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RPI Lets Gophers Out of Hole

By Ben Goessling

Albany Times Union, October 13, 2007

ST. PAUL, Minn. - There are two ways of looking at RPI's 4-3 loss to Minnesota on Friday night: The optimist would hold up the Engineers' dominance over the first two periods, their two-goal advantage over the Gophers in 5-on-5 play and see signs of progress for a team coming off a 10-18-8 season.

But the pessimist - or maybe the realist - would point to Minnesota's four-goal surge in the game's last 24 minutes, three of them coming on power plays, and conclude the Engineers missed a chance for a major upset.

Down 3-0 late in the second period, Minnesota roared back to beat RPI 4-3 in the first round of the IceBreaker Invitational at the Xcel Energy Center.

"I'll bet we out-chanced them 2-to-1 in 5-on-5," coach Seth Appert said. "But the power plays are where they're special."

The win gave Gophers coach Don Lucia 500 for his career, but it came tougher than anyone expected.

RPI (1-1) controlled the game from the outset, employing the kind of aggressive forecheck the Gophers are known to struggle with. In this case, it caused six first-period Gophers turnovers and helped generate consistent pressure on goaltender Jeff Frazee.

"We knew they've had trouble with a couple East Coast teams," forward Chase Polacek said. "We wanted to get on them right away."

They did. The Engineers went up 1-0 at 9:36 in the first when Matt Angers-Goulet lifted Tyler Helfrich's pass over Frazee.

The margin was two with 8:11 left in the second period when Polacek, one of RPI's three Minnesota natives, redirected high school teammate Bryan Brutlag's shot from the point. And RPI added another goal less than three minutes later when Andrew Lord drove to the slot and backhanded a shot past Frazee.

Minnesota (1-0) got within two on a slick one-timer through the crease from Kyle Okposo to Ryan Stoa with 3:36 left in the second. That seemed to energize the fifth-ranked Gophers, who had managed just five shots in the period to that point.

They scored on a 4-on-4 situation at 4:32 in the third period, with Blake Wheeler taking a pass from Derek Peltier and waiting for Mathias Lange to commit low before he slipped the puck by.

Minnesota was within one, and most of the 14,127 fans seemed to sense what was coming.

Minnesota went on another power play with less than 10 minutes left, posting a man next to Lange almost at will. Okposo took the puck behind the net, and found Evan Kaufmann rushing in. Kaufmann tied the game with 9:08 left.

The most crushing blow to the Engineers' chances came when Lord got a five-minute major and was ejected for checking from behind with 4:29 left.

"They made the call they thought was proper," Appert said. He noted the forward "is one of our best penalty killers."

RPI held off Minnesota for the first three minutes of the power play, but with the Engineers' penalty killers tiring in their 11th minute of third-period work, the Gophers again got to the net.

On almost an exact replay of the game-tying goal, Stoa moved out from behind the net to Lange's right and hit Okposo cruising toward the net. The sophomore hit the game winner with 1:11 left.

The Engineers play second-ranked Boston College at 5:30 p.m. Saturday in the third-place game.