Engineers expecting Bears to get physical

The ECAC Hockey tournament first-round matchup between Brown and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute wo

The ECAC Hockey tournament first-round matchup between Brown and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute won’t be a series for the faint of heart.

But if you enjoy hard-nosed, physical hockey, then you will enjoy the best-of-three series this weekend at Houston Field House.

The sixth-seeded Engineers (17-15-4) host the 11th-seeded Bears (8-17-4) in Game 1 tonight at 7. Game 2 will be at 7 p.m. Saturday. If necessary, Game 3 will be at 7 p.m. Sunday.

Brown has a reputation of playing a tight-checking, hard-hitting style. The Bears are averaging 16.6 penalty minutes per game overall, most among the ECACH teams.

“In my mind, they’re the most physical team in the league,” RPI coach Seth Appert said. “Everybody talks about how big and strong Cornell is, and they are. But this team is big and strong, and borderline on the edge a little bit. Obviously, that’s evidenced by their penalty minutes, too.”

Sometimes, the Bears will cross the line.

Junior forward Harry Zolnierczyk twice ran Union goalie Keith Kinkaid in a Jan. 30 game. The second time, he charged into Kinkaid late in overtime, knocking Kinkaid to the ice, as well as dislodging his face mask.

“They finish every check, and they’ve got big, strong, fast forwards,” Appert said, “and some good, older forwards like Zolnierczyk, [Aaron] Volpatti and [Devin] Timberlake, who are big power-forward types. We need to be physical. We need to win wall battles because the games [are] on the wall a lot of times against them because they’re aggressive in how they play. And we have to make sure we take care of the puck.

“If we do those things, we’re going to put ourselves in a position to be successful. It always comes down to guys making plays, defensively and offensively.”

RPI must not get frustrated with Brown’s physical play. The Eng­ineers retaliate, then they will be in trouble. RPI was the most-penalized team in ECACH games with an average of 17 minutes per game. The Bears were second in league play with 16.4 minutes per game average.

“You’ve got to play through it,” said Chase Polacek, RPI’s leading scorer with 25 goals and 25 assists. “That will frustrate them more than anything if we don’t let it affect us and how we’re playing. We’ll let the refs see that and, hopefully, we’ll get a few calls.”

The teams split the season series. RPI took a 3-1 victory Nov. 6 at Houston Field House. Brown took the rematch, a 4-3 overtime victory Jan. 29 at Meehan Auditorium. The Engineers rallied from a 3-1 deficit to send the game into OT. But Aaron Volpatti scored during a two-man advantage 47 seconds into OT to give the Bears the win.

“It’s a great motivation, a loss like that,” RPI forward Paul Kerins said. “We know we have to come out and play. If we went 2-0, maybe we’d think it would be a little easier. But it’s a good wake-up call for us to let us know that this isn’t going to be a cakewalk by any means. Brown’s a hard to team to play against. They beat us. Any team that’s beaten you one out of two games, they’re just as good as you are, as far as I see it.”

The Engineers are playing a home playoff series for the first time since Appert became coach four years ago. The last time RPI hosted a playoff series, it was swept by Quinnipiac in the first round of the 2006 ECACH tournament.

Kerins, a senior, is thrilled to be home for the playoffs for the first time in his career.

“It’s nice,” Kerins said. “It’s a nice treat. It’s definitely nicer than going on the road. There’s nothing like playing at home. It’s going to be fun. It’s something that I haven’t been able to experience in [the last] three years.”

The teams have met twice prev­iously in the postseason. The Engineers swept the Bears in the 1990 quarterfinals. Fifteen years later, Brown did the same to RPI in the first round.

Categories: College Sports

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