Friday, October 16, 2015

Men's Hockey - at UML & Boston College, 9 & 11 Oct

Apologies for the extreme lateness of the recap of last week's games - I've been traveling overseas and didn't return until Thursday morning. Jet lag to account for the rest of it, but here it is nonetheless - an opening weekend to the RPI season that typifies all of our expectations for the team this season. A punchless loss followed by a world-beating moment, and an underscoring that this team will live and die by its defense. The year kicked off with a barely-there game against UMass-Lowell in which the Engineers rarely looked competitive in a 3-0 loss, followed two days later in the home opener by a 2-1 victory over the #1 team in the nation that turned heads.




One thing mentioned from the very outset of the season was that RPI needed to stay healthy this season in order to be competitive. With game one beginning, injuries were already a big part of the story. Senior Mark Miller is recovering from a wrist injury, and freshmen Evan Tironese and Alex Rodriguez are also in the infirmary, the latter suffering an injury in the exhibition game a week prior. With Jimmy DeVito also sidelined, offensive-minded defenseman Miers Moore made his RPI debut not on the blue line, but playing left-wing on the Engineers' fourth line.

For the fifth time in six seasons, the Engineers gave up their first goal of the season before scoring their first. 4:03 into the game, with a delayed hooking penalty coming to Jared Wilson, the River Hawks drew first blood with a goal by A.J. White to go ahead 1-0. UML would not score on the ensuing power play, but they did strike again on the power play before the opening 20 minutes were over. An unassisted goal by Evan Campbell with 32 seconds left made it 2-0 as Viktor Liljegren served an elbowing penalty.

Another power play goal early in the second period put the home team up 3-0 with Milos Bubela off for cross-checking. Adam Chapie's goal made the game look pretty much over with only 22:06 ticked off the clock.

From there, it was fairly academic for UML's Kevin Boyle to pitch a first-time out shutout. The Engineers came alive slightly in the third period, putting 13 shots on net, but none of them got through as Boyle made 27 saves to earn the victory. Jason Kasdorf picked up 35 saves on 38 shots - 28 in the first two periods - in defeat. Dominated at the faceoff circle and effectively bottled up, RPI simply never looked competitive against one of Hockey East's top teams.

Boston College



Tironese was added to the lineup two days later, replacing Lonnie Clary, and a minor line shakeup was in order as well to take on the Eagles, the #1 team in the most recent national polls. Tironese was added to a line that included Drew Melanson and Lou Nanne, the sophomore duo that regularly teamed with Miller on a dynamic line last season (when they were healthy). Additionally, the Engineers' top line was retooled, adding Milos Bubela to a combination that already included RPI's two Swedish forwards, Liljegren and Jesper Ohrvall, creating the first-ever all-European line in team history.

Defense was the name of the game for much of the first 40 minutes, as the Engineers bared down against the Eagles' high-flying offense. Jason Kasdorf was sharp throughout the game, picking up 29 saves in the first two periods on as many shots, but the shot-blocking in front of him was equally important to the defensive effort against BC. All night long, players gave up the body, especially Mike Prapavessis and Chris Bradley, to keep the visitors off the scoreboard.

Riley Bourbonnais opened the scoring in the final minute of the second period, notching his first goal of the season with 46 seconds left to put RPI ahead 1-0 on a bouncing puck that BC's Thatcher Demko usually can get himself in front of. Just before the second intermission, it was a huge boost to an Engineers team that was still very much an underdog despite the heroic defensive stand.

Bourbonnais struck again on the power play early in the third period. With Ryan Fitzgerald serving an elbowing penalty for the Eagles, Bourbonnais took a pass from Tironese a 3-on-2 break and whipped it past Demko to give RPI an improbable 2-0 edge with 17 minutes left in the game.

But one doesn't just put away the #1 team in the nation that easily. With solid puck control throughout the game, it seemed inevitable that BC would eventually find a way to put one past Kasdorf and they managed to halve the RPI lead five-and-a-half minutes later on the man advantage. Zach Sanford's second goal of the season made it 2-1 and turned the pucker factor up to 11 for the crowd at Houston Field House.

Far from being rattled, however, the Engineers stayed in their lanes when it came to their defensive stand. Indeed, despite trailing and their talent and possession edges, BC was ultimately able to get only 8 shots on Kasdorf in the final 20 minutes. While holding the 2-1 lead, RPI continued blocking shots and otherwise frustrating the Eagle offense. With Demko pulled in the final 1:20, BC managed to hold the attacking zone for nearly the entire end of the game, but still were unable to find a quality scoring opportunity to get the game tied, and the Engineers escaped with their first victory over a #1 ranked team in five seasons.

The weekend was a true microcosm - RPI must get healthy to be successful, and Tironese's debut was crucial for the Engineers. The freshman dominated in the faceoff circle and assisted on both of Bourbonnais' goals. They need defense in order to be successful, and the shot-blocking and top-end play by the combined defense powered the victory more than anything. The way the Engineers can become truly dangerous is to start scoring goals with more regularity - despite the high-caliber opponents they played in the opening weekend, averaging a goal per game isn't going to lead to a lot of wins.

They get the opportunity to try scoring goals against slightly lower-caliber opponents this weekend, as they face Alaska-Anchorage and the University of Alaska, WCHA teams who were a combined 1-3-0 to start the year, in the Brice Alaska Goal Rush. With American International as the fourth team, if the RPI team that played against Boston College shows up both nights in Fairbanks, the Engineers would be the likely favorites in the tournament.

RPI players swept the ECAC weekly awards this week on the strength of their win over BC. Riley Bourbonnais' two goals made him Player of the Week, Tironese's two assists and faceoff excellence won him Rookie of the Week, and Kasdorf's superior play in the pips earned him Goalie of the Week honors.

RPI at #14 UMass-Lowell
Non-conference Game - Tsongas Center (Lowell, MA)
10/9/15 - 7:15pm

RESULT: UMass-Lowell 3, RPI 0

RECORD: 0-1-0

#1 Boston College at RPI
Non-conference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
10/11/15 - 2:00pm

RESULT: RPI 2, Boston College 1

RECORD: 1-1-0

Upcoming games
16 Oct - vs. Alaska-Anchorage (Fairbanks, AK)
17 Oct - at Alaska
24 Oct - #11 Michigan
30 Oct - at Union
31 Oct - Union (Black Saturday)

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