Thursday, February 28, 2013

Engineers should feel snubbed; Live chat later

TROY -- For the first couple weeks that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's hockey team garnered some votes in the, it was understandable, I guess, that the Engineers fell short of the Top 20.
 This past week, however, the fact that RPI again was denied a national ranking, was not understandable.
When Yale’s losing streak reached five last week, the Bulldogs should have joined Union in dropping out of the Top 20 and RPI voted in.
That didn’t happen and the Engineers should feel snubbed.
They don’t.
 “We don’t even think about that,” Bailen said. “We don’t worry about what other people think about us.”
“Nah, we don’t worry about that stuff,” added sophomore left winger Matt Neal.
 Since its sweep of second-year program Penn State back in November, Union has won just seven of 21 games (7-10-4 ) and just five (5-7-3) of 15 ECAC Hockey games.
  More recently, the Dutchmen have dropped four of six league games.
  Obviously, the USCHO pollsters are away of that fact.
   When it comes, to Yale, I'm not sure there aren't a number of voters west of, say, South Bend, Ind. who are aware of the fact that Yale lost five straight games -- the streak ended in the Bulldogs' last game, to be fair -- or that RPI has beaten Yale in both meetings this season and outscored the Bulldogs, 10-2.
   Yale is 2-6-0 in its past eight league games while RPI was winning nine of 10.
   The Bulldogs' early-season victories at Denver and Colorado College and tie at Boston College can certainly be matched by RPI's victory over Ferris State, tie and overtime defeat at Minnesota state, victory at St. Cloud State and OT loss at Boston U. -- all ranked teams.
   Then there's the Yale-RPI matchups, which as mentioned, the Engineers have dominated.
   Also as mentioned, the Engineers say they're not at all offended.
   I asked coach Seth Appert if he was relieved that his team fell just short again, so that there's no added distraction entering the final weekend of the regular season and I half expected him to answer, 'yes.'
  My gut feeling was more accurate, though, when he bellowed, in all sincerity, "I don't care. I really don't. It (being ranked or not) has no affect on me or the (players)."
  Rankings, ratings, standings will start to become important after this weekend.
  The Engineers are focused only on rival Clarkson, which invades Houston Field House on Friday night.
  A victory, or two ties against the Golden Knights and St. Lawrence on Saturday night, gives the Engineers a bye past the preliminary round of the ECACH playoffs. It would RPI's first since the ECACH went to the 12-team, all-in format in 2003.
  Live-chat: We'll hold a live chat to discuss RPI hockey at 5 p.m. today and Friday. Log on

