Men’s hockey faces familiar opponent in playoffs

Lappin ’16, Naclerio ’16 look to continue past postseason success over RPI this weekend

Sports Editor
Friday, March 4, 2016

Alex Brink ’19 eyes the play across the ice. The first-year totaled nine points this season and will likely need to be a contributor if Brown hopes to upset Rensselaer in the first round of the ECAC playoffs this weekend.

Three years ago, the men’s hockey team took on Rensselaer in the quarterfinals of the ECAC tournament — the last time the Bears made it past the first round.

First-years Mark Naclerio ’16 and Nick Lappin ’16 each scored a goal in a hotly contested three-game series that saw Bruno win a decisive third matchup by a score of 3-2. Lappin scored a goal in the final game, while Naclerio added an empty-net tally in the first. Brown went on to the conference championship before losing to eventual national champion Union.

This year — with Lappin and Naclerio in their final collegiate seasons — Brown (5-17-7, 3-13-6 ECAC) faces a familiar foe in the Engineers (16-13-7, 8-7-7), which backed into the sixth seed with a loss against Colgate and a tie against No. 18 Cornell last weekend. Bruno also had a tough final weekend, falling to No. 1 Quinnipiac and tying league-worst Princeton.

“We’re really excited,” Naclerio said. “We think we match up really well against them. We went up there earlier this season and tied them, then lost by one goal at home. But we played them hard both times.”

Though the point differential between the two teams is fairly significant, each team ended its season with poor results. RPI heads into the postseason 2-6-1 in its last nine ECAC games, while Brown is 1-4-4 in that same stretch. In fact, those results are equivalent in terms of points, with both teams securing a win against a ranked opponent — a 5-2 win over then-No.18 Clarkson for Bruno and a 2-1 victory over No. 11 Harvard for RPI.

In the teams’ last meeting, Brown jumped out to a 3-0 lead over the Engineers before allowing four unanswered goals to ultimately lose the game. Tommy Marchin ’19 scored a goal in that defeat and the teams’ tie earlier in the season, while Lappin found the twine twice in the first matchup. The matchups with RPI will mark the high-scoring Marchin’s first time in the collegiate postseason, which is a different beast than the regular season.

“The entire team has been working hard the whole season, including the freshmen, to make an impact during playoffs,” Marchin said. “It’s really important we play hard and play well to make a statement our first year at Brown.”

Brown’s offensive success against RPI has been relatively uncharacteristic for the Engineers’ season thus far, as netminder Jason Kasdorf boasts a .939 save percentage and a 1.99 goals against average in conference play this season. But the Bears were able to score three goals in each game against RPI and outshoot the Engineers both times as well.

“We’re just going to try to get pucks to the net,” Naclerio said. Kasdorf “is one of the best goalies in the conference, so we’re going to do everything we can, and we know that something will go in eventually.”

“We have been practicing well,” Marchin said. “We are making sure we focus on getting to the net because it is a little tougher to score in playoffs, so we’re making sure everyone is burying their chances.”

But Brown has been relatively unsuccessful in keeping RPI off the board, as the Engineers scored seven goals in two games against the Bears. Viktor Liljegren scored two goals in RPI’s win over Bruno, while the Engineers’ leading scorer Riley Bourbonnais also got on the board in the first contest.

Characteristically for the Bears, RPI took advantage of Bruno’s atrocious penalty kill in both matchups this season, scoring three of its seven goals against Brown on the power play. But the Engineers have the conference’s worst power play percentage, which might give Brown a comparative advantage as a weak penalty kill team.

“We’ve been practicing the penalty kill all week,” Naclerio said. “We’re just trying to slow down their scoring chances, which will give us a good chance to win.”

Since Brown is the nation’s best team in limiting shorthanded minutes per game, the Engineers have to take advantage of the few power play chances they may get. Otherwise, Bruno will gain an edge: since 21 percent of its opponent’s goals have come on the penalty kill, there’s about one-fifth fewer opportunities for RPI to score.

The first contest of the three-game series will take place Friday, with the second Saturday and the third — if necessary — coming on Sunday.

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