Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Men's Hockey - Quinnipiac/Princeton (19/20 Feb)

It's not always just how good you are or how well you're playing that determines success. The opponent plays a role in your success or failure as well. This past weekend may have been one of the best examples of that possible. With the Quinnipiac/Princeton travel pairing not only on opposite ends of the ECAC standings but more or less on the opposite end of the national rankings as well, the Engineers got the mostly expected outcomes with different compete levels. On Friday against Quinnipiac, RPI played a mostly complete game in which they played their hearts out only to come up on the short end of a 5-4 result in overtime. The following night, a rough outing with plenty of mistakes turned into a 2-1 victory against Princeton.




With Drew Melanson and Parker Reno both still sidelined, the Engineers rolled with the same lineup they did in both games the previous weekend at Harvard and Dartmouth, hoping to more replicate their Friday night result than their Saturday night outcome.

The game got off to an ominous start for the home team. Just 47 seconds in, Travis St. Denis, who had a hat trick last season at the Field House, scored on a deflection to put the Bobcats up 1-0. That lead extended to 2-0 when Kevin McKernan fired a loose puck in the slot over a prone Jason Kasdorf before the game was even 10 minutes old. While the Engineers hadn't been playing poorly to that point, it did appear that they were going to be outclassed.

But a fortuitous bounce late in the period kept hope alive. Shortly after the expiration of RPI's first power play of the game, a shot by Jake Wood from the top of a faceoff circle glanced off the skate of Jimmy DeVito and in, cutting Quinnipiac's lead in half with the junior's second goal of the season.

The second period was a bit of a reversal of fortunes. While Quinnipiac didn't play poorly during the middle frame, the Engineers looked ready to outclass the best team in the nation, and they certainly did on the scoreboard. Early in the period, RPI got the game tied up at two with Alex Rodriguez's third goal of the season, a quick putback after a wrap-around attempt by Kenny Gillespie.

Then the fireworks began. A penalty to St. Denis for roughing as the game became much more physical was followed soon after by two penalties on Quinnipiac against one for the Engineers (Jesper Ohrvall) after a fracas in the Bobcats' end. That gave the Engineers a five-on-three power play for over a minute, and during that extended two-man advantage, RPI hit two posts and saw Milos Bubela absolutely robbed by Quinnipiac goaltender Michael Garteig, who made several incredible saves to keep the game tied.

The Bobcats managed to avoid going behind during that sequence, but in the middle of the period, RPI took the lead anyway when Zach Schroeder potted his fourth of the year by backhanding a bouncing loose puck in the slot (that had squirted out from behind the net) to the back of the cage, putting the Engineers ahead 3-2 for RPI's third lead in as many games against a #1 ranked opponent this season.

Defense became the name of the game for the rest of the second period and well into the third, but the RPI lead held up until seven minutes into the final stanza, when Tim Clifton put home a rebound on a four-on-three power play to tie things back up. From there, the game became a chess match featuring terrific end-to-end action.

With four minutes left in regulation, the Engineers sent the puck down into the attacking zone, and a great individual effort by Viktor Liljegren resulted in the would-be icing call being waved off. Seconds later, he dug the puck out of the corner and just powered a shot that beat Garteig to give RPI a 4-3 lead with just 3:44 remaining in regulation.

Just about 30 seconds later, the Engineers did ice the puck, and with an incredible 3:15 left in a one-goal game, Quinnipiac pulled their netminder for the extra attacker and called timeout. The gambit worked. With their possession powered top line out and the extra skater, the Bobcats held the zone for 1:11 (with just one RPI icing call in the middle) and played their strengths perfectly, scoring the tying goal on a blast from the point by Devon Toews with not one, not two, but three players screening Jason Kasdorf on the shot. RPI held the lead for only 1:40 after Liljegren's go-ahead goal.

