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Playoff Run is On for Engineers

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 24, 2011

TROY - Step One completed.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, needing to put together some victories, has begun doing so - and begun its playoff run.

The first ECAC Hockey weekend sweep of the season, a modest three-game winning streak, over the .500 mark at 7-5-0. Amidst several some non-league games mixed in, Rensselaer has actually won four of its past five ECACH contests.

They've won four of their past five league games and have moved up three notches in the standings to fifth place.

What's next for the Engineers?

Well, Big Red Freakout! Night, against the nation's No. 1 team is coming up next weekend.

More important, the Engineers just need to keep playing the way they have been, and score a few more goals, if possible.

Last weekend's 3-2 victory over Harvard and 5-1 pounding of Dartmouth, with their season success goals on line, showed that the Engineers are poised and focused for the stretch run, that they don't want to settle for sixth or fifth place.

The Engineers were OK during the tight victory over a win-starved Harvard, one of those "just well enough" type triumphs.

The rout of Dartmouth was categorically outstanding; arguably their best performances of the season.

It had to be a big confidence booster for the team, right?

Well, to a point - a very discernable point.

"Very successful weekend," Chase Polacek said. "A big weekend sweep."

And the team's confidence level?

"Well, we played very well but we still have a lot of things to work on," Polacek said. "Last weekend, we didn't play as well as we needed to and we only got one win, so there are still some things we need to (improve) and coming into these last (five) weekends we have to play more consistently than we like we did (Saturday) and the (good) results will come."

All four lines contribute: Nothing pleases coaches (or centers) more than getting at least one goal from all four lines.

The Engineers nearly did that in the Dartmouth game.

Brock Higgs' second line didn't score per se but Higgs scored a 5-on-3 power play while on the ice with Polacek and Tyler Helfrich.

Top line center Polacek netted his 14th goal of the season.

The fourth line, centered by freshman Johnny Rogic, got the first goal, scored by Joel Malchuk, who moved to right wing for the game.

And Marty O'Grady's line had a pair of goals.

Alex Angers-Goulet, the left winger on O'Grady's third line, tallied the fourth goal and O'Grady added the fifth himself, although Malchuk was on the ice with him and made the perfect pass from behind the net after stealing the puck from goaltender Jody O'Neill.

Malchuk probably had time to swing a few steps wide to get in front of the net and get off a shot before O'Neill got back into position but he fired the puck to O'Grady slicing down the slot instead.

"Yeah, he was very unselfish on that play," said O'Grady, who enjoyed his first two-point game since Oct. 22.

Malchuk, as mentioned, also had one goal, one assist.

"It was a fun game," Malchuk said. "It's always fun when you're rolling four lines out there and (all four) are contributing. You gain more momentum that way and you just feed off each other. You know the next guys coming on the ice are going to do the same and it's just a great way to build momentum and confidence."

Higgs goal a thing of beauty: Many RPI backers said the Dartmouth game was RPI's best of the season.

Well, Higgs' power-play goal was among the prettiest of the season.

Defenseman Nick Bailen fired the puck to Tyler Helfrich in the middle of the right circle, who fired to Polacek in the lower left circle and he saw Higgs standing alone just outside the right side of the goalcrease; the ole, proverbial tic-tac-toe play.

"Yeah, it was unbelievable," Higgs said. "I was almost a little shocked myself at the passing on that play. The way Bails and Tyler and Chase moved the puck on that play was amazing, stick blade to stick blade. I almost panicked a little when it got to me. And I had a whole net to shoot at."

The Engineers' three-game league winning streak is just their second during the regular season under Appert. If they, over the remaining 10 games, can run that to something like 9-3-1, they will almost certainly finish among the top four.

Appert doesn't look relate to that much.

"We don't look at things like (streaks), because (to do so) you have to look ahead and our focus has to be one game at a time.

"I'm always reminded," Appert continued, "of the first time the Patriots won the Super Bowl. They said, 'we didn't win 14 games in a row, we won one game 14 times.' And that has to be our focus."

Actually, it was the Pats' second Super Bowl championship season (2003) and their Super Bowl victory over the Carolina Panthers was their 15th straight triumph. Pro Bowl linebacker Tedy Bruschi made the statement prior to the Super Bowl.

York feeling good - and appreciative: Junior goalie Allen York allowed only three goals all weekend, one against Harvard on which he gave away the puck behind the net and couldn't get back and the other against Harvard on a 5-on-3 power play.

He was asked if he's at the top of his game right now.

"Close," he said. "I'd say our team is at the top of its game defensively. I thought (vs. Dartmouth) we were outstanding. (Against Harvard) we did it in different ways, like blocking shots. My job this weekend was easy. It should have been a one-goal weekend but I'm very thankful for my D-corps right now."

York improved his saves percentage slightly to 92.7 and lowered his goals against average to 1.94.

"Fun to watch": Nothing annoys senior captain John Kennedy more than having to sit out a game. A severely sore ankle suffered late in the Harvard game forced him to miss the Dartmouth game the following day.

He enjoyed what he saw, however.

"It was great to watch," he said. "We've been trying hard to put together 60 solid minutes, especially in the second half of the season. We did (Saturday) and it was great to see."

At this point, Kennedy's status for next weekend is questionable.