Friday, February 22, 2013

Engineers hope to keep winning skein on the road

   ITHACA -- How far can Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's winning streak go? Can the Engineers extend their ECAC Hockey winning streak to eight games on the road at Cornell and Colgate?
     Six of the eight victories within the streak have been at Houston Field House, though it should be added that RPI -- except for its penalty killing -- was quite impressive in victories at St. Lawrence (4-3 in overtime) and at Clarkson (6-2).
    Despite the fact that Cornell and Colgate have gone through some pretty rough stretches of late -- they are tied for 10th place in the 12-team league with 5-10-3 records -- they figure to be at their best, and spurred by revenge, each having suffered a one-goal defeat at HFH last month.
    Even one victory this weekend, provided the Engineers can get three or four points next weekend when they close the regular season at home against Clarkson and St. Lawrence, would give them a great chance to earn a top-four finish and subsequent bye in the preliminary round of the league playoffs.
   Power play outstanding: Over the first eight ECACH games, the RPI power play produced just two goals in 40 tries. Such as stat -- 5.0 percent -- will lose any team hockey games at any level.
   In a breathtaking turnaround, the power play has been successful one-third of the time -- 11 of 33.
   That's propped up the season's efficiency rate to 21.7 percent -- 26-for-120. In league play, it's climbed to an eye-popping -- considering the poor start -- 19.7 percent (15-for-76).
   Appert spoke at great length about the decision to move 2011 All-American defenseman Nick Bailen -- and his hard shot from the point -- to the front of the net.
   "Being at the net front allows Nick to be creative and ... puts him in competitive situations.
   "At the top of the power play, you need to be more of a thinker and a distributor, and a shooter at times (all of which Bailen has been successful at in the past), whereas, at the net front, being down low where he is, has really freed him up to play to his strengths."
    Bailen's immediate acceptance of the decision "is real credit to him.
   "He could have taken it the wrong way," Appert said. "He's an All-American, power-play defenseman, who by definition are supposed to be on the point on the power play. And he was very good for us up there two years ago when we went to the national tournament.
   "So, it's a real credit to him and his wanting to win and help him our team that he took that adjustment the right way and has thrived within it, because it's a little outside the box and his acceptance in buying into and owning that spot have really helped our power play take a big step.
   "What he does also," Appert continued about Bailen, "is that he wins puck battles and keep plays alive. Everybody talks about skill but if you don't win puck battles on the power play, your power play is nothing. Nothing. Because there are always puck battles; faceoffs, dump-ins, shots on goal that go to the corner and you have to go retrieve them and the more you can win those little battles and then earn a second and third possession within (one trip in) the zone your chances of scoring increase dramatically. Their penalty kill is stuck out there, they're tired.
   "If you lose that, (the puck's) it's down the ice, you get frustrated, you have to go back out (and get onside), they can change (their PK unit), they're fresh. Nick has kept a lot of plays alive which has allowed us to take advantage of tired penalty killers."
   Sophomore center Jacob Laliberte, RPI's leader with 14 power-play points (Bailen is second with nine) echoed Appert's words on pucks battles with regard to the improved power-play numbers.
   "Winning more puck battles has been a key because without the puck, you can't to anything."
   Appert said it was not an easy decision to move Bailen down low on the power play.
   "If it wasn't different for us (coaches), we would have done it a long time ago.
   "I think part of it is not being sure we had someone to take over at the top (junior Bo Dolan has done so nicely) and, it's worked in the past, and you keep thinking ... he (Bailen) he was there for a reason and that's what he was recruited to do and he's been good up there, and you get stuck on that sometimes."
    Appert compared the decision with that of moving defenseman Bryan Brutlag (class of 2011) to forward halfway through his junior season.
   "I probably should have moved to forward earlier than I did," he said. "Sometimes you have pre-conceived notions, or what has happened in the past can impact your decision-making on current events and you have to really take a step back and see what is best for your team at that moment and what your team needs. With Bryan, our program got better immediately when he went to forward and for the next year and one-half, we were a really good hockey team.
   "I think it's been the same with Nick going to the front of the net on the power play," Appert continued. "Our power play effectiveness has increased immediately and dramatically."
  "No way": Some have suggested that Bailen be moved to forward. They weren't all joking.
   "They're wrong. Dead wrong," Appert said. "He defends his tail off. I'll take him on my 'D' corps anywhere, any time, any team. That guys blocks shots; he's our leading shot-blocker. He wins puck battles, he breaks us out of our zone effectively. And he provides an element that we don't have otherwise and that most teams in the country don't have, which is a weapon jumping in the rush as a defenseman.
   "I've received (similar) comments as well and they're flat-out wrong," he continued. "He's not only good offensively, Nick Bailen's a very good defensive player and his plus-minus rating (+10) states that. You don't get plusses for power-play goals."
    O'Grady still out: Marty O'Grady's recurring concussions could keep him out for the remainder of his senior season under a worst-case scenario. He's missed the past six games and while he'll be out again this weekend and almost certainly next week, hopefully he can return in the postseason.
   Appert says that junior winger Matt Tinordi's knee injury isn't as serious "as we initially thought" and hopefully, the Engineers can get a first-round bye, advance to the ECACH semifinals and both he and O'Grady can get back in the lineup.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Appert more demanding as RPI keeps winning?

