up just six goals in their last five outings, which included their shutout of Dartmouth in Hanover, only the second time the Big Green were shut out all year. That sentence betrays the strengths of these teams this year - Colgate's defense and Dartmouth's offense. With the lone exception being that home loss to the Raiders, the Big Green pumped in at least three goals in 11 of 12 games before scoring only two in their Game 2 win over a stingy Princeton that wasn't willing to go quietly on Saturday.

It's difficult to pick a true favorite in this one - Colgate's home ice advantage doesn't seem like enough to force things to lean in their direction. The key battle is going to be the Colgate offense, which underperformed to some extent this season due to injuries, and the Dartmouth defense, which didn't light the world on fire but was strong enough to get the job done most nights. More than the reverse, whichever of these units can gain the edge on the other is going to go a long way towards determining which of two very promising teams gets the chance to extend their season and which sees things grind to a sudden - and unexpected - halt.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Men's Hockey - ECAC First Round (6-8 Mar)

One bad weekend in the ECAC tournament can turn what had been an outstanding season into a bitter one. The opposite, with some frequency, is also true. RPI may not yet be at the level where they can declare their season fully resurrected, but over the span of 180 minutes of game play in Potsdam, things at least feel a little bit better on the whole. The Engineers got out of the gate with a Game 1 victory over Clarkson, endured a throttling in Game 2, but bounced back well with three first period goals to provide victory in Game 3, allowing them to advance to the ECAC Quarterfinals for the first time since 2013.

Game 1



Fresh off the team's first victory in over a month, the lines and defensive pairings stayed the same not just for Game 1, but ultimately for the entire weekend. The major question was in net, where Jason Kasdorf had struggled for large sections of the late season and where Scott Diebold had backstopped that senior night victory over St. Lawrence. Ultimately, Seth Appert chose to roll with Kasdorf, who when "on" provides a significant spark for the Engineers.

Kasdorf would have to be strong early on for RPI in Game 1, and he delivered with a strong performance that would run through the night. The RPI junior stopped all 12 Clarkson shots he faced in the first period to keep the game scoreless into the second.

Clarkson netted the game's first tally of the night 4:30 into the second period off the stick of Pat Megannety, but the Engineers wouldn't stay down for long. Zach Schroeder connected with Milos Bubela on a nifty 2-on-1 pass to score RPI's first goal of the night a little under five minutes later. The second period again required sharp skill from Kasdorf, and he responded with another 12 saves that kept the Engineers in the game.

With the score still knotted at one at the start of the third period a heads up play by Bradley Bell to poke the puck before it exited the Clarkson zone allowed Mark Miller, playing not far from his hometown of Massena, to carry the Engineers to the lead as he grabbed the puck and burst back toward the net against the flow of the Clarkson forwards exiting the zone. He found a seam and put it home to give the Engineers their first lead of the night.

Once more, it fell to Jason Kasdorf to help shoulder the lead. With Clarkson pushing to find the tying goal, he proved equal to the task once more with a third consecutive 12-save period. He got a little more breathing room with 3:10 left in regulation, as Bubela scored his second goal of the night unassisted to put RPI up 3-1. It would prove to be a very important tally.

The Golden Knights pulled netminder Greg Lewis from the cage as soon as they won the ensuing faceoff, and got a power play off a faceoff in the RPI end as Miller was called for delay of game with 2:30 left on the clock. Kasdorf valiantly fought off the 6-on-4 attack together with his penalty killers, and the Engineers managed to kill off the penalty without allowing a power play goal. Clarkson would manage to pull back within one on a goal by Brett Gervais, but it came with only 11 seconds left in the third period. RPI won the center ice faceoff, securing Game 1 victory.

Kasdorf ended with 36 saves on 38 shots in a valiant performance that certainly backstopped RPI's second consecutive Game 1 victory, and got outstanding offense from the top two lines to power the win.

Game 2



It's never easy to win two games in a row against the same opponent, a problem that faced Clarkson as it pertained to the series as a whole but also impacted RPI significantly on Saturday night as they sought to complete their first series sweep since 2009.

