Thursday, February 24, 2011

Playoff-type hockey this weekend

TROY – Most late-season college hockey games are intense, as teams jockey for position in the standings and try to get themselves as best prepared for the postseason as they possibly can.
With just two points separating the third-through sixth-place teams in the ECAC Hockey standings however, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s two games with Princeton and Quinnipiac will bring a playoff atmosphere to Houston Field House tonight and Saturday night.
Dartmouth and Cornell both have 11-7-2 (24 points) ECACH records and share third place.
Rensselaer is fifth at 11-8-1 (23 points), while Princeton is fifth (10-8-2, 22) and those two teams clash at HFH tonight at 7.
As is well-chronicled, the top four finishers receive a bye into the league’s playoff quarterfinals.
It’s not impossible to earn a spot in the ECACH semifinals – even win a championship – from a low-seeded position. Hey, Brown did it last year, taking out sixth-seeded RPI 51 weeks ago and upending top-seeded Yale in the quarterfinals before runner-up Cornell halted the Bears in the semifinals, 3-0.
However, getting a preliminary-round bye affords a team a much “clearer path to the semifinals,” Rensselaer coach Seth Appert often says.
So, the old Field House should be rocking tonight and hopefully Saturday night against seventh-place Quinnipiac (6-9-5, 13-13-5).
“Definitely playoff atmosphere,” said captain John Kennedy. “The only thing missing is not playing (the same foe) the next night but we’re definitely going to come out intense. Both teams are fighting for that top four spot (Princeton would have to beat RPI and Union and get more help that RPI needs). It’s going to be an absolute battle.”
“Definitely,” defenseman Jeff Foss said. “It’s our (seniors’) last crack at it. It’ll be tense.”
“It pretty much is (a playoff situation),” senior winger Tyler Helfrich said. “The last few games have been playoff mentality. We know that.”
“Yeah, I think at the end of the year, it’s usually a playoff atmosphere,” said senior center and scoring leader Chase Polacek. “Games are always close, lot of teams winning by one goal or in overtime. We have to try to play this as a playoff series this weekend and try to get two wins and win the ‘series.’
Appert says he hopes Engineers fans “create a real playoff atmosphere.”
Players must be responsible: Appert, who loudly chastised and challenged the Engineers the morning after their 5-3 loss at St. Lawrence last Friday night, has said often since Saturday night’s 5-1 triumph at Clarkson, “every team has a personality and our is that we play better angry.”
He was asked at midweek what he did/will do to make the Engineers angry again.
“Yell at them a lot,” he said with a smile. “I haven’t been too jovial with them this week. But they have to take it upon themselves, too.
“(We’re) better when we’re angry and edgy,” he said. “But no matter what I do as (head) coach or we do as a staff, from Thursday at 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. Friday, they have to be responsible for themselves. And they have to be responsible. That’s when our seniors have to do a better job of dictating the mood in our pre-game meeting, our pre-game meal and in the locker room prior to the game on Friday night. I take responsibility for it but they have to take accountability for it.”
Real head-scratcher: During the time Princeton has won its past three games at Houston Field House by scores of 4-0, 4-1, 7-0, RPI has won four straight games at Princeton’s Hobey Baker Rink, outscoring the Tigers 18-7.
Why? How?
“I have no idea,” Appert said. “Hopefully, we’ll put an end to that (tonight) but I don’t know. “I’m sure Guy (Princeton coach Guy Gadowsky) feels the same way but I have no idea why.”


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