After Careful Analysis and Thoughtful Consideration – I Don’t Have a Clue

It’s been a couple of weeks now since that thrilling Union weekend, and things have settled into a more typical pattern for RPI – the pattern where we really don’t have a clear idea yet of how good this year’s team is. After opening league play in impressive fashion by sweeping last year’s national champion, the Engineers split their next two weekends, losing to Harvard and beating Dartmouth, then beating Princeton and losing to Quinnipiac. They followed this up with an oh-that’s-a-lot-clearer-thanks tie in a non-leaguer against UConn.

None of this is too surprising or, therefore, too enlightening. It’s already looking like Quinnipiac is going to be very good this year and Princeton not so much. Harvard and Dartmouth are a little murkier – while their current ECAC standings do seem to reflect how RPI fared against them (Harvard is currently tied for second with RPI, Clarkson and SLU, while Dartmouth is in ninth), at this early stage it’s hard to say how significant that is. And while UConn has not traditionally been a strong team, RPI was playing with a roster greatly shortened by injury and illness (missing Curadi, Schroeder, Bradley, Bubela and Nanne, and with Neal and Hampton reportedly playing while ill!). Perhaps a healthier RPI would have beaten UConn handily, but that’s something we can’t know now.

Tomorrow RPI will take on the University of New Hampshire, which is a traditionally strong team. But UNH isn’t looking too strong so far this year, with a 4-11-0 record, so that matchup might not give us a lot of information either. (Although UNH’s record does lead me to hope it might give us a win – I’ll take that over information any day!).

Here’s another non-surprise – with the notable exception of the 6-1 blowout of Union (and as much as I enjoyed it, I’m still scratching my head over that one!), all of RPI’s wins have been close while all of their losses have been more lopsided. One-goal wins over Notre Dame, Union and Dartmouth, and a two-goal win over Princeton show up on the ‘W’ side. The ‘L’ side, though, shows three-goal losses to Minnesota, Denver (twice), and Bentley and four-goal losses to Bentley (!) and Harvard along with a two-goal loss to Quinnipiac. And an alarming four of those seven losses were shutouts! To be fair, the Engineers haven’t been shut out in their last four games, so maybe we can hope that pattern is behind us.

Some RPI fans are also expressing concern that the scoring is coming mostly from one line – the Miller, Nanne and Melanson line (which I’m calling the M’n'M line till somebody tells me what their nickname really is!), which has eight of RPI’s paltry 21 goals, or that the scoring is coming mostly from freshmen – Nanne, Melanson, Liljegren and Wilson have 10 goals among them. I can see the logic in both concerns – one line is too easy to shut down once the opposition figures them out, and freshmen are bound to have their ups and downs and their spurts and slumps – but honestly I’ll take the scoring wherever it comes from. My hope is that these guys can challenge their teammates with their play and inspire everybody to get better and get on the scoreboard more!

My jaw-dropping conclusion after all this ruminating and analyzing? I don’t really have a clue yet how RPI is going to fare this year. Surprised? I didn’t think so.

A couple of quick notes – one upside to all the injuries and illnesses is that we’ve had a chance to see some new guys on the ice more, like Kenny Gillespie who played his first two games for RPI in the past week, and Bradley Bell who now has his game total up to five. Both guys played well and looked like they are eager to contribute. And we’ve also seen more of some guys who were getting limited playing time, like Parker Reno and Phil Hampton, who have played five and six games this season respectively, and seen them look more confident and contribute more as they gained experience. Great to see these guys on the ice!

Best of luck to all the boys in their upcoming games, and in their upcoming travel which may take them through some stormy weather. Let’s go, Red – but go carefully!

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Now That’s More Like It, Take 2 – Black Friday Jerseys

Black Friday Jersey, 2014 Edition, with Luke Curadi Inside

Still on the topic of That’s More Like It – wow, how about this year’s Black Friday jerseys? They are good in all the ways last year’s jersey wasn’t – classy, not flashy, and bringing to mind all the tradition and history that is RPI hockey. Last year’s jersey may have had the RPI flag and seal on it in many, many unfortunate ways but those don’t say RPI hockey to most of us. In fact, for many RPI alums that I spoke to the flag and seal don’t say anything at all – they aren’t symbols they associate with RPI. Okay, the shield is prominent on the home uniforms now, whether we like it or not, so I guess it makes sense for it to be on the Black Friday jerseys as well. And it does appear on this year’s version. It would have been nice for “RPI” to appear on them somewhere as well so that people seeing the jersey might actually stand a chance of knowing what team it was from. But what really redeems these jerseys and sets them apart is that in row after row of tiny letters making a pinstripe-like effect around the jerseys, the names of every player who has every worn the cherry and white appears somewhere on the jersey.