The Golden Knights got out of the gate quickly with a goal that would become a running theme throughout the evening - a goal in the first two minutes of play. The first one came just 1:35 in as Jeff DiNallo gave Clarkson the 1-0 lead for the second time in as many nights, taking advantage of a horrible RPI line change to create an odd-man rush opportunity. That would prove to be the lone blemish on either team's ledger for the first 20 minutes, as Jason Kasdorf continued his busy weekend in net for RPI, stopping 13 of 14 shots in the first period to keep the Engineers alive.

Joe Zarbo scored 1:17 into the second period to put Clarkson ahead 2-0, and the Golden Knights took a commanding 3-0 edge three minutes later on a goal by Troy Josephs. While RPI hadn't played generally poorly to that point, it was shortly after going down by three that the wheels began to come off. Jake Wood was assessed a major and a game misconduct for kneeing, a penalty that, like in the Clarkson/RPI game a week prior, was mitigated by a retaliation penalty from the Golden Knights. That lessened the amount of major power play time to three minutes, and that was killed off by the Engineers.

Sam Vigneault scored for Clarkson 26 seconds into the third to make the score 4-0. Although he hadn't really been to blame for any of the goals given up on the night, Jason Kasdorf came out in favor of Scott Diebold, more to keep him physically and mentally fresh for Sunday night than to try and stem the tide. Diebold would have a quiet night, facing only four shots for the remainder of the period, one a shot by Zarbo that found the back of the net to give Clarkson a 5-0 lead with 6 minutes left.

The third period, more or less, was a matter of survival for both teams as play got more and more chippy. Both were able to make it out without any serious injuries, ejections, or suspensions following the point where the game was out of reach. Wood, despite some dicey behavior after his penalty, was not further sanctioned by the league. Clarkson did have one serious injury from earlier in the game, however, as defenseman Kelly Summers was injured in an awkward collision with Jared Wilson. He came out and did not return, and was unavailable for Game 3.

Game 3



With both teams now in a do or die situation, the first goal loomed crucial on Sunday night. It was the Engineers who picked it up for the first time in the series.

Mark Miller's second goal of the weekend came 7:45 into the contest to put RPI ahead 1-0 for the first time in four games, but the real backbreaker may have come just 20 seconds later, as Zach Schroeder and Milos Bubela switched things up a little bit from their Game 1 link-up, with Bubela feeding Schroeder this time to give the Engineers a very sudden 2-0 edge.

After surviving back to back penalties to Miller and Bell, RPI took a 3-0 lead with about three minutes left in the first as Jimmy DeVito finally notched his first goal of the season - the second of his collegiate career - on a terrific pass from behind the Clarkson net by Riley Bourbonnais. For the second time in four games over two weekends, the Engineers had three goals in the first period and chased netminder Steve Perry from the cage.

As is the norm, it fell to Jason Kasdorf to make that lead hold, and he would manage to do that for the remainder of the game. He stopped all 18 shots that he saw in the first two periods, then knuckled down as Clarkson pulled the netminder for the extra attacker with seven minutes to play, down by three. The Golden Knights managed to maintain control of the puck for most of that final seven minutes, RPI rarely getting a chance on the open net on the other end. Kasdorf, meanwhile, continued to play some of his best hockey of the season, ultimately making 15 saves in the final 20 minutes.

The Golden Knights would not be shut out in Game 3, as Joe Zarbo hit his third goal of the weekend with three minutes left to bring Clarkson back within two, but that was as close as Clarkson would come, in part because Zarbo himself was called for tripping with just under two minutes left in the game (and subsequently issued a misconduct for dissent as well), bringing things back to five on five play as Clarkson removed the goaltender again once the puck was out of their zone. That advantage was not enough to get another one past Kasdorf, and for the second time in four years, the Engineers won a playoff series in Potsdam.

RPI/Clarkson was the only series that went the distance, as Dartmouth and Harvard picked up home sweeps over Princeton and Brown respectively, while Union shocked Cornell in Ithaca with a two-game demolition of the Big Red.

