Sunday, February 13, 2011

Weekend Observations: Robert Morris

Sometimes when the Icers are playing, these posts just snap together in my head. I've identified what I feel are the storylines common to the two games, I know how to connect them, all that's left is to double-check a few plays I've scribbled in my notebook to verify what I saw, and the post is up a few hours after the Saturday game ends. And with a couple minutes left in the second period of yesterday's game, this was feeling like one of those...

...then the unthinkable happened, and it completely changed the content and tone of this post.

We'll get to that in a minute, but first, let's look at where we stood as time wound down in the second. The Icers won Friday night in rather ugly fashion. Which was perfectly fine in my book - those weekends against Delaware and Rhode Island, combined with some struggles by teams near us in the poll, earned us some leeway in the style points department. PSU actually trailed 3-2 with under four left in the second. That lasted until Paul Daley corralled the puck near the blue line on the power play, gave it to Dom Morrone, went hard to the net, and got it back just in time to tie the score against a completely lost Robbie Fallick. Nick Seravalli won two consecutive draws to start that power play (the second immediately preceded the goal), just one piece of what I thought was a good weekend for him.

That goal was important on a number of levels. For starters, it ended yet another power play mini-drought - the Icers finished 1-for-7 Friday, then went 2-for-6 Saturday, so maybe that ship's getting righted. More importantly, it gave PSU momentum for a third period where goals from the two World University Games returnees and Daley (finishing a hat trick) were enough to put the game away.

None of this was all that surprising - Robert Morris had demonstrated the firepower to hang with good teams for two periods before falling apart (see Delaware in December, and PSU in January). The Icers are so good in the third period that they get articles written about it.

These two trends came to a tidy convergence on Friday - and if you had asked me, they were about to again on Saturday after a wild second period that included four goals in the first 5:46. It all started to unravel with an interference call to Daley at 16:32 (Steve Penstone's thoughts on it: "You've gotta be kidding me.") and Kory DuMond banging home a rebound at the end of what had been a mostly harmless power play to that point. Bryan Chiavetta (who had an okay weekend, I suppose) won a battle to foil a clear in the near corner, then was next seen cycling in the opposite corner of the zone, then taking the shot that generated the rebound.

The real backbreaker was the next one though. Following a George Saad turnover and some mass confusion, Luke Bennett found the puck in the high slot and beat Teddy Hume cleanly with just two seconds left. I'll spare you the details of the rest. Suffice it to say that the following period was arguably the Icers worst of the season and that the Colonials finished off a run of five straight goals.

So what went wrong? I'm still not sure, but here are a few possibilities.
  • I think the decision to start Hume on Saturday was a mistake, plain and simple. I want to be diplomatic because he didn't get to 58 wins by accident - he's been one of the great Icers goaltenders. But this year, he just hasn't had it, particularly when "it" refers to the puck after the first shot. Since playing well against Ohio on October 22nd, Hume has started five games and has been pulled in three of them. He completed the November 12th game against Rhode Island (19 saves on 24 shots - nothing to brag about) and the November 20th game against Towson (three goals against versus the lowly Tigers, again...). He also had mop-up duty against Delaware on December 4th, playing well in relief of Matt Madrazo. Given all of that, I wouldn't have trusted him in a game we had to have, regardless of the opponent. Save sentimentality for Rutgers on senior night.
  • The mistake was compounded by not pulling him after the second period.
  • The intensity level of the weekend probably wasn't helped by people like me constantly preaching that the worst was over. I'm not the only one who felt that way - the UStream broadcasts had about half as many viewers as last weekend. I generally hate when people play the "effort" card, but you can't help but wonder if some of that thinking seeped into the room - before we make Hume and Balboni the scapegoats, let's not forget that Friday's result was less than satisfying as well.
  • Also, some credit's due to that Robert Morris top line, particularly the duo of Chiavetta and Bennett. Those guys are outstanding and they produce - and not just against the scrubs. And in case you're wondering (I did):
    Chiavetta looked at Rhode Island, Robert Morris and some Division III schools when he came time for college. The choice wasn’t that hard to make.
    “Robert Morris had a young program with a lot of potential, and I liked Pittsburgh,” he said. “I wanted to grow with the program, and I had an opportunity to make an impact as a freshman.”
    Chiavetta was talented enough to play for the Colonials’ varsity men’s ice hockey team, but he felt playing club hockey was better for him.
    “I had an opportunity to play on the varsity team, but they had a lot of seniors at the time,” Chiavetta said. “I just did what was best for me.”
Some positives that were obscured by all of this:
  • The Mike McDonagh-Morrone-Daley line has fairly quickly developed great chemistry - this was perhaps never more evident than their first shift of Saturday's game, where the three combined on a spectacular passing play that was unfortunately denied by goalie Phil Salerno.
  • I mentioned this already, but Nick Seravalli had a good weekend, both on (goal and an assist) and off the scoresheet.
  • The 12 goals against notwithstanding, a couple members of the defense corps - the pairing of Brian Dolan and Carey Bell in particular, but also Rich O'Brien with three goals - had good weekends. Kevin Miller returned to the lineup and helped the struggling power play.
The results, however, turned us all back into scoreboard watchers, if only briefly. It all worked out in a way that means the Icers' tournament hopes are probably not in jeopardy - but we will be playing a better team in the first round than we would have otherwise. I'll get more into that tonight or tomorrow with the final Scoreboard Watching feature.

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