   TROY -- Seth Appert isn't a perfectionist. Often after his team posts an impressive victory, he can sound like one. He did on Friday night after the Engineers ran their winning ECAC Hockey winning streak to seven with a 5-1 victory over Brown.
   Appert complained about the Engineers "sloppy play" and "poor" backchecking in general and net-front coverage in particular, during the third period. Well, what he said was basically true but the it occurred after the Engineers had increased their 3-0 lead to 5-0 less than five minutes into the period.
   The players felt like it was a satisfying win (Appert most likely didi, too).
   "Yeah, I think we played a pretty solid game, like we have been doing," said defenseman Nick Bailen, who scored his ninth goal of the season during the game. "Obviously, you can't ever play a truly perfect game, there's always going to be mistakes. I just think being up five goals, or four goals, you get relaxed, you kind of take it down a notch. We have to learn how to (prevent) that because we've done that two games in a row now. (Clarkson scored twice last week after RPI led 6-0, then won 6-0.
   "They're going to make plays, they're a team that's not going to quit," Bailen said of Brown. "It's pretty hard to shut out a team and they made a nice play (on Joe Prescott's goal) and we kind of let them get down there ahead of us."
    Big test tonight: Appert knew the Engineers won't be able to get away with sloppy backchecking against Yale tonight. The high-scoring Bulldogs, who are constantly looking to get odd-man breakouts for themselves, aren't likely to give RPI the repeated odd-man breakouts that they did during the Engineers' earlier 6-1 victory at Yale.
   A victory tonight would go a long way toward the Engineers' quest for a top-four finish in the ECACH standings. It would leave them alone in second place, with four games remaining, all against teams they beat in the first meetings.
   It will be a tough game, though, to be sure.
   Same lineup: Tonight's RPI lineup is the same as Friday night's. The forwards are (left-to-right):
   Freshman Jason Kasdorf is in goal and the defensemen pairings are Leonard-Bailen, Leboeuf-Bradley, Curadi-Dolan.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

RPI's Tinordi lost for season; O'Grady still out

    TROY -- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will again be a shorthanded hockey team this weekend when the Engineers host Brown and Yale in a pair important ECAC Hockey games.
    Junior winger Matt Tinordi, injured in last week's 4-3 overtime victory at St. Lawrence, has been declared out for the season with a knee injury.
   Senior center-right winger Marty O'Grady will still be sidelined with concussion symptoms and both senior captain C.J. Lee and junior center Brock Higgs have been ill this week, though both expect to play Friday night.
   Either Andrew Commers or Travis Fulton, both freshmen, will take over for Tinordi.
   Unless Lee and/or Higgs does not play, RPI will still have its top nine scorers among forwards.
   The loss of Tinordi's physical play will be missed, however, especially against Brown, perhaps the ECACH's most physical team. And a healthy O'Grady -- which he and the team haven't had all season -- is a valuable asset.
   "We've had injuries before," said RPI coach Seth Appert, "and we've shown we can overcome adversity. We'll just have to do it again."
   The Engineers, who've won their past six ECACH games, are in a three-way tie for third place with Princeton and Dartmouth, each with a 7-6-3 league record.
   Princeton owns the three-way tie-breaker. Second-place Yale (9-6-1) is four points ahead of the trio and Brown (5-6-5) is just two points back after a 4-1-1 skein.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

O'Grady to be sidelined again

TROY – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coach Seth Appert said today that senior center-right winger Marty O’Grady will again be sidelined this weekend by concussion symptoms as the team heads out on an important road trip to St. Lawrence and Clarkson.
O’Grady took an elbow late in the Mayors’ Cup game against Union on Jan. 26 and did not play in last weekend’s victories over Harvard and Dartmouth.
A healthy O’Grady – he’s either had his play hampered by or been sidelined by various ailments all season – certainly would help the Engineers down the stretch as they attempt to climb up the ECAC Hockey standings over the final eight games.
They’re in a five-way tie for sixth place -- they were in last place just one month ago.
In 15 games, O’Grady, playing hurt in most of them, has one goal and four assists. He and the Engineers certainly expected more of him this season. The London, Ont. native who averaged 7 goals and 7 assists per season over his first three years at RPI.
Two more years for Schroeder looks good: Appert also reiterated his optimism that the NCAA will grant a medical red-shirt year of eligibility for sophomore winger Zach Schroeder.
“We’re (still) going through the process on that,” Appert said. “That doesn’t happen overnight. I fully anticipate that (it) will be awarded from everything we understand. He had a season-ending (wrist) injury in the first-half of the season, he’s played under the (maximum) number of games (permitted) … so we fully anticipate that (the red-shirt) will be granted.”
 Mac back in AHL: The American Hockey League's Houston Aeros have signed former RPI captain and leading scorer Kirk MacDonald to a 10-day tryout.
   MacDonald had played in 43games for Reading of the East Coast Hockey League prior to joining Houston. The 29-year old forward scored 13 goals and added 19 assists for 32 points with the Royals. The Victoria, BC native has played in 266 AHL games, mostly with Providence from 2008-12. For his AHL career, MacDonald has 45 goals and 60 assists for 105 points. The 6-foot-2, 205-pounder started his AHL career for the Albany River Rats (Carolina Hurricanes affiliate) in 2007. 
The Victoria, B.C.native scored 103 points (47 goals-56 assists-103) in 137 games for RPI from 2003-07. He led the team in scoring (12-15-27) his senior year.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Laliberte returns; Engineers need another victory