From the beginning of RPI’s 113-year hockey history to the players who actually wore these jerseys on Friday, from record-holding alums like Frank Chiarelli and Adam Oates to guys who only played a few games in one season, the name of every player who ever suited up can be found somewhere on these jerseys. That’s a lot of names, many of them bringing back proud memories, and a lot of history. I’d like to think that seeing how many young men played before them and worked to make the hockey program a proud one was an inspiration for our current Engineers and played some small part in their excellent performances last weekend.

The RPI-TV commentators credited Coach Seth Appert with the idea for these jerseys, so kudos to him, and congratulations to all the boys inside the jerseys on a great game and a great weekend!

Let’s go, Red!

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Now That’s More Like It!

Well, we finally have something good to talk about!

The boys did a terrific job on both nights this past weekend, but they were two very different games and impressed me in different ways. The win at HFH on Friday was impressive in obvious ways – outscoring Union 6-1, with goals from two freshmen, Jared Wilson and Lou Nanne, and a hat trick from Riley Bourbonnais, a sophomore who barely played in his freshman year! In addition, they stopped Union on 4 of 5 power play attempts and saw some moves from freshman Drew Melanson that gave us hope of having a real setup man for the next four years. What’s not to like?

For my money, though, Saturday’s game was even more encouraging. Union scored with about 5 minutes left in the first period and RPI played down a goal for most of the rest of the game. And yet they played like a team that believed they could win, something that has often been missing in the past when they’re down a goal or two. I held my breath waiting for Union to come back after one of the intermissions and really up their intensity and take it to our boys, but anything they brought, the Engineers were more than capable of handling. Union had six power plays while giving RPI none, and put 35 shots on net, but never got another one past Jason Kasdorf. And then Mark McGowan, a senior who hasn’t always shown up big on the scoresheet, tied the game with less than four minutes to play and the tide turned in RPI’s direction. Viktor Liljegren needed three swipes at the puck to get his game-winning goal, and the goal needed several minutes of review, but in the end it was an RPI triumph! Way to go, boys, and what a wonderful weekend!

For those of you who are longtime fans and remember the Capital Skates trophy, I’m proud to report that the boys came out of their locker room at Union carrying it triumphantly over their heads to loud cheers from their waiting fans, and it’s back in Troy for the first time in nine years! (It’s kind of the hockey version of the Dutchmen’s Shoes trophy and goes to whichever of RPI and Union takes the most points in their season’s match-ups.)

To top things off right, Jason Kasdorf was named ECAC Goalie of the Week today, and Riley Bourbonnais was named Player of the Week!

Right now the ECAC standings show RPI alone on top with two wins, no losses and 4 points, Harvard and Dartmouth in second with 1 point each, and everyone else with no points and no games played. Except Union, who is at the very bottom with no points, no wins and TWO LOSSES, courtesy of RPI. Wow!

Here’s hoping this is just the beginning for the boys in cherry and white! Let’s go, Red!

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Nowhere to Go But Up!

Well.
Umm…
Hang on, I’m thinking.

Oh, I know – Jason Kasdorf sure looked good, didn’t he? At least in the first three games of the season – I think he was a little worn down by the second Denver game. But Scott Diebold did an excellent job in relief that night. It looks as though RPI’s goaltending this year will be more than adequate.

After that, it looks as though the Engineers have some things to work on – notably, scoring goals. Being shut out in two of your first four games is not how you want to start your season. Nor is being outscored 10-1 over the most recent three games.

It’s early yet, though, and to be fair that was some pretty stiff competition the boys went up against in their first two weekends of play. The two games against Bentley this weekend should give us more perspective. I expect a strong showing from RPI in both games, and at least one win. Honestly, RPI should be perfectly capable of sweeping Bentley, but given their rough start I’m trying to keep my expectations small. That way there’s a good chance I’ll be pleasantly surprised!

