Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Men's Hockey - Niagara/RIT (21/22 Oct)

After a couple of weekends on the road to start the season, the Engineers began a rather long homestand (9 in 10, with the odd game out in Schenectady) with a pair of non-conference tilts against Niagara and RIT - the only non-conference weekend on the schedule featuring two different squads. A strong performance on Friday night ended in a very dissatisfying 3-3 draw with Niagara (the proverbial "bad tie"), but sticking with the same themes on Saturday led to the Engineers' first victory of the season, scoring a 6-3 victory over the Tigers.

Niagara
Bourbonnais-Tironese-Melanson
Nanne-Hayhurst-Ohrvall
Wood-DeVito-Liljegren
Marrello-Polino-Rodriguez

Prapavessis-Reilly
Wilson-Grant
Bell-Reno

Perry

Jake Marrello made his RPI debut on Friday night as the Engineers returned to a standard 12x6 lineup to take on the Purple Eagles, still searching for their first positive result of the season after starting off with three losses in as many games.

Early returns were not positive for the Engineers, although game remained scoreless for well over 30 minutes. Nine penalties were called before the game's first goal, and all of them were of the "obstruction" type that the NCAA is cracking down on this year (interference, slashing, hooking, tripping, holding, and the sort). The first eight - four per team - were killed off without great incidence, and the RPI penalty kill reached a rather impressive 21-for-21 to start the season while the power play reached a miserable 1-for-23.

RPI's perfect penalty kill was ended by the goal that put Niagara up 1-0 a little over halfway through regulation. A one-timer from the left faceoff circle by Derian Plouffe evaded Chase Perry to put the Purple Eagles ahead - but they would not hold the lead for long. Just 38 seconds later, Evan Tironese one-touched a pass from Riley Bourbonnais to the back of the cage from the middle of the slot to even the game back up.

After 21 straight successful penalty kills, RPI made it two power play goals in a row given up just 57 seconds after that, as Johnny Curran scored 10 seconds into a Parker Reno penalty on a floater that beat Perry top shelf to put Niagara back in front, 2-1.

1:44 into the third period, the Engineers tied the game for the second time, with Lou Nanne scoring his first goal of the season doing what he typically does to score goals - redirecting shots from the perimeter. A slapper by Tommy Grant was tipped in front by the RPI junior and past Niagara's Jackson Teichroeb to knot the score once again.

The biggest pivot of the game came in the denouement of regulation, as on their 7th power play opportunity of the night, the Engineers finally scored their second power play goal of the year, coming off a big shot from the blue line by Jared Wilson for his second goal of the year (both of RPI's power play goals for the season), giving the Engineers their first lead of the game late in the contest at 3-2.

About a minute later, a dustup between Plouffe and Viktor Liljegren ended with both in the box, but Plouffe with an extra two minutes for holding, putting the Engineers back on the power play with 4:15 left in regulation. Seconds later, Wilson appeared to give the Engineers a two-goal cushion with a goal that was practically a mirror image of the one he'd just scored a minute-and-a-half earlier, but it was immediately wiped out, as the officials called a slashing penalty against Jimmy DeVito, essentially for making a solid stick-check that allowed Wilson to take the loose puck in the first place.

Before an outraged Field House crowd, Niagara won the ensuing faceoff in the RPI end at four-on-four, and an ill-advised no-look pass by Tironese was picked off by Curran, who one-timed it past Perry to tie the game back up at 3-3, only further enraging the RPI partisans.

A Niagara penalty for cross-checking in the final minute of regulation carried over into the overtime period, but the Engineers were unable to get anything done on the man advantage, finishing the night 1-for-9 on the power play. Meanwhile, both teams put up four shots in the extra period, but neither were able to find the game winning goal, and the contest ended with a very unsettling 3-3 tie.

Other than the continued struggles on the power play and the seemingly botched ending late in the third period, the game did display an RPI team that looked like they were ready to compete. They unleashed 41 shots on the evening, and full credit has to be given to Teichroeb, who simply didn't let up a great many rebounds.

RIT
Bourbonnais-Tironese-Melanson
Nanne-Hayhurst-Ohrvall
Wood-DeVito-Liljegren
Reisinger-Polino-Rodriguez

Prapavessis-Reilly
Wilson-Reno
Manley-Grant

Hackett

Max Reisinger made his RPI debut against RIT on Saturday night, replacing Marrello in the lineup, and Charlie Manley returned as well, replacing Bradley Bell. Finally, Cam Hackett got his first start of the season in net for the Engineers.

