Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Men's Hockey - ECAC Quarterfinals (11/12 Mar)

Throughout his career at RPI, Jason Kasdorf has been the most important player on the team, period. When healthy, and playing well, the Engineers were difficult for even the very best teams in the country to beat. When he was not healthy, RPI was a far less dangerous team. Perhaps the final three games of his college career against Harvard illustrate this perfectly. Healthy on February 12, he backstopped an improbable victory by making 49 saves. After injuring his groin ahead of the ECAC Quarterfinals, he was far less effective on Friday, giving up four goals before coming out of what would become a 5-2 loss, and unable to go on Saturday, the Crimson simply overwhelmed the Engineers, ending their season with an 8-2 drubbing that was difficult to swallow not because of the way it happened, but because of what could have been different.

Game 1



We didn't know really anything about Kasdorf's injury on Friday. He started, fully as expected, and the Engineers fielded the same lineup they had against the Crimson when they pulled off the big upset a few weeks earlier in Boston.

And, early on, things actually looked much better for RPI than they had back on February 12, where they were absolutely manhandled in practically every possible statistic, save one - the score. The first period, by and large, was about as evenly played as you can get. The Engineers actually outshot Harvard 11-10 in the opening 20 minutes and were practically even on faceoffs.

RPI was unlucky not to have picked up the game's first goal on a number of different opportunities in the game's opening 15 minutes or so. The biggest difference maker was Harvard's Merrick Madsen, who brought his "A" game all weekend long as perhaps the best young netminder in the ECAC. He constantly frustrated the Engineers all weekend long, but his strong play early in Game 1 set the tone for what was to come.

The Crimson struck first late in the first period as another Harvard hero-to-be, Sean Malone, scored seconds after an RPI penalty to Mike Prapavessis ended to put the home team ahead 1-0, but even once the first period was over, things appeared to be setting up for a good back-and-forth game.

Harvard quickly disabused everyone of that notion in the middle frame, which looked far more like their dominating performance the last time these sides met in Boston. The Crimson unleashed 22 shots on goal in the second period, scoring three times in the first 15 minutes of the period to grab a commanding 4-0 edge, many on shots that Kasdorf frequently would get to under normal situations.

It did seem that the game was pretty much over when Jake Wood picked up a five-minute major and a game misconduct for kneeing at 13:27 of the second, setting up the fourth goal for Harvard on the power play. Following that goal, Kasdorf was pulled from the net in favor of Cam Hackett, who hadn't played since beating Arizona State in December. It was thought at the time that it was a similar move to what happened against Clarkson in last year's playoffs - where Kasdorf was pulled from a game that had gotten away from the Engineers if only to keep him mentally fresh for the next night's elimination game. It would ultimately be the final moments of ice time for his collegiate career.

Despite the huge hole, RPI did not quit. Later on the major penalty, with about two minutes remaining in the period, Milos Bubela slipped past Harvard's five-forward power play unit and had a breakaway before he was at the center red line, and he beat Madsen to get the Engineers on the board. In the final minute of the period, back at even strength, Madsen had to be keen with his glove to keep RPI out of the goal - an important save that could have clawed the Engineers within two, a more manageable deficit, with 20 minutes left.

That second goal for the Engineers did come early in the third period as Phil Hampton put back a rebound off a shot by Mark Miller to make the score 4-2 after Harvard came out rather flat for the beginning of the period. For a few minutes, it looked like RPI had some of the same fight they had in their previous game to effect a big comeback, but Malone scored his second of the night against the flow of play five minutes after Hampton's goal to re-open a three-goal edge. That was as close as the Engineers would get, but at no time did they look like they were ready to give in.

Game 2



Expectations that Kasdorf would be back in net were not immediately dismissed before Game 2, with Seth Appert even indicating in a pre-game interview that he would be back in net. However, something changed between warmups and the beginning of the game, as the alert came just before the teams took the ice for the start of the game that Hackett would be starting - the first inkling that something was not quite right, although the full explanation (a groin injury) didn't come out until after the game was over.

The first period in Game 2 played out largely the same as it had in Game 1, with RPI again unable to establish the 1-0 lead in the first despite the lion's share of the quality scoring opportunity in the opening 15 minutes, once again squelched by the terrific play of Madsen in net for Harvard. And, once again, it was Harvard scoring first with Jake Horton beating Hackett at 15:02 to give the Crimson the 1-0 edge for the second night in a row.