It's another trip to the North Country for the Engineers, their third of the season, as they now move to face St. Lawrence, the team they defeated in their final home game of the year. SLU presents a more daunting challenge, the final roadblock to RPI potentially ending the longest semifinal drought in the league.

Quarterfinal matchups
#10 Union at #1 Quinnipiac
#9 RPI at #2 St. Lawrence
#6 Harvard at #3 Yale
#5 Dartmouth at #4 Colgate

RPI at Clarkson
ECAC First Round, Game 1 - Cheel Arena (Potsdam, NY)
3/6/15 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 3, Clarkson 2

RECORD: 11-23-3 (8-12-2, 18pts)

RPI at Clarkson
ECAC First Round, Game 2 - Cheel Arena (Potsdam, NY)
3/7/15 - 7:30pm

RESULT: Clarkson 5, RPI 0

RECORD: 11-24-3 (8-12-2, 18pts)

RPI at Clarkson
ECAC First Round, Game 3 - Cheel Arena (Potsdam, NY)
3/8/15 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 3, Clarkson 1

RECORD: 12-24-3 (8-12-2, 18pts)

Upcoming games
13 Mar - at St. Lawrence
14 Mar - at St. Lawrence
15 Mar - at St. Lawrence (if necessary)
20 Mar - ECAC Semifinals (Lake Placid, NY - if qualified)
21 Mar - ECAC Championship (Lake Placid, NY - if qualified)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

There Can Only Be One

This is it.

One game. Winner goes to St. Lawrence (hint: they want it to be us). Loser has to stay in either Troy or Potsdam for all eternity.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Fight to the Finish

Nothing ever comes easy - if you've been following RPI hockey for a long time, tonight's game didn't take you by surprise in the slightest. It's unfortunate, but it's become pretty much expected. Game 3 tomorrow night for all the marbles.

Anyway, we don't need a matrix to outline the the possible quarterfinal matchups, since the other three series all ended in sweeps. Because the one remaining series is 8 vs 9, we know how it all shakes out.

#10 Union at #1 Quinnipiac
Clarkson/RPI winner at #2 St. Lawrence
# 6 Harvard at #3 Yale
# 5 Dartmouth at #4 Colgate

Pretty simple from here on out. Let's Go Red.

Finish Him!

What's more dangerous: an healthy animal or a wounded one?

You know the answer. Tonight's game is going to be significantly more difficult.

It was junior achievement night in Potsdam last night as Jason Kasdorf's 36 saves and Milos Bubela's two goals powered the Engineers to a 3-2 victory. It's the seventh season in a row that the Engineers have recorded at least one win in the ECAC tournament. Let's make it two tonight, shall we?

Game 3s are always action packed, edge-of-your-seat thrill rides. After this season, this team doesn't need an action packed, edge-of-your-seat thrill ride right now. Probably not ever.

So let's finish this off tonight. Get this taken care of and let's get home. After all, if the teams who won last night win their series, it's a trip to St. Lawrence (basically the same trip as this one, just a little farther) next weekend. If they top that one off? Lake Placid (basically the same trip as this one, just a little shorter). So if it's going to be repeated trips north, why not make this one as short as possible?

Clarkson is wounded. Don't let them back into it.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A New Season

Four years ago, we reprinted and paraphrased a letter written by St. Cloud State alum Mike Doyle, who was watching an SCSU team picked to be among the best in the WCHA falter and finish near the bottom. His words were inspiring, and while they're unfortunately no longer online, here's another reprint and another paraphrase to fit this current situation that the Engineers find themselves in.

There is still time to salvage the season. It won’t be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. This would be a wonderful turnaround, but you have play up to your potential and battle every minute of every game.

During the Colgate and Cornell home weekend in January, you proved, when motivated, that you could be an elite team. I know the bounces haven’t been on your side recently. But, this is all the more reason to man-up and prove to the rest of college hockey that you aren't an oversight.

Each season is unique and you will never get another chance to play with this team. The locker room relationships are unlike any that you will ever make again. Don’t take them for granted.

For the seniors, this is your last hurrah. You may be looking forward to getting out and playing pro hockey. However, playing college hockey is like staying at a five-star hotel, while skating in the minors is like rooming at the Motel 6.

