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Union Haunted by Bad Penalties

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, February 28, 2007

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Union are on the road for the first round of the ECACHL tournament, and the coaches and players on both teams can look back at several reasons why they didn't get home ice.

RPI finished in a three-way tie for eighth with Colgate and Yale. The Engineers won a tiebreaker with Yale, but lost one to Colgate. That gave the Raiders the eighth seed, and the final home-ice spot, and they will host ninth-seeded RPI.

Union ended up in last place for the first time since the 1998-99 season, but was only two points away from home ice. The Dutchmen had a chance to finish as high as ninth, but Saturday's 3-1 loss to Brown, coupled with Yale's 4-3 win at RPI, put the Dutchmen at the bottom of the standings and a date with Quinnipiac.

There are many issues that RPI and Union must address before Friday. But each team has one major problem that has to be straightened out if they want to advance to next weekend's quarterfinals.

We will start with the Dutchmen. Their problem all year long has been taking bad penalties.

"Going into Quinnipiac with a power play that's at 19 percent, we cannot take any poor penalties," Union coach Nate Leaman said.

It seems like in every game, the Dutchmen don't think, and put themselves in a hole. Saturday's game was a prime example. Ten seconds after he served a crosschecking penalty, defenseman Mike Wakita was back in the penalty box for charging. Forward Matt Cook was ejected in the third period for a major hitting-from-behind penalty.

At least Cook can play Friday. Forward Jason Walters can't. He got a game disqualification and a one-game suspension for kicking goalie Mark Sibbald in the second period.

"I thought it was a good call," Leaman said.

The bad penalties have put a strain on the Dutchmen's penalty kill. Although Union ranked eighth in the league at 81 percent, Leaman said it hasn't been terrific.

"This is the one year where we've struggled on the kill," Leaman said. "We've done great on the power play, but we haven't done well on the kill. It's a situation where, a lot of times, we're not being smart. We know we struggle on the kill a little bit. For us to go out and take some of the penalties that we have, we have certain guys that are putting themselves ahead of the team in wanting to win the games."

"In this league, where two points separated eighth from 12th, it hurt us."

For the Engineers, their problem has been inconsistent goaltending.

Neither Mathias Lange nor Jordan Alford has emerged as the No. 1 goalie. Lange, who was a unanimous all-rookie team pick last season, is 5-10-6 with a 3.57 goals-against average and a .877 save percentage. Alford is 5-6-2 with a 3.07 GAA and a .893 save percentage.

Over the last three weekends, RPI coach Seth Appert has pulled his starting goalie three times. Lange was taken out of Saturday's game with 46.6 seconds left in the first period after allowing two longrange goals. He wasn't screened on either goal.

"Those two goals were poor goals," Appert said. "Mathias knows that. That's tough to recover from when you give up two perimeter, floating-type shots."

Pulling a goalie that late in a period seemed unusual. But Appert needed to do it rather than wait until the start of the second period.

"It's disheartening on the bench," Appert said. "There's nothing wrong with giving up goals. It's the type of goals [allowed] that's the difference between great goalies and just good goalies, and also how it affects the team."

PREDICTIONS

Here's my predictions for the first round of the ECACHL tournament.

No. 12 Union at No. 5 Quinnipiac: After four straight homeice appearances, and no series wins to show for it, Union seeks its fortunes on the road.

Quinnipiac has beaten the Dutchmen three times in three different buildings - 8-5 in the Governor's Cup third-place game Oct. 29 at the Times Union Center, 8-2 at Messa Rink five days later and 4-2 Dec. 9 at Northford Ice Pavilion.

Now, the Bobcats host their first ECACHL playoff series at the beautiful, new TD Banknorth Center in Hamden, Conn. However, the Bobcats are only 4-3-1 since moving into the building on Jan. 28, and just one of those victories came against an ECACHL team.

If the Dutchmen are to win this series, they have to avoid bad penalties. Eight of Quinnipiac's 22 goals against Union have come on the power play.

The Dutchmen put themselves in a bad situation by finishing last. It won't get better this weekend for Union, which has yet to win a playoff series in nine tries. Quinnipiac wins, 4-1 and 5-3.

No. 9 RPI at No. 8 Colgate: Another matchup involving teams that played in the Governor's Cup, with RPI pulling out a 2-1 victory on Dan Peace's goal with 48.9 seconds left in the third period.

That set the tone for the league games between the two teams - tight checking, little margin for error and close games. Both of those contests ended up, 3-2, in favor of the home teams. But both teams had to overcome 2-0 deficits to win.

Colgate could be considered the most disappointing team in the league. The Raiders, who shared last season's regular-season title with Dartmouth, were picked to finish first this season. But inconsistent play dropped them down the standings. A 2-7 finish didn't help.

RPI must get steady goaltending from Alford and Lange, and it also must not allow short-handed goals. The Engineers have allowed 12, tied for the most nationally, with Western Michigan.

This series will go the distance. For the first time since 2004, RPI advances. RPI wins, 2-1, 2-3 and 3-1.

No. 11 Brown at No. 6 Princeton: This could be the most exciting first-round matchup because these two teams can run and gun, which goes against the norm of tight-checking playoff hockey.

Brown scored six goals against Harvard last Saturday, and got five against RPI on Friday. Princeton blitzed Clarkson for seven on Friday, and added four against St. Lawrence on Saturday.

It's going to be fun. The red light will be turned on often by the goal judge. Princeton wins, 7-5 and 6-3.

No. 10 Yale at No. 7 Harvard:

Harvard is the defending ECACHL tournament champion. However, the Crimson have not played like it this year, although they did beat Colgate and Cornell at home over the weekend.

The Bulldogs have had the Crimson's number this season, sweeping the two-game series by a combined 10-3 score. Yale beat Harvard, 5-1, two weeks ago in New Haven, Conn.

But this is Harvard's time of year. It has been to the title game five straight years, and knows the pressures of playoff hockey. It will take three games, but the Crimson get it done. Harvard wins, 3-1, 2-4, 4-3.

SERIES ON WEB

The RPI-Colgate series will be available on the Internet for a cost of $9.95.

The Web site address is http:// secure.internetconsult.com/colgate/login.aspx.

DANIEL A FINALIST

RPI senior forward Sarah Daniel is a finalist for the inaugural ECACHL Student-Athlete of the Year Award. A minimum gradepoint average of 3.5 is required to be nominated.

Daniel has a 3.91 GPA with a dual major, aeronautical engineering and mechanical engineering. She's been named to the dean's list in every semester. She had 11 goals and seven assists in 35 games this season, and 52 goals and 39 assists in 115 career games.

The other finalists are Colgate's Tara French and Yale's Kelsey Johnson. The winner will be announced Friday.