ECAC Hockey Journal: Crunch time for RPI

by Phil Perry

If the Engineers have crunched the numbers, then they already know. Right now, RPI is out of the top four in ECAC, meaning they wouldn’t get a bye for the first round of the conference tournament if the standings were to hold.

For a team that was voted the No. 10 team in the country in both polls this week, that would prove to be a more difficult road to the ECAC title than they would like.

With two wins last weekend, they are just one point behind Princeton (12-6-1, 7-4-1) and Dartmouth (11-6-2, 7-4-1) for third place in the conference and they seem primed to continue their climb to the ECAC top four.

Rensselaeris as hot as it’s been all season, in the middle of a three-game winning streak, and ready to play two games at home, where their best player shines brightest.

Senior center Chase Polacek is making a case to repeat as ECAC Player of the Year with 34 points in 24 games, including nine goals and 11 assists in 11 games at the Houston Field House. He had both game-winning goals last weekend against Harvard (Engineers won, 3-2) and Dartmourth (5-1) and leads the country with six game-winners.

The bad news? RPI will see two tough conference foes this weekend in Brown and No. 1 Yale.

Once again, Polacek’s production will be key if RPI (15-6-3, 9-6-3) hopes to gain any ground. In the Engineers’ six losses this season, he has been held to just one assist.

After this weekend, there is one month of regular-season competition for Rensselaerto improve its standing. Polacek, a management major, and the Engineers don’t need advanced mathematics to know, it will soon be crunch time.

NEHJ Player to Watch

Keith Kinkaid, soph., Union

Union’s sophomore goalie is the centerpiece of one of the nation’s best defenses. His goals-against average is a miniscule 1.92, and he’s helped Union to be the No. 2 team in goals-against (2.04) in the country.He’ll be put to the test Friday against college hockey’s highest-scoring team, Yale (4.79 goals per game). If Kinkaid and No. 13/12 Union can catch the Bulldogs napping on the road or looking ahead to their game with No. 10 RPI on Saturday, Union could steal a game and gain ground on Yale for the top spot in the conference.

Game to watch

Cornell at No. 18 Dartmouth, Saturday

This should be one of the most entertaining games of the weekend, especially for those hailing from the Bay State. Two Massachusetts stars will square off when Cornell’s Joe Devin (Scituate, Mass.) will try to score on Dartmouth goalie James Mello (Rehoboth, Mass.). Devin, a senior forward, has been a point-per-game player since the Big Red shifted lines six games ago. Mello (2.08 goals-against average, .934 save percentage) continues to be outstanding in net and is looking to improve on his 9-3-2 record.

Around ECAC Hockey

Brown

Junior forward Jack Maclellan has 29 points in 19 games and is the biggest reason Brown is hovering close to .500 one season after finishing 13-20-4. The Bears have beaten the likes of Yale, Boston University and RPI this season.

Clarkson

With a game in hand on most teams in the league, the Golden Knights are still just two points out of a tie for third place. They’ll try to move up the ranks as they host games against Quinnipiac and Princeton this weekend.

Colgate

Brian Day (Danvers, Mass.) continues to rack up the career milestones in 2011. After becoming the 48th player in school history to reach 100 points, he’s just two assists away from becoming the 30th player in school history to have 50 goals and 50 assists. Colgate is still looking for its first conference win.

Cornell

Cornell is unbeaten in five of its last six games and continues to sport one of the country’s best penalty-killing units. They are successful 87.8 percent of the time for fourth best in the nation.

Dartmouth

The Big Green are the ninth-best scoring team in the country, and they do it with multiple weapons. Their leading scorer is senior forward Scott Fleming with 22 points. Seniors Adam Estoclet and Matt Reber are tied for second on the team with 17 points.

Harvard

The Crimson have lost seven straight. On the bright side, they play Colgate on Friday. Colgate is without a win in its last 11 games.

Princeton

The Tigers haven’t played a conference road game since the middle of November and they’ve taken advantage. They are 7-1-1 in their last nine.

Quinnipiac

Twin freshmen forwards Connor and Kellen Jones were reunited on a line with juniors linemate and current Bobcats teammate Scott Zurevinski after a short hiatus.Together they had five points in Quinnipiac’s win over the USA U18 team last weekend, 4-2.

Union

Possibly the most intriguing matchup of the weekend will be when Union takes on Yale on Friday — a classic offense-vs.-defense battle. The teams were ranked similarly in those categories when they met earlier in the season. Yale won handily, 5-0.

St. Lawrence

St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh expects to be on duty Friday against Princeton. He missed the team’s last two games with what St. Lawrence called complications from throat surgery.

Rensselaer

Coincidence? The Engineers are 6-2 since senior captain John Kennedy returned from a broken hand and finger.

Yale

If you thought Yale’s run of success might run out when it graduated players such as seniors Broc Little and Denny Kearney, not so fast. It looks like the Bulldogs have a strong young crop of underclassmen, highlighted by freshman forward Kenny Agostino, who scored three of his team’s nine goals last weekend. He’s fifth among ECAC freshman in scoring during league play.

Phil Perry can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com