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)

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