Thursday, January 21, 2016

Crossroads of a Season

Tonight, the Engineers get to take their best shot at the top - Quinnipiac. The Bobcats have been totally unreal this season, sitting a monumental 7 points ahead of RPI in 1st place and basically playing king of the mountain with the rest of college hockey. First in the RPI, first in KRACH, first in the Pairwise, first in the polls. They've lost only once all year. It ain't going to be easy. But glory awaits tonight in Hamden if the Engineers can do what they've done all year - find ways to win, and take down top-end squads. They did it at home just last weekend. Doing it on the road would be a huge (and we mean huge) boost, both in the ECAC and in the Pairwise.

RPI hasn't beaten Union three times in the same season since 1997, and even that year they were 3-1-1 against the Dutchmen (they swept a home playoff series, because that's what they did back then). Even when Union was horrible, they still found ways to produce a result against RPI. And these last couple of years, even more so than usual, you can just throw the records out the door. They don't even matter a little bit when these teams play. Both teams have a shot at skating away with the Mayor's Cup.

And last year, at least, it represented a bad turning point for the Engineers. Coming in on a 3-game winning streak after finally snapping a long 9-game losing streak and easily playing some of their best hockey of the season, RPI took a 3-2 edge into the 3rd period and promptly gave up six goals in 20 of the most painful minutes of hockey you'll ever see - and kicking off a brand new 9-game winless streak that wasn't broken until the last night of the regular season.

On the surface, there's not much to this weekend. An odd mid-week league game at a team RPI hasn't beaten since 2010, and then a non-conference game on neutral ice. But mark my words. Two losses at the end of this weekend will sour everyone on this team, while two wins would turn some serious heads. The final results of these two games won't have much more of a lasting impact than in how it propels the Engineers into the remainder of the season.

On the women's side, it's a road trip to Brown and Yale, and a couple of games the Engineers have got to come up with points in if they want to stay in the playoff hunt. Brown should present more of a challenge than Union did last week, but only slightly. Points lost there would hurt a lot. Yale, on the other hand, is a primary competitor for a playoff - and RPI's already coughed up a pair of points to the Bulldogs this year. This weekend's a crucial one in the playoff hunt for sure - they won't have nearly as many opportunities for easy points after this one's over.

No team wants to be peaking in January, but it's clear both teams have a lot to play for and need to be on top of their game now, more than ever before this year.

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