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RPI women may be ready to join ECACH elite

RPI women may be ready to join ECACH elite

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute women’s hockey coach John Burke is trying to temper his excitement

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute women’s hockey coach John Burke is trying to temper his excitement about his team’s good start.

But Burke is certainly pleased with the way the Engineers have opened their third season of ECAC Hockey play. They are tied for first place with sixth-ranked Dartmouth with a 4-1-1 record.

“Everyone hasn’t played the same number of games,” Burke said. “We’re playing the way I thought we could play. So, from that perspective, it hasn’t surprised me how we’ve played. It’s kind of what we expected.”

In a league where Dartmouth, Harvard and St. Lawrence have dominated for several years and only eight of the 12 teams make the playoffs, the Engineers’ fast start is important for the team’s con­fidence. It could also signal a change in the league’s hierarchy.

“Our league, this year, is going to be even more competitive than it has been in the past,” Burke said. “I think there’s more parity in the league. You don’t see kids going to certain schools where they’re stockpiling five or six real good kids. Some of those kids are being picked up by other teams.”

The Engineers (7-5-1 overall), who take a break from ECACH play this weekend when they visit Robert Morris for a two-game series, opened league play with wins over Brown and Yale Oct. 31-

Nov. 1 at Houston Field House. Last weekend, the Engineers swept a home-and-home series with Union.

But RPI’s most impressive league game wasn’t a win. It was its 1-1 tie at third-ranked Harvard on Nov. 7. In the Engineers’ previous two trips to Harvard, they were outscored, 16-0, including an 11-0 drubbing two years ago.

In the tie, RPI outshot Harvard, 22-19. Allysen Weidner’s goal with 18 seconds left in regulation tied the score for the Engineers.

“It was big,” Burke said. “I think it was a game we felt we should have won. I joked with the kids after the game that I was happy we scored a goal in their rink. In our two prev­ious trips down there, we haven’t played well in that building.”

The key to the Engineers’ success has been a balanced scoring attack, coupled with excellent goaltending from Sonja van der Bliek.

Junior forward Whitney Naslund and freshman forward Alisa Harris are tied for the team scoring lead with 10 points. Naslund has three goals and seven assists, while Harrison has two goals and eight assists.

Junior defenseman and Queensbury native Laura Gersten, who has three goals and five assists overall, leads RPI in league scoring with two goals and three assists.

Van der Bliek, a sophomore, is 6-4-1 with a 1.91 goals-against average, a .902 save percentage and two shutouts, In ECACH play, she is 4-1-1 with a 1.48 GAA, a .903 save percentage and one shutout.

The Engineers return to league play in two weeks when they visit Quinnipiac and Princeton.

“We feel good about how we’re playing,” Burke said. “We’ve been stressing to the kids, no matter who we play and where we are in the standings, we need to play the way we’re capable of playing, and that’s an up-tempo style of play. If we do that, good things will happen. We’ve got some good results because of that.”

Cullen On list

RPI freshman forward Patrick Cullen is one of 11 ECACH players who are listed on the NHL Central Scouting preliminary rankings for the 2009 draft.

Harvard has the most players listed with four — forward Mike Biega, defensemen Ryan Grimshaw and Peter Starrett and goalie Matt Hoyle.

The other players are Brown forward Bobby Farnham, Colgate forward Nick Prockow, Cornell defenseman Sean Whitney, Dartmouth foeard Paul Lee, Princeton defenseman Derrick Pallis and Quinnipiac goalie Nick Pisellini.

AROUND THE ECACH

- RPI sophomore forward Joel Malchuk played in his first game of the year last Saturday against Quinnipiac. Malchuk suffered a season-ending knee injury against Princeton last Nov. 30. He hadn’t played this season because of a minor knee injury not related to last year’s injury.

- The injuries are piling up for Clarkson. Forward Matt Beca got hurt in last Friday’s 5-1 loss to Harvard and sat out the next night against Dartmouth. He is questionable for this weekend’s games against Quinnipiac and Princeton. Also out for the Golden Knights are forwards Julien Cayer and Chris D’Alvise and defenseman Phil Paquet. They are also questionable for the weekend.

Forward Shea Guthrie missed the first four games of the season, while defenseman Mark Borowiecki missed the Brown-Yale series two weeks ago.

- Colgate’s Brian Day, who had a natural hat trick against Robert Morris earlier this season, scored on a penalty shot against Cornell last Saturday. It was just the fourth successful penalty shot in school history.

- For Cornell goalie Ben Scrivens, it was the third time he has faced a penalty shot. In the prev­ious two times, he stopped Wayne State’s Tylor Michel his freshman season, and gave up a goal to Quinnipiac’s Mike Atkinson last year.

- Brown forward Ryan Garbutt is nine penalties and 17 minutes away from making the top 10 in Bears’ career penalties and penalty minutes lists. He has 72 penalties for 163 minutes.

LOCAL UPDATE

Here’s a look at how college hockey players from the Capital Region did over the past week.

- Boston College sophomore defenseman Nick Petrecki (Clifton Park) had an assist in the Eagles’ 5-5 tie last Friday against Merrimack.

- Quinnipiac junior forward Mike Atkinson (Kinderhook) had an assist in the Bobcats’ 5-1 win over RPI last Saturday.

- RPI junior defenseman Laura Gersten (Queensbury) scored two goals in the Engineers’ 3-0 win over Capital Region-rival Union. She added two assists in a 2-1 win over the Dutchwomen the next day.

- St. Lawrence junior forward Tara Akstull (Clifton Park) scored the game-winning goal last Saturday as the Saints beat Harvard, 3-1.

- Boston University senior forward Nicki Wiart (Queensbury) made her season debut last Saturday in the Terriers’ 5-1 win over Quinnipiac. She didn’t pick up a point. It was her first game since undergoing surgery to straighten out her kneecaps last year.

“Nicki played smart and error-free hockey in her return to action at Quinnipiac,” BU coach Brian Durocher wrote in an e-mail. “She is still trying to regain some of the jump she had prior to her knee surgery.”

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