So far in this young season, Bentley has lost to Quinnipiac 3-5 and split a pair with Sacred Heart, 4-1 and 3-6. Sacred Heart has not been a strong team in recent years, but seeing that Bentley scored three goals on Quinnipiac gives me pause. RPI is going to have to hold them to less, or find ways to score a lot more themselves, to get the desired results this weekend.

We decided to wait to put up our usual “Where do you think RPI will finish?” poll until after this weekend since their early schedule was so tough, so check back soon to give us your vote – hopefully after they put up two “W”s this weekend! (So much for keeping my expectations small!)

Let’s go, Red!

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A New Season and a Clean Slate!

Okay, time to put away the swimsuits and get out the sweatshirts – especially the ones with the RPI logos! Hockey season is here again. The Engineers will take the ice against the University of Prince Edward Island in an exhibition game on Saturday. This will be our only look at the team at home for a while, since they’re heading to Notre Dame for the Icebreaker Tournament next weekend and to Denver for two games the weekend after that.

I’m just starting to get my mind in the hockey groove again, so let me just throw out a few random thoughts and observations for now.

RPI was picked 10th in the coaches poll and 9th in the media poll for this season. Ouch. Then again, they finished 7th last year and have inarguably lost some talent, especially at offense where we lost Ryan Haggerty and Brock Higgs, who brought 28 and 14 goals to the table respectively. In fact, four of RPI’s top six scorers are gone (Mike Zalewski and Matt Tinordi being the other two), leaving only Matt Neal (10 goals last season) and Jacob Laliberte (9) to carry on. We’ll need those guys to up their contribution this year, and some other guys to return to their earlier form as well. The sad truth is that every single senior and junior forward on the team this year had less point production in the 2013-14 season than they did in the season before. If they’re going to have a more successful season this year, we need to get that progression turned around.

I don’t know much about the incoming freshmen yet. I make it a point not to put too much stock into the numbers they put up with their junior teams because there’s so much variation in level of play among the leagues, and because it seems like early hype so rarely correlates with real success in the college game. That being said, I am hopeful and looking forward to seeing what our newbies can do – especially in the cases of Drew Melanson and Michael Prapavessis. Prapavessis, a defenseman, was drafted by the Dallas Stars this year, but it’s possible his 6’5″ size had something to do with that.

And of course we can’t ignore the possibly big factor of having Jason Kasdorf back and healthy for this season. He was stellar down the stretch in the 2012-13 season, when RPI went 12-4 to finish second in the ECAC. If Jason can put up numbers like that season’s .935 saves percentage and 1.62 GAA again, it could make the difference in some one-goal games. Scott Diebold did a more-than-admirable job in net after Jason was hurt, though, and I have to point out that RPI was shut out four times last year and scored two goals or fewer in 18 of their 37 games. Offense was the real problem and is the real key for this season.

It’s always nice to start a new season with a clean slate and high hopes. Polls are meaningless (well, except ours here on rpihockey.net, of course!) and this season can be a great one!

Let’s go, Red!

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Hockey Banquet Report, Part 2 – Senior Speeches

This year’s hockey banquet featured remarks from all five departing seniors even though Matt Tinordi was unable to attend. Matt was still in Cincinnati playing for the Cyclones in the ECHL playoffs, but he provided a speech that was read by Brock Higgs.

Guy Leboeuf was first up this year, so he was in charge of reading the long list of thank-yous on behalf of all the guys to everyone and anyone who supported the team, from the coaches to the RPI Pep Band and RPI-TV. This simplifies things for all the guys that follow since they can say, “I’d also like to thank all the people that Guy mentioned.” Saves time for everyone.

When he got to his personal thank-yous, Guy especially thanked the fans for their support “whether we’re winning or struggling” and commented on how much he loved hearing the shout of “Red!” during the National Anthem. He said when he was playing in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers after RPI’s season finished, he was always surprised not to hear that familiar yell until he recalled where he was.

Bo Dolan was next and, in addition to his thank-yous, he told a story – something he apparently is known for. The story was about a trip the boys took together across the border into Canada that included a visit to an over-18 club and a bit of an incident that saw one of the RPI players accosted by the bouncer. Bo assured us that it was a misunderstanding that ended with apologies from the bouncer, but what was noteworthy was the way every one of the 20-odd RPI guys there immediately jumped to stand with their teammate in a show of solidarity. This, Bo said, is typical of the brotherhood and camaraderie all the guys feel for each other.

