Saturday, March 2, 2013

Engineers answer call big time; Live chat Sunday at 5

   TROY -- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's effort  on Friday night was as good as the Engineers have put forth all season.
    At a time when they needed it most, the were outstanding throughtout in their 5-0 victory over rival Clarkson. Not only did  the Engineers gain their first preliminary-round bye since ECAC Hockey opened the playoffs to all 12 teams in 2003, they also nailed down second place in the league.
   That's an amazing accomplishment -- and I mean a dictionary definition of amazing -- for a team that was in last place when it took the ice against Colgate on Jan. 18. January 18. Six weeks ago -- from 12th to clinching second with a game remaining.
    Regardless of what happens in tonight's game against St. Lawrence or how well (or not) the Engineers do in the postseason,  that meteoric shot up the standings is something for which they should draw pride all summer long.
   Rensselaer's forechecking in particular and physical play in general during the first eight minutes of the game set the tone. They broke down the Golden Knights with their forechecking and scored twice, with 4:55 and 43 seconds remaining in the first period. When freshman left winger Mike Zalewski scored his second goal of the game (and he had set up another score) just 1:31 into the second period, the Golden Knights were a beaten team.
   They didn't quit by any means but they seemed to realize that this was RPI's night.
   Rensselaer coach Seth Appert commented on the importance for a strong start for the Engineers -- and their effective forechecking.
   "We thought the first period was absolutely critical knowing how good they were coming out," Appert said, "and they did. They came out physical, they came out aggressive and we needed to try to plant some seeds of doubts in their mind that we even had more in us than we showed the last time we played them (RPI jumped to a 3-0 lead in 16:50 en route to a 6-2 win), in terms of our physical play, not skill, not goals, in terms of our will to be a nasty, physical hockey team and I thought our forwards did a real job puck hunting and finishing checks.
  "And I thought the (Brock) Higgs line (Zalewski, Milos Bubela) and the (Mark) Miller line (Johnny Rogic, Travis Fulton) really pestered them a lot in the first period and I liked that we stayed with it."
   Appert said another factor was the Engineers' hunger "at their net front.
   "If you look at the goals we scored and they were all on top of the crease, or shots from the (far) perimeter where we had multiple people on top of their goalie screening him. So, I thought our hunger at the net front resulted in us having success offensively."
   Zalewski makes big plays: Zalewski set up the first goal of the game, with a pretty behind-the-back pass to Milos Bubela, who was standing a few feet outside the crease on the right side.
   Appert referred to the pass as "a real high-end play" and Zalewski said he enjoyed it as much as the two goals he scored later.
   He rifled a blast from the right circle past goaltender Greg Lewis, then tapped the puck out of Lewis' glove and popped it in from two feet away.
   The three points gave Zalewski nine goals, nine assists for 18 points, good for sixth on the team in scoring. Fellow freshman and linemate Bubela is fifth at 8-11-19.
   Zalewski spoke about being recruited by Clarkson, where his brother Steve starred before signing with the New Jersey Devils and for the Albany farm club.
  He said it wasn't a case of him choosing RPI over Clarkson per se.
   "I spoke with them (Clarkson) early," he said. "I really get a good response and that was kind of it, which I was fine with. And I wasn't too excited about playing in my brother's shadow. I'm just happy ti have come here and pave my way."
   Keep the puck out of the net: With freshman sensation Jason Kasdorf doing most of the goaltending work, RPI has allowed just 24 goals in their past 15 ECACH games. Keep in mind, that Cornell scored four or those goals in a 4-1 victory, the only game RPI has lost among its past 11 league games. And, Princeton scored a pair of empty-net goals in the closing minutes after RPI had held the Tigers to just nine shots on goal in over 58 minutes.
   Take away those two games, and its 16 goals permitted in 13 games, 1.23 goals allowed per game.
   Twenty-four in 15 games -- 1.60 per game -- is also outstanding. That mark will win plenty of hockey games at any level. Rensselaer went 11-2-2 in those 15 games.
   Live chat Sunday: Let's talk about the Engineers' weekend, the winning skein, who you'd not want to see match up with the Engineers in the playoffs quarterfinals and RPI hockey in general Sunday at 5 p.m. Log on to


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