In college you are treated like a king: all the sticks you need, skate-sharpening wherever you lose an edge, first-class travel arrangements and spacious locker rooms in beautiful, sold-out arenas. Houston Field House may be old, but your locker room is better than 90 percent of the arenas you will ever see in the minors.

For the underclassmen, realize that four years fly by. Don't let this one end before you're ready for it to be over.

Confidence is a fickle jester taunting the psyche of a hockey team. A bounce or two can change the entire outlook of a season. When the self-confidence snowball gets rolling in the wrong direction, it feels like it’s impossible to stop. Confidence is something people outside the locker room don’t see nor understand.

Some of the RPI faithful are bemoaning your effort. Message boards are lighting you up like the Griswold house on “Christmas Vacation.”

You cannot let this lack of faith bury your confidence. You can only play for the guys in the locker room wearing the Cherry and White.

This is the playoffs. That means there's 12 teams, right now, who are two losses away from their season being over. Whether you're on the road or at home, playing in the first round or with a bye to the quarterfinals, this is the reality. You bring it or you're done. You want it more, and you can succeed.

This is the playoffs. All the woulda, coulda, shoulda stops now. At this very moment, the Bobcats, Saints, Bulldogs, Raiders, Big Green, Crimson, Big Red, Golden Knights, Engineers, Dutchmen, Bears, and Tigers have the same record. 0-0. Some teams have earned the right to have certain benefits along the road to Lake Placid. These benefits are no guarantors of success, and teams without those benefits are not condemned.

You have to walk before you can run. You have to crawl before you can walk.

This is the playoffs.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

First Round Breakdown

Here's the matrix that Gary puts together every year determining how the ECAC Quarterfinals are going to shake out depending on who wins each first round matchup. It'll be updated on Saturday night assuming that at least one first round series is a sweep and at least one goes to game three.

For what it's worth, in 12 previous seasons under this playoff format, the first round has gone to chalk only twice - 2007 and 2008. Every other year had at least one road team advance to the quarterfinals, which means all four home teams winning happens as often as a 12 team upsetting the 5 seed.

For RPI, if they're able to get past Clarkson, you can expect a trip to Canton (oh, joy) as the most likely scenario. Quinnipiac would happen only if there are no other road teams winning their matchups. Yale would happen only if two other road teams won in the first round (has happened once, in 2011). Colgate would happen only if no home teams win their matchup (which has never happened).

In the meantime, here are some quick capsules on what we're looking at this weekend.  Doing this in reverse order. If you want our RPI analysis, just skip to the bottom.

#12 Princeton (4-21-3; 2-18-2 ECAC) at #5 Dartmouth (15-10-4; 12-8-2 ECAC)
KRACH: Dartmouth 23rd (151.7); Princeton 54th (24.3).
February: Dartmouth 6-2-0; Princeton 1-6-1.
Season series: 4-0 Dartmouth.
December 6 (Princeton) - Dartmouth 4, Princeton 2
February 27 (Hanover) - Dartmouth 3, Princeton 1
Princeton on the road: 0-11-1; 0-10-1 ECAC
Dartmouth at home: 9-7-1; 6-5-0 ECAC

On paper, this is easily the most open and shut series of the first round. Dartmouth absolutely finished strong and the Big Green were unbeaten in 10 of their last 12 games. Princeton, on the other hand, hasn't won a road game since they beat Clarkson in Game 1 of the first round last season, a year ago on Saturday.

Princeton's offense was the worst in the league and it was not even close - every other team in the league with the exception of Clarkson, Cornell, and Brown scored more than twice as many goals in league play as did the Tigers (the Golden Knights missed doubling up the Tigers by a single goal). The defense, power play, and penalty kill were all 11th in the league.

It's not all about Princeton being terrible. The Big Green probably would have had a first-round bye if not for their middling home ice record, but they've been able to ride strong offensive output and a more than acceptable defensive showing to become a real contender in the ECAC. They're on a roll and a team that has only won twice since the beginning of December isn't likely to pick up two wins in a row against this team.

