Thursday, March 3, 2016

What's Past is Prologue

12 years. Five home playoff series. Four Game 3s. Four heartaches.

And two of those hurt just a little bit more.

2010. Home at last after three seasons in the bottom four. A season after a playoff run that saw the Engineers come within a game of the promised land in Albany. Finally, a winning record. Two super freshmen who had the Field House and the ECAC abuzz. And an opponent in Brown that the Engineers hadn't lost to in regulation in five years.

2013. The end of the tunnel for sure. A first round bye for the first time since the 12-team tournament, finally. 9-1-0 since February 1st. A Brown team as the opponent that the Engineers hadn't just not lost to in three years, but had generally destroyed in those meetings. And a freshman netminder who looked like he could do little wrong.

And the script in both cases was almost exactly the same.

Game 1, late heartache. Brown takes a 2-1 lead on a third-period goal and then hits an empty netter to win 3-1. Both times.

Game 2, big time revenge. Backs against the wall, RPI comes roaring back with games that were still in doubt midway through, but the Engineers make them no doubters by the end. 4-1 in 2010, 6-2 in 2013.

Game 3, too little, too late. Brown jumps on the previously resurgent Engineers, establishing a 3-0 lead. Both times. With the season slipping away, RPI scores twice to cut the Brown lead to one. Both times. Down one, the Engineers throw everything at the Bears - for three minutes in 2010, for the entire third period in 2013. But it isn't enough, and the season ends with a 3-2 loss to Brown at home.

These were not the only three-game home heartaches. 2011, a three-game loss to last-place Colgate, with Game 3 ending in double OT. 2014, a three-game loss to Dartmouth, a team the Engineers swept in the regular season and, in fact, beat 4-1 in Game 1. Both times, getting beaten twice in a row to negate a Friday night victory.

And standing in stark contrast - RPI has won three straight first round series on the road: 2009 at Dartmouth, and at Clarkson in 2012 and 2015.

Last year's senior night victory against St. Lawrence was literally the first time RPI won their final home game in a decade.

This is reality.

It is not preordained.

That said, this isn't going to be a walk in the park this weekend. There's no reason to think that RPI is the obvious favorite at home against the 11th place team.

November 14th, in Troy, Brown should have won. They should have picked up two points. And this isn't the usual "oh, they played good enough to win." They literally should have won the game. They scored a goal in overtime that was waved off and eventually disallowed only due to a lack of replay availability for the referees. But make no mistake. That should have counted. They should have left the Engineers with nothing. (All things being equal, that should have put the Engineers in 7th and playing Colgate instead.)

January 29th, in Providence, Brown should have won. They had a 3-0 lead with less than half the game remaining, and if they hadn't utterly collapsed in conjunction with an RPI surge, they would have. Teams don't blow 3-0 leads with regularity. It hadn't happened that the Engineers came back to win a game they trailed 3-0 in over a decade - since an October 2005 game against Northeastern that the Huskies led 4-0 after one period, only for RPI to score 5 in the second. Remember the two Game 3s above? They couldn't do it then, either.

And let's not forget, Brown actually did sweep RPI last season.

Then there's the trend coming in. RPI won only one game of its last five (1-3-1). Brown lost only one game in its last five (though they also only won one - 1-1-3).

This is reality.

It is not preordained.

But this has got to be the year it ends. It simply has to. It's been far too long. There's been far too much heartache. Forget Lake Placid. Let's win at home. It's AT HOME. It shouldn't be this difficult. Literally every team in the league, save three (Brown, Princeton, and RPI) have won a home playoff series in the last two years. Only two of those teams that haven't have the excuse of not having had one - and for both, their last one was far more recent than ours (2013 for Brown, 2009 for Princeton).

Seth Appert's teams have always relied on their seniors for leadership. It is incumbent upon them now to relate what it felt like when they were freshmen in 2013, to lose to Brown on their own ice and end what had been a promising season.

That's how it started, guys. Don't let it end that way, too. Make this a street fight, where every living second is a battle for survival. Your backs are against the wall starting now, not the game after you lose. Take initiative. Take control. And don't let go. You're at home. Own it. Protect this house.

This has to be the year.

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