Things began to get hectic seconds later, as Jake Wood was sent off for a hook and Seb Lloyd followed behind on the subsequent dive, setting up a 4-on-4 situation. About a minute later, Riley Bourbonnais struck for his 15th goal of the year, a rebound off a shot by Lou Nanne to tie things back up at one, although a lengthy review persisted afterwards.

The Engineers attacked off the ensuing faceoff, and just 23 seconds later, a goal by Jesper Ohrvall had RPI ahead 2-1, and it seemed that their hard work and dedication was beginning to pay off just a bit. But that lead held for all of 59 seconds. Just a few moments after Wood and Lloyd returned to the ice, Viktor Dombrovskiy scored his first collegiate goal on a bomb of a shot from the blue line, tying the game back up. Regardless of the sequence, a 2-2 scoreline heading into the first intermission was still a bit of an improvement over the previous night's showing.

Perhaps it was some kind of karmic balance being struck for RPI's win against the Crimson in February - a dominant performance by Harvard, yet all but even (and uneven in RPI's favor) on the scoreboard. The remaining 40 minutes, honestly, were very, very even in most respects except the scoreboard - which was instead dominated soundly by the home team. The Crimson would go on to score six goals against none scored by the Engineers (although an apparent RPI goal in the second period, when it still would have very much mattered for the Engineers, was waved off with no real explanation).

Malone potted his third goal of the weekend a minute and a half into the second period to break the tie, and then Harvard really established their dominance on the scoresheet eight minutes later on a horrifying turnover by Prapavessis in front of his own net while the Engineers were looking to break out of their own end. Just moments after Bourbonnais missed the net on a breakaway shot that beat Madsen (and would have tied the game), the miscue deep in their own end was buried by Harvard's Clay Anderson, turning the game significantly by making it 4-2.

Even as the game, the series, and the season were slipping away, the Engineers notably never showed even the slightest little drop of quit, even though Harvard began racking up the goals in the third period, frequently on odd-man rushes as RPI pushed forward in vain search of a breakthrough chance. Another defensive zone turnover in the opening seconds of the third period ended up on Jimmy Vesey's stick, and the Hobey Baker finalist from last year finally made his presence felt, scoring on a pro shot that slipped through the smallest crack between Hackett and the post to make it 5-2.

An aforementioned push forward allowed Vesey to score a second unassisted goal 13 minutes later, a goal that looked very similar to Bubela's from the previous night as the Harvard senior was broken away before reaching the center red line. The Crimson would add a power play goal three minutes later and an 8th tally a minute after that to put a serious seal on things and send a message to the remainder of the league - they will be a force to be reckoned with in Lake Placid.

That Hackett stayed in the game throughout the onslaught pretty much confirmed that an injury had sidelined Kasdorf. With no hope remaining in the final minute, Seth Appert did at least pull him from the cage to allow senior Sam Goodman to log some official Division I playing time. The third-string netminder for the last three seasons, Goodman played the final 46 seconds and did not face any shots as RPI held the puck in the attacking zone late, still probing the Harvard net in search of a futile but still desired goal - a microcosm of a season for a team that never gave up.

Lake Placid waits another season for a team that, had they been blessed with this level of dedication in some previous years, could have broken its drought already. Ultimately, the story was the injury to Kasdorf combined with a road series against a very, very strong Harvard team that simply could not be denied. The lesson is simple - sometimes, the other team is just better, and RPI ran into a better team. But hope lives on that in the near future, RPI will be that better team.

ECAC Semifinals
#7 Dartmouth vs #1 Quinnipiac
#4 St. Lawrence vs #3 Harvard

RPI at #12 Harvard
ECAC Quarterfinals Game 1 - Bright-Landry Hockey Center (Boston, MA)
3/11/16 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Harvard 5, RPI 2

RECORD: 18-14-7

RPI at #12 Harvard
ECAC Quarterfinals Game 2 - Bright-Landry Hockey Center (Boston, MA)
3/12/16 - 7:00pm

RESULT:  Harvard 8, RPI 2

RECORD: 18-15-7

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