A fortunate angle got RIT on the board first midway through the first period. A pass by Abbott Girduckis to Caleb Cameron on a two-on-one break didn't result in a shot, but as Cameron passed by Hackett, he tried to blindly backhand the puck back into the slot. It didn't get there - instead it hit off the back of Hackett's leg and into the back of the net, a goal certainly created by the two-on-one that the Tigers earned but certainly one that falls into the category of "good puck luck" in the end.

The Engineers got their stroke of luck about four minutes later as Riley Bourbonnais sniped a shot that RIT netminder Christian Short probably should have nabbed with his glove - instead it flew into the cage over that glove as Bourbonnais scored his second shorthanded goal of the season (perhaps only technically a shorthanded goal, as it came exactly as a 4x4 ended) to tie the score.

On the power play to start the second period, Mike Prapavessis gave Houston Field House a glimpse of the potential that RPI has on the man advantage, scoring with a snap shot from the point just over a minute into the second period to put the Engineers ahead 2-1 - Prapavessis being part of a potentially potent 1-2 punch with fellow power play QB Jared Wilson. Then, just 33 seconds later, Evan Tironese notched his third goal in as many games on a nifty wraparound to make it 3-1 and ending Short's night, as the RIT sophomore made just 7 saves on 10 shots in 21:41 of work. He was replaced by RIT's usual netminder, Mike Rotolo.

RIT clawed one back about two minutes later on one of the many four-on-four situations that would arise over the course of the game, as a disorganized RPI defense left Gabe Valenzuela open to roof one and cut the RPI lead in half. 10 minutes later, late in the second period, the Tigers got things square once more with a goal by Erik Brown, again taking advantage of a disjointed RPI defense.

But the Engineers would regain the lead for good with about two minutes left in the second period as Jared Wilson scored his third goal of the year - and third power play goal of the season - this time with a slapper from the top of the left faceoff circle, giving the Engineers a 4-3 lead heading into the final period.

The Tigers worked hard in the third period trying to find the tying goal, but the Engineer defense did a good job of bending without breaking. Hackett secured 13 saves in the last 20 minutes to help bolster the victory, and the Engineers ultimately got an insurance goal from Bourbonnais on a perfectly executed give-and-go while behind the defense with Tironese during a 4x4, and Jake Wood added his second goal of the season on an empty netter with just over a minute to play to seal the game up for a 6-3 victory.

Tironese ended the night with a goal and four assists, having been a part of the scoring combination on every RPI goal against the Tigers with the exception of Prapavessis' power play blast early in the second period. His career night was a first in several years for the Engineers in a pair of categories - it was the first four assist performance for RPI since Chase Polacek against Brown in December 2010, and the first five point night for an Engineer since Kevin Croxton (3 goals, 2 assists) against RIT in December 2005. Those are a pair of names that put Tironese in some very exclusive company in relatively recent RPI history. With nine points in five games, he is now 7th in the nation in scoring, averaging 1.80 points per game.

RPI's offense does look a bit more improved, with a goals per game now at 2.80, closing in on that coveted 3.00 GPG that they've been missing for some time. Tironese, Bourbonnais, Wilson, and Prapavessis all look fairly dangerous in their various scoring roles, just as we'd hoped to start the season.

The problem is that they've also given up three goals in all five games they've played this season, calling into question a defense that was supposed to be one of the team's brightest points.

Continued improvement on both of those aspects is needed in a hurry, as the ECAC schedule opens this coming weekend against Union in the annual home-and-home set, of which the Engineers have won four contests in a row against the Dutchmen (and six of seven overall when including the Mayor's Cup). They'll be keen on the need to stop Union senior Mike Vecchione, who won ECAC Player of the Week plaudits over Tironese by scoring six goals on the weekend against the same two teams that RPI did battle with, including four against Niagara.

Niagara at RPI
Non-Conference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
10/21/16 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 3, Niagara 3 (OT)

RECORD: 0-3-1

RIT at RPI
Non-Conference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
10/22/16 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 6, RIT 3

RECORD: 1-3-1

Upcoming games
28 Oct - Union
29 Oct - at Union
04 Nov - Brown
05 Nov - #17 Yale
11 Nov - Clarkson

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