Friday, March 13, 2009

Color Coded

Here we go. RPI beat the Big Green and now are matched up against the Big Red. The last game Cornell played was waaaaay back in February 28th (an OT winner over Brown). Could RPI be meeting a slumping Red much like they met a slumping Green? Well, after a stellar January, Cornell went 4-4 in February and 5-6-1 since January 23rd.

Sure that rink in Ithaca (its GORgeous!) is loud and uninviting. But now RPI must be feeling like its playing with house money. Starting a bunch of freshmen, seeing them score, led by a Frosh goaltender AND a sweep??? I think they are playing loose and won't be indimidated by Cornell or their fans. To keep the lucky streak going, I will pick Cornell this weekend to win in 3 but obviously, I am hoping for a different result.

USCHO's exhaustive roundup.

No. 11 Rensselaer @ No. 2 Cornell

The basics: Cornell swept the series, 3-0 and 4-1. Freshman defenseman Mike Bergin is out for the year, and hasn’t played since early December. Senior forward Kurt Colling was out last weekend, but is probable to play this weekend. Sophomore forward Joe Devin hasn’t played in the Big Red’s last three games, and Evan Barlow and Joe Scali didn’t skate in the season finale at Brown. Forward Tyler Roeszler hasn’t laced up since early February, but none of these are confirmed injuries: head coach Mike Schafer was unavailable for comment, so the absences are of unknown significance.

Rensselaer is perhaps two wins away from total absolution. Following a horrific regular season, the Engineers finally clicked in a meaningful and tangible way by edging Dartmouth out of the tournament by 3-2 (ot) and 3-1 scores. It was RPI’s first six-goal weekend since the North Country split eight weeks back, and also marked the fewest goals allowed in a weekend since the second week in January (also three). The much-maligned power play failed to show up again, but the penalty kill held the Big Green to one-for-seven and Allen York stopped 58 shots in his first taste of NCAA postseason.

Cornell flew right through mid-January, by playing Cornell hockey and winning Cornell wins. The offense was good for three or four goals a game, Ben Scrivens and the bruising defense rarely surrendered more than one or two, and life was good in Ithaca. But since Yale tipped the Big Red 4-3 at Lynah on January 23, things have seemed a little out-of-whack for the Red. The team is 5-6-1 down the stretch and was pressed into four overtime games (in which it went 2-1-1). The defense allowed two four-goal games and a fiver in its last six, but the scoring has prevented the situation from escalating into a full-on meltdown. The power play has been a big reassurance for Schafer and the Big Red, clicking along at nearly 22 percent in league play. The PK is also solid, functioning at a roughly 88 percent kill rate.

Following a few weeks of consistent efforts and dramatically improved quality of play, RPI suddenly dropped a couple of eminently winnable games. Just as coach Seth Appert began to worry about how much more his team could take, the Engineers pulled together through exceptional leadership and resilient pride.

“We really lost our belief in the month of February,” began Rensselaer head coach Seth Appert. The coach praised captain Matt Angers-Goulet for successfully buoying the troops during tough times though. “I think a lot of teams going through some of the struggles we went through would have very little spirit or life left in them this week,” he said after complimenting A-G’s hard work.

Last weekend, RPI finally saw some dividends from its months of hard work … and this was no chump change, either.

“We played very good playoff-style hockey: blocking shots, finishing checks, taking care of the puck, knocking up a lot of odd-man rushes — things of that nature — and staying out of the penalty box,” praised the coach, who counted 55 blocked shots in two games against Dartmouth, “and that’s a good recipe for success,” he said.

The sweep wasn’t a product of finally being on the right side of what had been an endless string of unlucky bounces, Appert proclaimed. Bounces, he said, aren’t really in his vocabulary.

“I’m not a big believer in bounces. I just don’t believe in ‘em,” he stated. “I think that you get what you earn, and our lack of success in the season wasn’t because of bad bounces, and our success this weekend wasn’t because of good bounces. It was because of hard work. You earn everything you get, nobody gives you anything. I’m a firm believer in that in hockey, and also in life.”

“We played with a little more determination and collective will than we did throughout the season,” he assessed. Now that his charges know what it feels like to earn a win, Appert believes they can avoid making the little-yet-critical errors that accumulate into losses. “When you lose a lot of close games, sometimes those little things can be the difference.”

“I think we played a similar style (to how we’d been playing), but I just think we did everything a little bit better and perhaps with a little bit more urgency and passion than we have in the regular season.”

As for Cornell, the Engineers have learned one thing for certain from their two defeats at the hands of the Big Red: don’t fall behind.

“They’re a tough team to play from behind against. That’s their comfort level, and they’re good at it, they’re good defensively. They just don’t give you a lot of opportunities to play from behind,” the coach stressed, further mentioning how Cornell had built early and ultimately insurmountable leads against RPI during the regular season.

For the ‘Tute to triumph, not only will it have to play with poise, determination and confidence, but with a bit of a chip on its shoulder as well.

“We’re going to be aggressive because that’s who we are; that’s when we play our best,” said Appert. “We’re going to be physical, we’re gonna go after them, and we’re going to play the style that we have to play when we’ve had success this season, and that we played with at Dartmouth last weekend.”

It’s crucial to keep the Red off the scoreboard early, the coach believes, as the Red defense can be positively punishing when allowed to dictate the play. The visitors will have to play tight defense, but also pay the price in the offensive zone by getting into Scrivens’ part of the ice.

“I think we’re willing and ready, and have the understanding of that’s where you need to get at this time of the year no matter who you’re playing, and probably even moreso against Cornell.”

Do the upstart Engineers have another upset in ‘em? Puckman Nation is eagerly waiting to distribute some custom-made “Get Out of a Bad Season Free” cards if they do.

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