I’ve always thought of Johnny Rogic as kind of a quiet guy, but apparently you just have to get him in the right place and the right mood. His speech was off the cuff, since he forgot his notes (or so he claimed – based on things I heard, I’m not sure there were any notes to forget!), but he was relaxed and talkative and downright funny. Even without notes, he told stories (shorter than Bo’s!) that illustrated his points – how strongly the alumni stay connected to the program, what a band of brothers he and his teammates are, and how helpful everyone around the team has been to him. He especially thanked assistant coach Nolan Graham, who was his head coach in junior hockey, for bringing him to the attention of Coach Appert.

Matt Tinordi, as mentioned, was unable to attend but he provided a short speech that was read by Brock Higgs. After thanking his coaches and family, Matt commented on how close he is to all his teammates and especially to the other seniors – his classmates and roommates. He said that, as much as he’s enjoying his pro experience, he can’t wait to be back with them. And he said that playing professionally has shown him more than ever how special the fan support at RPI is and what a special place this is to play.

Brock Higgs was last but certainly not least. He too spoke about how lucky he was to have played at RPI, how supported he felt there, and how close he is to his teammates. Though all the guys mentioned their parents and families, Brock went to much greater lengths about his, which will come as no surprise to anyone who knows the Higgses. I don’t believe they ever missed a game, near or far, fair weather or foul, and it was always very clear how close Brock is to his parents. Just as is always the case with our hockey boys, quality parents and parenting gave us a quality young man.

Usually there is someone, or several someones, among the senior speakers who struggles to keep it together and gives in to tears or at least gets choked up. Several years ago Jon Ornelas was a soggy mess trying to get through his speech, and Bryce Merriam was a close second last year – I think his speech may have actually dissolved in his hand. I usually try to guess in advance who the emotional guy will be, but I had to admit that there were no safe bets this year. Sure enough, though their remarks were heartfelt and touching, this group of guys had it all together and were much more inclined toward laughter than tears. It was very clear, though, how much they all value and appreciate their RPI hockey experience and the support they have felt here.

I may shed a tear or two myself when we finally say goodbye at graduation, but at the hockey banquet it was smiles all around as we celebrated another terrific group of guys – the RPI hockey class of 2014!

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Hockey Banquet Report, Part 1 – Awards

The annual RPI Men’s Hockey Banquet was held tonight and, as usual, I have some facts and thoughts to share.

The evening opened with remarks from Dr. Tim Sams, RPI’s Vice President for Student Life, and Athletic Director Jim Knowlton. Colonel Knowlton reminded everyone that, as NCAA Hockey Committee Chair, it was his somewhat onerous task to hand Union their Frozen Four Championship trophy. He asked if viewers noticed his reluctance to let go of the trophy, resulting in a bit of a tug-of-war with Union coach Rick Bennett. (I suspect he was funning us on this!) He also commented on this year’s RPI senior class, pointing out how well they represented their school and their program on and off the ice – a common theme throughout the evening.

After dinner, head coach Seth Appert spoke about the past season, the team, and especially the departing seniors. Four of the five seniors were present – RPI captain Matt Tinordi is still playing professionally for the ECHL Cincinnati Cyclones. Coach Appert praised the seniors for their accomplishments and contributions on and off the ice, including their combined GPA of 3.45, even more impressive than the entire team’s combined GPA of 3.31.

Each of the seniors had an opportunity to give a speech, and interspersed among the speeches were seven individual awards for the 2013-14 season.

The Most Outstanding Freshman award was first up and was presented by Kirk MacDonald, current RPI volunteer coach and former RPI standout player. The recipient was Jimmy DeVito who played in 25 games, including 19 of the last 20 regular season games, and contributed a goal and 3 assists.

The Community Service award was presented by MacDonald’s 2007 RPI classmate Kevin Broad, and went to Travis Fulton. Travis has been involved in numerous charitable and fund-raising activities, including The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life, the Troy-Albany Youth Hockey Association (TAYHA), and Swinburne Park’s Learn to Play Hockey Program for kids.

The Top Scholar Athlete award, which always goes to the player with the highest GPA, went to Craig Bokenfohr who posted an impressive 3.92 GPA while majoring in civil engineering and competing on both the hockey and golf teams. The award was presented by Student Advisor Bob Conway and Kurt Colling ’09. Craig wasn’t present because RPI’s golf team was playing for the Liberty League championship this evening.

