Last year’s playoff loss motivates Engineers

Even though it was the higher seed and had home-ice advantage, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was

Even though it was the higher seed and had home-ice advantage, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute was upset in the first round of last year’s ECAC Hockey tourn­ament by Brown in three games.

The Engineers don’t want a repeat of that this weekend.

Fifth-seeded and 16th-ranked RPI (19-10-5) hosts 12th-seeded Colgate (7-24-3) in the best-of-three first-round series, starting tonight at 7 at Houston Field House.

Game 2 will be at 7 p.m. Saturday. Game 3, if necessary, will be at 7 p.m. Sunday.

RPI is hoping that there won’t be a need for a third game this year.

As the sixth seed last year, the Engineers struggled in the series opener against 11th-seeded Brown. They took a 1-0 lead into the third period, but the Bears scored twice in a 1:13 span early in the third and went on to a 3-1 win. RPI came back the next night, outshooting Brown, 34-24, and rolled to a 4-1 victory.

“We have to come out in the first game,” RPI senior defenseman and team captain John Kennedy said. “We kind of tip-toed into the water, seeing what Brown would do. We [fell] behind in the first game and were chasing tail the whole way.”

Winning Game 2 took a lot out of RPI for Game 3. Brown jumped out to a 3-0 lead. RPI scored two goals late in the game, but had its season end with a 3-2 loss.

“You think about last year, and we had to expend so much mental and physical energy to try and claw back into that series in Game 2,” RPI coach Seth Appert said. “That’s putting yourself in a pos­ition, then. We’re not worried about trying to win Game 1. We’re worried about going out and trying to play the right way in period one of Game 1, and set a tone for what we want the series to look like and what we want the series to feel like, and how aggressive we want to play.

“We all know what makes us a good team. Now, we have to do it, and we have to make sure we do it in the first period [tonight].”

RPI and Colgate split the season series, winning 2-1 overtime games in each other’s building. Chase Polacek scored on a penalty shot in OT to win it for RPI on Jan. 15 at Starr Rink. Colgate won the Feb. 11 rematch when Kevin McNam­ara scored 2:47 into OT.

“It’s going to be tough,” Polacek said. “They’ve had a lot of close games this year. We can’t let it be tough. We’ve got to set the pace right from the drop of the puck [tonight] in the first period, be ready to go and set the tone for the whole series, and know it’s going to be a tough series for them and that they’re going to get hit a lot.”

The Engineers and Raiders are heading in opposite directions coming into the postseason.

RPI, which was in position for landing one of the four first-round bye spots coming into February, stumbled in the final month of the season. The Engineers went 2-4-2, and have just one win in the last six games. RPI hasn’t won a Friday game since beating Brown, 3-0, Jan. 28.

Colgate, which has seven NHL draft picks and returned 20 from last year’s fourth-place squad, had an awful start. The Raiders were 3-22-2 in their first 27 games, including an 0-13-2 start to ECACH play. They were also 0-11 in one-goal games

Since then, the Raiders are 4-2-1. They had a three-game unbeaten streak snapped last Saturday by Brown in a 6-4 loss that was, in essence, a meaningless game for the Raiders since they were already locked into the 12th seed.

Senior forward Francois Brisebois leads the Raiders in scoring with 13 goals and 16 assists. Junior forward Austin Smith, last year’s team leading scorer with 16 goals and 25 assists, dropped to eight goals and 17 assists this season. Also slumping is senior forward Brian Day, who has just nine goals and scored a team-best 21 last year.

Appert believes the graduation of forward David McIntyre, who had 131 career points from 2006-10, hurt Colgate this season.

“They had to go through growing pains,” Appert said. “They did lose somebody. They lost, maybe, the best player in our league. I know Chase won Player of the Year last year, but David McIntyre was an absolutely special college hockey player. And he played so hard, and he was their heartbeat. When you lose a guy like that, even though you have most of your guys returning, sometimes it takes time to figure out how to step into that role, and who’s going to lead and how to take charge.

“Obviously, they struggled with that in the first half of the year, but they look like they’ve been playing pretty good of late.”

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