Twice in 12 years under the current playoff format has a 12 seed knocked off a 5 seed - Brown in 2009 and Colgate in 2011 (remember that?). It's been done. Interestingly, the last six 5/12 matchups in a row have gone to three games, with Brown in 2008 the last 12 seed to be swept.

But that's a trend that's likely to be broken at some point, and this year's Princeton team is probably a good bet to do just that. With only 6 points on the campaign, the 2015 Tigers had the worst ECAC season since the 2003 Tigers also finished with 6 points. Anything short of a Dartmouth sweep would be a real eye-opener, but Princeton advancing would probably be the biggest shock of any of the 5/12 upsets we've seen so far. '09 Brown was 14 points behind Harvard in the final standings, '11 Colgate was 13 points behind RPI. Dartmouth finished 20 points in front of Princeton.

#11 Brown (8-18-3; 5-14-3 ECAC) at #6 Harvard (15-11-3; 11-8-3 ECAC)
KRACH: Harvard 22nd (157.6); Brown 45th (47.8).
February: Harvard 3-6-1; Brown 4-2-2.
Season series: Tied, 2-2.
November 14 (Boston) -  Harvard 6, Brown 2
February 7 (Providence) - Brown 2, Harvard 1
Brown on the road: 5-8-1; 3-7-1 ECAC
Harvard at home: 6-4-2; 5-4-2 ECAC

A month ago, this would have been just as open and shut as Dartmouth-Princeton seems to be, perhaps even more so. Then again, a month ago Harvard looked like a pretty sure bet for a first-round bye, so this wasn't even really in consideration. The Crimson should still have a pretty distinct advantage, playing at home and still full of talent - but they don't look nearly as unbeatable as they once did, and Brown no longer seems to be the pushovers they looked like for much of the season.

On New Year's Day, the Crimson looked to possibly be the best team in the entire nation. But 2015 in general has not been kind to Harvard, as they're just 5-10-1 since the ball dropped. Brown has the same number of wins across the same time period, but they've racked up the majority of those wins at the right time of the year - the end, when any team prefers to be reaching their peak. Before finishing the season with a 4-2 loss at home against a surging Colgate, the Bears had been on a six-game unbeaten streak (including a win over Harvard) and were unbeaten in seven of eight.

What's behind Brown's turnaround? Defense has vastly improved from where it was at the outset, led by Tim Ernst in net and that helped the Bears not only separate from Princeton down the stretch, but also threatened the Capital District schools in 9th and 10th on the last weekend of the regular season. A naysayer could look at the Bears' late schedule and see a whole lot of teams that finished in the bottom half of the league standings, but Ernst also helped Brown very nearly pull off an upset of Quinnipiac - and then, of course, there's the win over Harvard.

The Crimson, for their part, were not just taking part in what has become a fairly typical February swoon (when there's a place to swoon from, of course - the Crimson finished dead last in 2013). They've had to deal with a rash of injuries - especially to Patrick McNally and Sean Malone - that has kept their high-flying offense grounded with some frequency down the stretch. Malone is now back, but McNally has not played since January, when it was speculated that he could potentially return for the ECAC playoffs.

At the end of the day, when you consider the entire season, Harvard's #1 offense is taking on Brown's #12 defense in this series, but neither are performing the way they were in November, December, and January. The Bears are also still dead last in both power play and penalty kill - they had just 6 power play goals in league play this season, which had them at +2 for the year after giving up four shorties. That bodes well for Harvard's physical play.

Much hinges on whether McNally can return. He'd be a serious injection for the Crimson and his presence would make for serious concerns for the Bears. For Brown, as has been the case for several years, if they can get outstanding goaltending, they can win a playoff series. That makes Tim Ernst the great equalizer. Harvard's the favorite here and rightfully so, but if Brown can pick up a win or two, it shouldn't come as a major shock, perhaps only if Patrick McNally is dressed to play.