Bokenfohr was also the recipient of the Most Improved Player award, presented by assistant coaches Nolan Graham and Bryan Vines. After playing in only five games in his freshman year, Craig played in all of the last 15 games of this season and was a strong contributing factor in the Engineers’ defense.

Speaking of defense, the Best Defensive Player for this season was sophomore Chris Bradley, whose +/- of +18 was the best on the team by a wide margin and the best of any ECAC team other than national champion Union. His three goals and three assists were also the most of any RPI defenseman. Chris received his award from another standout defenseman, Scott Basiuk ’04.

The Ben Mayo Most Inspirational Player award, presented by 16-year-old cancer survivor and unofficial team member Ben Mayo, went to senior assistant captain Brock Higgs, who survived having his throat accidentally slashed by a skate in his freshman year and overcame several other injuries to have a standout senior year that saw him tally 14 goals and 16 assists, win the prestigious national Senior CLASS award, and start his pro career with the AHL Worcester Sharks where he had three goals and three assists in 16 games.

The final award of the evening was the Most Valuable Player award, presented by former RPI player and coach Garry Kearns and his son Ken, also an RPI alum. To no one’s surprise, the award went to junior forward Ryan Haggerty, whose 28 goals and 43 points led the team. Ryan was named to the All-ECAC First Team and the National All-America Second Team.

Both Haggerty and sophomore forward Mike Zalewski were in attendance tonight even though both have signed NHL contracts (with the NY Rangers and Vancouver Canucks, respectively) and won’t be returning to RPI next season. Though neither spoke, it was terrific to have them there and be able to congratulate them and wish them well since, of course, this is the last time they will appear publicly with the team.

Coming soon – a report on the speeches of the five departing seniors!

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Brock Higgs Looks Good on AHL Ice

Brock Higgs of the Worcester Sharks

We went to the Times Union Center on Saturday to see Brock Higgs and the Worcester Sharks take on the Albany Devils. My family and I were very pleased and impressed with what we saw from Brock. He had time on both the power play and the penalty kill and looked every bit as good as anyone else out there.

He had a key assist on one of Worcester’s goals, putting a nice shot on net that was deflected in by a teammate. He also had two other strong shots on goal and now has a 3-3-6 line in 9 games with a +4, 24 shots on goal and no penalty minutes. A very good pro start, I’d say! There are a few pictures available on our website.

We plan to get down to the TU again on Friday to see Guy Leboeuf take the ice for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Stay tuned.

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Another Post-season Postmortem

I wish I could say a week of thinking about it has given me insights to share on yet another playoff let-down for the Engineers , but that’s not really the case.

I will just say this – given the number and level of pro signings in the past week, it doesn’t seem like the talent level on the team can be the issue. Ryan Haggerty (not unexpectedly) got an NHL offer and is gone to the NY Rangers. Mike Zalewski also has gone pro (that one took me by surprise), giving up his last two years at RPI, and will join the Vancouver Canucks. And Brock Higgs and Guy Leboeuf have both signed AHL tryout contracts and are with the Worcester Sharks and Bridgeport Sound Tigers, respectively. It’s not unusual for seniors to play professionally right away, especially since RPI has an unfortunate tendency to finish early when a lot of other players aren’t available yet, but it’s not always at a level as high as the AHL.

I will also point out to those who might be inclined to blame RPI’s struggles this season on the early loss of Jason Kasdorf that the Engineers lost a playoff series at home last year with Jason in net. In fact, Scott Diebold’s .917 saves percentage in this year’s three playoff games against Dartmouth was quite a bit better than Jason’s .893 in last year’s three playoff games with Brown. That’s not intended as a criticism of Jason Kasdorf, who had a great season for the Engineers last year. It’s just more evidence, I think, that the talent level is not our problem. “Playoff mentality” is a rather vague term, but that’s the best I can suggest – RPI doesn’t seem to have the same fire in the playoffs that their opponents do, especially when that opponent is the underdog as they are when RPI plays at home.

There’s always next year, I guess. For now we’ll have to settle for rooting for the Engineers who are starting their pro careers. Best of luck to Brock, Guy, Ryan and Mike, and a big thank you to them and to Matt Tinordi, Johnny Rogic and Bo Dolan.

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Sigh

Cancelling hotel reservations for the second year in a row sucks.

That’s all I’ve got for now. Let me ponder a bit.

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