Sports

Men’s hockey visits struggling conference foes Union, RPI

After win over Harvard, Bears look to carry momentum into New York road trip

By
Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 13, 2015

Zach Pryzbek ’17 takes the puck around some Harvard defenders. The Bears’ historic upset over the No. 6 Crimson could propel Bruno into a decent playoff seeding and offer hope heading into the postseason.

Last weekend’s victory over No. 6 Harvard (12-8-2, 8-6-2 ECAC) was only the men’s hockey team’s second conference win of the season but, remarkably, its third over Harvard in two years. Heading into weekend matchups against middling ECAC teams Union and Rensselaer, the Bears (5-17-1, 2-13-1) hope the win will be a step toward a strong end to the season.

“I think we gained a lot of confidence after that win against Harvard,” said Mark Naclerio ’16. “We know we can play and beat anyone, and it’s just a matter of being mature and consistent in what we do.”

The Bears travel to Troy, New York, for a Friday game against RPI (9-20-1, 7-9-0) — the only conference opponent Bruno had beaten before its triumph over the Crimson. But despite holding the tiebreaker, the Bears still trail RPI by nine points in the ECAC standings, which means overtaking the Engineers at this late stage in the season is a near impossible task.

Unburdened by Ivy League games-played restrictions, the Engineers lead the ECAC with 30 games played this season. But they have only scored 55 goals — fourth fewest in the conference, tying them with the Bears for the second-fewest goals per game. Leading goal scorers Jacob Laliberte and Drew Melanson have just six goals each.

“RPI is always a challenging team to beat in their rink,” said Matt Lorito ’15. “They have a great atmosphere, and they feed off their crowd, so it’s going to be key for us to try and take them out of the game early.”

While the Bears do not have a player who has reached double-digit goals, each member of the first line trio of Naclerio, Lorito and Nick Lappin ’16 has seven goals on the year. After getting two assists against the Crimson, Lorito needs only two more points to reach 100 for his career.

“It would mean a lot, but I’m trying not to focus on that,” Lorito said. “Right now I’m just focused on doing whatever I can to help the team win.”

The Engineers’ defense has not been much better, as Jason Kasdorf — whose rights were recently acquired by the Buffalo Sabres in their trade for NHL star Evander Kane — ranks 10th in the ECAC in goals against average. RPI has allowed three or more goals in each of its 20 losses, including a recent 8-3 loss to Union, the only team that separates the Engineers and the Bears at the bottom of the conference standings.

Rensselaer comes into its matchup against Brown on a four-game losing streak after breaking up a nine-game losing streak with three ECAC wins in a row. RPI has been streaky this season, as exemplified by quality wins against Dartmouth (11-8-4, 8-6-2) and Colgate (15-10-3, 7-6-3) and a couple of bad losses, including one to Brown.

After facing RPI, Brown travels to Schenectady, New York, to take on defending national champion Union (14-12-2, 6-9-1). The matchup between these two teams earlier in the year was the exact opposite of the Bears’ matchup with RPI: Brown lost 7-1 in what was quite possibly its worst defeat of the year.

“There’s some extra motivation coming into this game, and Union has been a strong team for many years now,” Naclerio said. “We are all very excited for the challenge, but first we are focused on RPI.”

Union, unlike RPI, is a prolific goal scoring team, leading the ECAC in goals per game. The Dutchmen top the conference in most of the main offensive categories — goals, assists, shots and power play goals — and are close to the top in power play percentage. That statistic that does not bode well for Brown’s penalty kill, which ranks fourth to last in the country.

“The key to stopping any team’s offense is to be sound defensively and to make sure we’re managing the puck well,” Lorito said. “Obviously Union has a great top line that we’re going to have to be aware of, but I think if we play how we did against Harvard, we should give ourselves a chance to have success.”

Union’s high-flying offense is led by sophomore Mike Vecchione and senior Daniel Ciampini, who are tied for the conference lead in points. Vecchione has the most assists in the ECAC, while Ciampini has the most goals and the best plus/minus rating, at plus 23. Those two are among eight Union players who rank in the top 50 in the ECAC in plus/minus, while Brown has no players in the positives.

“Both players are extremely talented, and we are going to be aware when they’re on the ice,” Naclerio said. “We can’t give them time and space, but we aren’t going to focus on one or two players. We are going to focus on our game and doing what makes us successful.”

But Union’s struggles this season — particularly in the ECAC, where it has accrued nine of its 12 losses — have come on the defensive side of the puck. Union has allowed the third-most goals in the ECAC, and its penalty kill is tied with RPI’s for second to last in the conference.

After the Bears took down Harvard by a score of 2-0 in February of last year, they ended the season on a four-game losing streak, which started out with two 3-0 losses against the Engineers and the Dutchmen. Bruno will hope that a similar pattern does not repeat itself come this weekend.