#10 Union (16-16-2; 8-13-1 ECAC) at #7 Cornell (11-12-6; 9-9-4 ECAC)
KRACH: Cornell 29th (113.0); Union 33rd (98.0).
February: Cornell 2-3-3; Union 3-5-0.
Season series: 4-0 Cornell.
January 16 (Schenectady) - Cornell 5, Union 1
February 21 (Ithaca) - Cornell 2, Union 1
Union on the road: 8-7-1; 5-6-0 ECAC
Cornell at home: 7-5-3; 6-3-2 ECAC

The Dutchmen have been all over the map this year. At times, they've been unstoppable on offense. At other points, they've been unable to find the back of the net with a map. Cornell, well, they've been more or less stable. They've been pretty solid on defense. Offense, though... they get some, but not a whole lot.

We made a lot of RPI being unable to win games when they give up three goals, but for Cornell that goes back even farther - they haven't done it since the first two games they played last season. Since 5-3 and 4-3 wins at Nebraska-Omaha in October 2013, the Big Red are 0-17-4 when allowing three goals. The big difference here, of course, is that they don't do it very frequently. They don't score three often either - only nine times this season, just three more times than they were shut out.

Union's February was almost as awful as it gets. During a dreadfully horrifying five-game losing streak, the Dutchmen scored a grand total of two goals while allowing 14 (although 7 of those were in one game). They did, however, right the ship at the end of the season with wins over St. Lawrence and Clarkson.

Cornell has kinda sputtered down the stretch as well, though. One win in their last six games (against Union). Ties against a faltering Harvard, and two bottom four teams in RPI and Brown also happened during that run. It's not a finish that inspires a great deal of confidence, but it's not like the offense or defense was any better or worse than it really was all season.

Lynah Rink, of course, is a huge advantage for the Big Red. They haven't lost a playoff series there since 2007 (against Quinnipiac), which was only the third time they've ever lost a home playoff series (1988 and 2004, both against Clarkson). That's in stark contrast to Union, which has never won a road playoff series. Ever. Yes, Union has won a national championship, but never a road playoff series in the ECAC.

All of that said, if Union's offense wakes back up and becomes a serious challenge for Cornell's defense to have to tangle with, the Dutchmen could certainly put up a fight in their unlikely quest for a record-tying fourth straight ECAC title. This isn't a lopsided matchup by any stretch of the imagination: Cornell isn't unstoppable and Union isn't helpless. The history and the comparison of the two teams' recent struggles certainly points to the Big Red as a very distinct favorite, however, especially given the relative ease with which Cornell swept the season series.

#9 RPI (10-23-3; 8-12-2 ECAC) at #8 Clarkson (11-18-5; 8-11-3 ECAC)
KRACH: Clarkson 40th (62.5); RPI 42nd (53.5).
February: Clarkson 1-6-1; RPI 1-5-2.
Season series: 3-1 Clarkson.
February 7 (Potsdam) - Clarkson 5, RPI 2
February 27 (Troy) - RPI 3, Clarkson 3
RPI on the road: 4-12-2; 2-8-1 ECAC
Clarkson at home: 6-9-1; 5-6-0 ECAC

The 8/9 matchup frequently creates some interesting situations, if only because it's always the pairing with the least between the teams. Fittingly, the 8 seed has won six of the 12 matchups since the ECAC's current playoff structure went into place in 2003 (do the math, that's six for the 9 seed, too).

In this case, it's hard to pick a favorite other than to just say that Clarkson has home ice. The problem there is that while RPI has had notable problems winning home playoff series recently, Clarkson hasn't been lighting the world on fire at Cheel, either. Since their last ECAC title in 2007, the Golden Knights are 1-4 in home playoff series, with the lone win coming last year as the 5 seed against 12 seeded Princeton, and as mentioned above, the Tigers won Game 1. That stretch includes the 2012 series against RPI, which went to a Game 3.

It's not that this is a matchup of two solid teams, but rather, it's a matchup of two teams that have proven to be solidly mediocre, especially in the home stretch. The Engineers wrapped a nine-game winless streak by ekeing out a home victory over St. Lawrence on the last night of the season, Clarkson lost their last seven games in a row to end the season against teams that were not RPI.

That has to at least fill Clarkson with a little bit of confidence. There's probably no one else that the Golden Knights really wanted to face other than RPI, and thanks to their tie with the Engineers last weekend, they get to do it at home.