On the ensuing center ice faceoff, Bubela was called for delay of game after playing the puck with his hand, forcing the Engineers to kill his minor penalty for the remainder of regulation. They escaped unscathed, but they fell in heartbreaking fashion after QU captain Soren Jonzzon ripped a slapper from the faceoff circle with no screen, a shot that Kasdorf stops nearly all the time, only it found the whole between his glove and leg to hit the back of the net just 15 seconds into overtime.

Ultimately, RPI lost one of the best games they played all season simply because the opposition was able to rise above it with even more superior play.




The inspired play didn't seem to carry over into Saturday night's contest against a much weaker opponent in Princeton on Senior Night. The Tigers are accustomed to giving up gobs and gobs of shots per game, keeping Colton Phinney, one of the best goaltenders in the country that most college hockey fans don't know because of the quality of his team, exceptionally busy.

But on Saturday night, RPI managed just 23 shots combined against Princeton - not a bad number for them against an average team, but certainly below average for what the Tigers typically give up. This was something of an indicator of how generally malaised the RPI offense looked in the first two periods or so against Princeton.

While the Tigers certainly weren't lighting the world on fire themselves, they were the ones to get the lion's share of the quality scoring chances in the first period, and they got the first goal of the game early in the second period as Ben Foster wristed one home from the right-side faceoff circle to make it 1-0 Princeton.

The Engineers' lackluster play helped keep things 1-0 until late in the second period, where a good pass got things square once more. Jimmy DeVito made a quick pass from behind the Princeton cage and practically just as the puck was moving to the front of the net, Milos Bubela poked it in to knot the score.

Bubela would score again early in the second period to put the Engineers ahead as the third period started much better from the RPI perspective and continued to improve as the final 20 minutes wore on. The senior's second goal on Senior Night was again set up by DeVito, who drew the defenders away on the break and then slipped the puck past them to Bubela, who had snuck behind the defense and was alone in the slot. Bubela beat Phinney on the short side to give the Engineers their first lead of the night.

The much improved third period helped secure that lead immensely, as RPI spent much of the period on the attack. Though they couldn't find an insurance tally, they did outshoot Princeton 18-6 in the final period, keeping the pressure off Jason Kasdorf in the final frame. The Engineers held off the extra attacker late, and held on for the 2-1 victory, picking up a badly needed two points and keeping themselves in the hunt for a first-round bye - although they'll almost certainly need to finish the season with a sweep and they'll certainly need some help on Saturday in order to get there.

RPI is hoping to get Parker Reno back into the lineup for this coming weekend against Colgate and Cornell, but the timetable on Drew Melanson is a bit more stark - he won't be back this season, apparently, unless the Engineers can make it to Lake Placid (or, theoretically beyond).

Current ECAC Standings
1. Quinnipiac - 33 pts (14-1-5)
2. Yale - 29 pts (13-4-3)
3. Harvard - 26 pts (11-5-4)
4. St. Lawrence - 23 pts (10-7-3)
5. Dartmouth - 22 pts (11-9-0)
6. RPI - 22 pts (8-6-6)
7. Cornell - 21 pts (8-7-5)
8. Clarkson - 19 pts (8-9-3)
9. Union - 16 pts (5-9-6)
10. Brown - 11 pts (3-12-5)
11. Colgate - 10 pts (4-14-2)
12. Princeton - 8 pts (3-15-2)

#1 Quinnipiac at #17 RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
2/19/16 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Quinnipiac 5, RPI 4 (OT)

RECORD: 15-12-6 (7-6-6 ECAC, 20 pts)

Princeton at #17 RPI
ECAC Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
2/20/16 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 2, Princeton 1

RECORD: 16-12-6 (8-6-6 ECAC, 22 pts)

Upcoming games
26 Feb - at Colgate
27 Feb - at #16 Cornell
04 Mar - ECAC First Round Game 1
05 Mar - ECAC First Round Game 2
06 Mar - ECAC First Round Game 3 (if necessary)

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