   TROY -- First off, RPI fans, Jacob Laliberte is well enough to return to the lineup tonight.
   Second, Johnny Rogic has been assessed a one-game suspension for the major checking from behind penalty he incurred at 10:37 of the first period of Friday night's 3-0 victory over Harvard.
   Rogic will serve the suspension tonight.
   Andrew Commers, who replaced Laliberte in the lineup Friday night and played fairly well while centering the fourth line, will fill in for Rogic tonight.
   It's easy to look good when you're playing a bad team, or even a decent team that's been struggling mightily, as Harvard has been. That wasn't the case on Friday night, though; the Engineers looked good because they played well.
   While coach Seth Appert singled out some less than inspirational -- perhaps even a bit lazy -- play during the second period, the Engineers were solid the rest of the way.
   They handled Harvard's forechecking early to the point that Harvard stopped employing it, and forechecked the Crimson with some effectiveness. They smothered Harvard in the neutral zone all evening, won puck battles in the neutral and defensive zones and held the Crimson to just 11 shots on goal.
   It wasn't their best performance of the season but it was one of their better efforts and good enough to run their ECAC Hockey winning streak to three games.
   Tonight, they'll need to be even better tonight against 16th-ranked Dartmouth on Big Red Freakout! Night. And they will likely need to score more than three goals. If the can pull out another one, they'll have only one game remaining against a team (Yale) with a winning league record. If they want to finish ahead of Brown, Clarkson, Cornell, St. Lawrence (as well as Harvard), and perhaps Colgate, and get a decent seed in the preliminary round of the ECACH playoffs, a victory tonight would be a major means to that end.
    Commers nervous, effective: Commers, a center by trade, admitted to being nervous prior to Friday's game. He'd played only a handful of shifts in his two previous games, was filling in for Laliberte, one of the top RPI players, and he only found out he was playing about 1:45 before game time.
  "I had some butterflies going into the game," Commers said afterward, "but after a few shifts, they went away."
   Commers was credited with a shot on goal, but did shoot one a bit wide that would have tested Harvard goaltender Raphael Girard and he finished a couple checks well. He'll be at right wing to start tonight's Freakout! contest on a line centered by Mark Miller, with Greg Burgdoerfer on the left.
   Laliberte returns to his regular 'A' line of recent games -- C.J. Lee at left wing, Ryan Haggerty, who's taken over the team scoring lead (10 goals-8 assists-18 points) on the right.
   Brock Higgs centers for (LW) Mike Zalewski and (RW) Milos Bubela.
   Mark McGowan will be between Matt Neal on the left, Matt Tinordi on the right.
   Can't attend/watch (TWC, Ch. 1/listen to the game, get the best highlights at EdJ Weaver

Friday, February 1, 2013

Laliberte out of lineup tonight

   TROY -- In what is an absolute must-win for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, tonight's game vs. last-place Harvard just got a little tougher.
    Second-leader scorer Jacob Laliberte became ill just before warmups and was pulled from the lineup. He was replaced by freshman center Andrew Commers, who has just two games of college experience.
   Senior winger Marty O'Grady, two took an elbow in the head last week, is also sidelined.
   The Engineers won their two previous ECAC Hockey games to move to 3-6-3 in the league, and to have a legitimate shot at moving up three slots in the league standings, will almost certainly need to win tonight against a Harvard team that has won just one game since its 4-0 victory over RPI on Nov. 11 and is 3-11-0 in league games, 5-13-1 overall.
    Surprisingly, freshman center Kyle Criscuolo returns from an injury for the Crimson after missing the past 10 games.
    Laliberte (7 goals-10 assists-17 points) was to have centered a line with C.J. Lee at left wing and leading scorer Ryan Haggerty (10-8-18) on the right.
   Laliberte will be replaced on that line by Brock Higgs or Mark McGowan.
   Higgs was slated to center for LW Mike Zalewski and RW Milos Bubela, McGowan was set to be between assists leader Matt Neal (4-12-16) on the left and Matt Tinordi.
   The fourth line was Johnny Rogic at left wing, Mark Miller at center and Greg Burgdoerfer on the right. Miller could be re-united with Zalewski and Bubela, as the trio enjoyed some success when skating together six-eight weeks ago.