When you compare these two teams, there's a lot that's similar about them. Both struggled to score goals for much of the year. Both have defenses capable of stealing games (or this entire series), but have legitimate concerns with which goaltender to utilize. Jason Kasdorf for RPI and Steve Perry for Clarkson have been the go-to-guys, but both had injury problems at times this year and struggled to come back from them. Behind them are Scott Diebold and Greg Lewis respectively, who haven't individually been amazing but who both keyed their team to their biggest success of the final weekend.

There's a slight edge for Clarkson overall but it's based almost entirely on the facts of being at home and having had recent success against RPI. Everything else about this pairing screams complete tossup, and when you've got that element combined with the defensive capacities of these teams, it's all going to probably boil down to which team gets better defense. The team that locks down their net is going to advance, the one that can't is going to have seven months to think about why that element, key for success all season long, failed them at the last moment.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Men's Hockey - Clarkson & St. Lawrence (27/28 Feb)

The Engineers needed a strong weekend and a little bit of help in order to secure home ice for the first round. They came within a goal on Friday of getting everything they needed, but they'll still be on the road despite a solid final weekend. A 3-3 tie on Friday against Clarkson guaranteed that RPI would be on the road in this coming weekend, but a strong effort against one of the best teams in the league on Saturday, St. Lawrence, produced a 4-3 victory to push the Engineers toward the post season having been unbeaten in three of their final four contests.




Matt Neal returned to the lineup after missing the previous weekend's games in Central New York - he replaced Kenny Gillespie and slotted into an all-senior line.

The first period was action packed and full of scoring - five goals scored between the two teams in the first 20 minutes (that's one every four minutes for you math majors). The average almost got started right on, as Viktor Liljegren scored at 4:07 of the first period to put RPI in front 1-0. But just over a minute later, the Engineers put themselves in a tough spot as a Jake Wood hooking call was followed just four seconds later by a high-sticking call against Curtis Leonard, giving Clarkson a long five-on-three opportunity. The Engineers killed most of it well, but the Golden Knights broke through for a tying goal 21 seconds from the end of Wood's penalty.

A hooking call against Riley Bourbonnais about four minutes later created a goal for Clarkson that was essentially a power play goal, coming seven seconds after the penalty expired and while the puck remained in the RPI end. That put the Golden Knights up 2-1, but it was destined to be a short-lived lead for the visitors.

Just under a minute later, Drew Melanson tied the game up with his seventh goal of the year, and four minutes after that Mark McGowan netted number six on the year to make it 3-2 RPI.

Clarkson pulled their netminder, Steve Perry, to start the second period, as Perry had allowed three goals on just 10 shots in the opening period. The second, however, would prove to be the Jason Kasdorf show, as the junior goaltender made 14 saves to maintain RPI's lead. The Engineers mustered just two shots in the middle frame, which featured no goals despite the first period goal bonanza.

A potenital tipping point came 2:22 into the third, as Jimmy DeVito was assessed a five-minute major for a reckless knee-to-knee hit against Clarkson's James de Haas. The penalty was slightly mitigated by a retaliation penalty assessed to Kevin Tansey, who immediately went after DeVito, but nonetheless, Clarkson would enjoy three full minutes of major penalty power play time once Tansey's penalty was over. The RPI penalty bent, but did not break, keeping the Engineer lead at 3-2.

With under seven minutes left to play, Clarkson pulled themselves back even with the Engineers, as James Howden scored on a shot that Kasdorf was slightly screened on by one of his own defenders, just barely missing snagging the shot with his glove.

The tying goal helped build momentum for the visitors, who dominated the remainder of the period and much of the ensuing overtime. By the end of the game, the Engineers managed only 8 shots on Lewis, two fewer than they managed in the first period alone. Behind Jason Kasdorf's play, RPI did manage to hold on for the tie, but that was enough to ensure that they would be on the road in the playoffs.

St. Lawrence



For senior night, Scott Diebold got the start in net - the only real change to the RPI lineup from the previous night. All of the graduating seniors were in the starting lineup.

