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Engineers Return to ECAC Cellar

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, February 6, 2012

TROY - A veteran media member pointed out to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey coach Seth Appert, after the Engineers were whipped 8-3 by Colgate on Saturday night, that the Engineers "took a step back" in the game.

They'd been 4-2-2 in their previous eight games following a six-game losing streak.

Well, it was more like Colgate right winger Austin Smith drove them back - many steps - one night after the Engineers had looked so good in rallying back for a 2-2 tie against Cornell.

Smith was outstanding with four goals but his linemates and the rest of the Raiders deserve credit, too. They consistently beat the Engineers in each facet of the game.

To be sure, Rensselaer played poorly for the first 30 minutes of the game and mediocre for the rest of the game, but the first period was a case of a better team - a much bigger team with just as much speed - simply pushing the Engineers around.

Appert said the game, the first period especially, should serve as a lesson to the Engineers when they play a deep, quality team such as Colgate, they need to be mentally sharp and execute well.

They didn't on Saturday night and Smith and the Raiders jumped on them.

So, just one week after Rensselaer whipped St. Lawrence, 4-0 to escape the ECAC Hockey basement, and the Saints were routed 6-0 at Union, RPI is firmly back in last place.

St. Lawrence's victories at Yale and Brown moved the Saints to 6-9-1 in the league and into 10th place. Brown, losing twice, fell into 11th at 5-9-2, two points ahead of the 4-10-2 Engineers.

Overall, RPI is 7-19-2 and the next defeat will give the program its third 20-loss regular season in five years.

In the two previous seasons, Appert's first and Dan Fridgen's last, they were a combined 24-35-14 - 24 wins in 73 games.

These records cause RPI fans to assert that the Institute isn't totally committed to returning the hockey program to the prominence of three decades ago.

The Engineers have played second-place Cornell and fourth-place Harvard once each this season, skating to a 2-2 tie in each.

Against the other teams currently among the ECACH's top five, Rensselaer's results have been dismal.

The Engineers have played league-leading Union three times, dropped all three by a combined score of 15-4.

They're 0-2-0 against fifth-place Clarkson, being outscored 6-3. The 8-3 drubbing at the hands of third-place Colgate is fresh in the minds of Engineers fans.

That's 0-6-0 against three of the top five teams, the ones with the deepest array of talented forwards, by a combined score of 29-10.

Worse, RPI ends the regular season at Colgate and Cornell.

Against those schools, premier ECACH programs over the decades, Rensselaer has won at an alarming infrequency.

The Engineers are 4-22-4 against Cornell since 2000 and 5-18-1 against Colgate since 2002. That's nine victories in 54 games - 9 of 54!

That's not competitive, regardless of how many losses were close, how many one-goal defeats are included.

Cullen not pleased: As reported often, Cullen had just one point through his first 18 games this season.

In four games since, he has two goals and four assists.

When asked if he's suddenly found some sort of groove, he more or less dismissed the suggestion.

"It's hard to say," he said. "After a game like that, if you're ever in a groove. We needed a better effort ... this was bad."

Cullen's sudden contributions to the offense, though, can only be a good thing, right?

"Yeah, I guess," he said. "It's not just me, though. It's Maley (Malchuk) and (Mike) Bergin, guys winning puck battles, it's (Mark) McGowan and Schroeder (assisting on his goal vs. St. Lawrence), it's everyone doing his job. And when everyone's doing that, we're pretty successful but when we deviate from that, it doesn't work very well."

Called off the dogs: Colgate had a 5-on-3 power play for 1:01 early in the third, with the score still only 5-1, but Colgate coach Don Vaughn didn't send out Smith and the rest of the first power-play unit for any of it. He didn't use the second unit, either.

Sensing his club had the game well in hand, even though over 15 minutes remained, Vaughn simply used his fourth forward line intact for the two-man advantage.

It was a class move, typical of Vaughn throughout the years.

And after Smith's fourth goal made the score 7-1 with 12:24 remaining - his 30th goal of the season - the ECACH's top scorer skated just two more shifts, sitting out most of the final eight and one-half minutes.

"We have too much respect for Seth and his program (to do otherwise)," Vaughn said.

Free 5-on-3: With 2:05 remaining in the game Saturday night, Colgate's Austin Mayer ran an RPI player into the boards for a boarding penalty. His linemate, Robbie Bourdon, for some reason, screamed at an official. He drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Then RPI's Greg Burgdoerfer, getting payback for a teammate, cross-checked Mayer in the back as the Colgate centerman was headed to the penalty box. Burgdoerfer then took a seat in the RPI penalty box.

He was then told to get out, no infraction had been cited on him. His obvious crosscheck, evidently, was a 'freebie.'

That gave RPI a full, two-minute 5-on-3 power play, if needed.

Cullen took a pass from Bergin and fired it into the net 1:06 later.

Was the generous 5-on-3 employed to make the final score look a bit better?