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
Liljegren-Schroeder-Bubela
Melanson-Miller-Nanne
Neal-McGowan-Laliberte
Wood-Bourbonnais-DeVito

Leonard-Bradley
Curadi-Bell
Prapavessis-Wilson

Kasdorf

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
Liljegren-Schroeder-Bubela
Melanson-Miller-Nanne
Neal-McGowan-Laliberte
Wood-Bourbonnais-DeVito

Leonard-Bradley
Curadi-Bell
Prapavessis-Wilson

Kasdorf

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
Liljegren-Schroeder-Bubela
Melanson-Miller-Nanne
Neal-McGowan-Laliberte
Wood-Bourbonnais-DeVito

Leonard-Bradley
Curadi-Bell
Prapavessis-Wilson

Kasdorf

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)

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