A Jake Wood penalty led to the first goal for the opposition for the second straight night on Saturday as St. Lawrence scored an odd goal that coincided with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on one of its own players in the final minute of the period. It was the Saints' third power play opportunity of the opening 20 minutes.

RPI responded in the second with their second three-goal period of the weekend. After an entire season of barely missed nets and hitting several pipes, Mike Prapavessis finally came through with his first collegiate goal two and a half minutes into the second period, tying the score. SLU regained the lead 2:31 later on a laser of a shot by defenseman Eric Sweetman. From there on out, however, it was the Drew Melanson show.

The RPI freshman tied things up midway through the period. After catching a home-run pass from Bradley Bell, Melanson gained the zone on the breakaway and faked out St. Lawrence netminder Kyle Hayton scored for his 8th goal of the season. The assist for Bell was the freshman's first collegiate point, ensuring that every Engineer skater now has recorded at least one point on the season. Then, two minutes later on the power play, Melanson put home a rebound off a shot by Prapavessis, putting the Engineers ahead 3-2.

It was looking like a serious case of deja vu - a 3-2 RPI lead heading into the third period, and some seriously strong play by the opposition in search of the tying goal. Diebold stood strong in net during the second period, stopping 15 of 16 shots in the middle frame, and he continued heroic play during the third period as well, but was beaten on another laser shot from the point by Sweetman with just over nine minutes left in regulation.

From that point, RPI fans could be forgiven for groaning and basically saying "here we go again." It was the third time in four games that the Engineers had surrendered a lead in the third period. But the script was not about to play out in the same way it had been playing out. About three minutes later, as RPI fought to regain the lead, Mark McGowan was pulled down after getting behind the defense on his way toward the net, and he was awarded a penalty shot. McGowan calmly moved to his left and outwaited Hayton, scoring the go-ahead goal with six and a half minutes left in regulation.

Scott Diebold equally was not about to be denied on senior night. He stood proud and tall in net for the remainder of the game, remaining cool under pressure late as St. Lawrence pulled Hayton for the extra attacker. His play helped the 4-3 lead stand up, ending RPI's winless streak at nine (which equaled their nine-game losing streak from earlier in the year) and picking up a win that guaranteed the Engineers 9th place and a trip to Potsdam to take on Clarkson.

With the Golden Knights falling to Union that same night, the Engineers could have been the ones hosting Clarkson if only they'd been able to hold that Friday lead. The good news is that Clarkson has only picked up a single win and a single tie in their last nine games. The bad news is, both of those were against RPI. Still, the last playoff series the Engineers won in 2012 was won in Potsdam, and there are signs of life in both the offense and the defense. Anything is possible, even in a season as long as this one has really been for the Engineers.

Final ECAC Standings
1. Quinnipiac - 35 points (16-3-3)
2. St. Lawrence - 29 points (14-7-1)
3. Yale - 28 points (12-6-4)
4. Colgate - 26 points (11-7-4)
5. Dartmouth - 26 points (12-8-2)
6. Harvard - 25 points (11-8-3)
7. Cornell - 22 points (9-9-4)
8. Clarkson - 19 points (8-11-3)
9. RPI - 18 points (8-12-2)
10. Union - 17 points (8-13-1)
11. Brown - 13 points (5-14-3)
12. Princeton - 6 points (2-18-2)

First Round matchups
#12 Princeton at #5 Dartmouth
#11 Brown at #6 Harvard
#10 Union at #7 Cornell
#9 RPI at #8 Clarkson

Clarkson at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
2/27/15 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 3, Clarkson 3 (OT)

RECORD: 9-23-3 (7-12-2, 16pts)

#19 St. Lawrence at RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
2/28/15 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 4, St. Lawrence 3

RECORD: 10-23-3 (8-12-2, 18pts)

Upcoming games
06 Mar - at Clarkson
07 Mar - at Clarkson
08 Mar - at Clarkson (if necessary)
13 Mar - ECAC Quarterfinals (at higher seed, if qualified)
14 Mar - ECAC Quarterfinals (at higher seed, if qualified)