Weekend preview: home at last

Last Saturday’s loss to Cornell marked the seventh and final game of the longest road trip of the season for the men. They’ll return to Appleton Arena this weekend, hosting RPI and Union. RPI has struggled this season, but Union is back in form after a few seasons outside the top-4 in the ECAC. 

Except for their surprising win over Harvard a few weeks ago, RPI has very little to be happy about this season. They sit at 4-21-3, with a 2-11-0 record in ECAC play, putting them dead last in the conference and second-to-last in the PairWise. 

Before beating the Crimson on January 13th, the Engineers had last won on November 26 against fledgling Arizona State, in just their second year of existence as a D-1 program. Their others wins have come against Brown (11th in the ECAC) and RIT.

 They aren’t scoring, except for the power play, which is actually pretty good at 19.1%. Evan Tironese, who missed most of last year and was supposed to be the difference maker for RPI this season, has played well with 22 points in 24 games, and both Riley Bourbonnais and Jacob Hayhurst are having decent seasons in terms of production, but beyond that, it’s been dismal in Troy. 

Cam Hackett’s play last season while Jason Kasdorf lead many to assume he was ready to take the reigns once Kasdorf graduated, but this season has been anything but the case. Now suspended indefinitely by the team, Hackett had posted a 2-8-0 record with a 3.89 GAA and an .892 save percentage. RPI is marginally better with Chase Perry in net. Overall, the team concedes nearly 4 goals per game while barely managing two themselves. They take plenty of penalties, and aren’t all that good at killing them. 

The key for the Saints to take this game is to score first. When their opponent gets the first goal, RPI is 2-10-0 and when trailing after the first period, the Engineers have failed to grab a single point this season, going 0-11-0. Scoring the first goal will put the Saints in the driver seat against a team that has shown it can’t play from behind. This should be an easy game for the Saints, who won the first matchup this year by a 3-1 score. 

Union is a different story. Mike Vecchione has found his form, and its lead him to the top of the list for Hobey Baker candidates. He’s carried his linemates to consideration as well, as Spencer Foo is tied with Vecchione at 41 points, but after that duo, production drops off a bit for Union. 

Sebastien Vidmar is third on the team with 26 points, followed by Brett Supinski and Jeff Taylor at 22 and 20 points respectively. Essentially, Union has two really good lines, and not a ton of depth beyond that. They still score almost four goals a game, but don’t have a great power play. In fact, its marginally better than the Saints and the Saints have the better penalty kill, giving SLU the special teams edge in a high-stakes game, the kind that can sometimes lead to more time on the PP and PK.  

Statistically the Saints also have the better defense, allowing roughly .6 fewer goals per game than the Dutchmen. They key for SLU is to limit the chances for the Vecchione line. Not completely eliminate him for the scoresheet, but limit him. If the Saints can keep him from making the explosive plays, and force him to play at their speed, he won’t be able to take over the game. 

The Saints also have to move the puck quickly from the defense to the forwards when breaking the puck out. Union is faster than the Saints, but nobody can outskate the puck when its moving quickly. Smart, fast passes will keep Union on their heels and allow the Saints to dictate possession. 

The two points on the line on Saturday could end up being the difference between first and second place in the ECAC come the end of the regular season. Right now, SLU and Union are tied at the top of the league with 21 points, but the Dutchmen have two games in hand. SLU and Union tied earlier in the season, so the winner of this game will hold the tie-breaker over the other. The Crimson are three points back, but give two games to Union as well. 

Looking at the schedules for both teams, Union has Cornell twice and Harvard once to close out the season, among other opponents, while the Saints have Cornell and Harvard once each. Even with a win Saturday, the Saints will need help, but two points against the Dutchmen will go a long way in helping the Saints take their first regular season title since 2007, the last season SLU went to the national tournament. 

Also, Ben Finkelstein was announced as the rookie of the week by ECAC hockey for his 2-goal, 3-point weekend against Colgate and Cornell. He's now third in the ECAC in scoring amongst rookie defensemen and has upped his point total to 16. His ability to move the puck will be crucial against Union.