A New Broom Sweeps Clean

The new broom at RPI, who also goes by the name of head coach Dave Smith, is definitely sweeping clean. While it’s certainly not unusual for a new coach to want to bring in his own recruits and make the team “his” as quickly as possible, it seems like the roster changes are happening at RPI even more quickly than is usually the case. Whether that’s a good thing or not – and RPI fans are certainly hoping it is – remains to be seen. For the moment, let’s just take a look at precisely what the changes are.

There were six non-graduating players on the roster at the end of last season who were not on it opening day of the current season. Two of those, Lou Nanne and Drew Melanson, let it be know that they were finishing their degrees and had decided to leave early, with their decisions most likely made before Coach Smith came on board. Two more were walk-on players who never played – forward Sam Rappaport and practice goalie Liam McBain. The remaining two non-returnees were senior-to-be Bradley Bell and junior-to-be Alex Rodriguez. As far as I’m aware, no explanation was given for them leaving the team. Bell is still a student at RPI; Rodriguez is not.

Then, after the recent conclusion of the first semester, two more departures were announced. Freshman forwards Troy York (a Smith recruit) and Gavin Payne (an Appert recruit) both left RPI and are playing D-III hockey now. Once again no explanation was given. York played in nearly every game; Payne only made the lineup twice.

A new player has been added to the roster just recently too. Donovan Ott comes to RPI from the Johnstown Tomahawks of the NAHL and will presumably start playing this weekend. Another transfer currently on campus, Mike Gornall, will have to wait until next year to play because he came from another NCAA school, North Dakota. As far as numbers go, these two players can be considered replacements for York and Payne.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting. Chris Heisenberg’s very thorough college recruits web page shows ten incoming freshmen for RPI next year so far – six forwards, three defensemen and a goalie. Since there are only three seniors graduating (two defensemen and one forward), Coach Smith is either increasing the roster size by a whopping seven players, or more players will be departing. I’m presuming it will be the latter.

What does this mean for RPI hockey? The only thing I can say with certainty is that I would hesitate to get too enamored about any of the players currently on the roster, especially any of those who don’t seem to be getting a lot of playing time. Beyond that, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, and hope for the best.


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Early Season Thoughts

I’m writing this in between the Quinnipiac and Princeton games and trying to get a feel for what RPI’s early season record means. As you can probably guess, my conclusion is there’s not much we can conclude at this point.

The comeback win over Quinnipiac, featuring a Viktor Liljegren hat trick and 22 straight saves from Chase Perry in the second and third periods after allowing three goals in the first, was exciting and impressive to watch. Whether or not it was meaningful remains to be seen as the season goes on. Is it the start of a new level of play for the Engineers? Is Quinnipiac just a bad team this year? (Probably yes to the latter, at least comparatively speaking.)

One thing I am willing to commit to at this point, though, is that this edition of the Engineers, Coach Smith’s first, is showing a resiliency and an ability to adjust and improve as the game goes on that was sorely missing in recent years. That alone is reason for optimism in my mind!

A lot remains to be seen as the season unfolds. A what-a-beating loss to Clarkson may not be as bad as it looks if Clarkson turns out to be as good as they currently look. Losing both games to Union? Harder to excuse but, again, we don’t know what kind of team Union will be over the course of the ECAC season.

All in all, I’m cautiously optimistic that, at least, we haven’t seen RPI’s best hockey yet this year and there should be some more exciting games to watch ahead. And for the moment, that’s enough to keep me happy.

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On the Coaching Change

I figured it’s time I weighed in with a few thoughts about all the news out of RPI lately. Way overdue, maybe (my thoughts, not the news, although… maybe that too!).

Before I say anything else, let me wish Coach Appert all the best in the future. He was always very friendly and appreciative to me, and he unquestionably did a lot of good things for the RPI hockey program, including getting involved with charitable endeavors and reaching out to hockey alumni.

What he didn’t do, unfortunately, was have a lot of success on the ice. I’m not going to delve into reasons now, but I think it’s fair to say that some of the blame has to lie at his feet, whatever certain recently vocal alumni may think about extenuating circumstances.

A quick aside on that topic: while it’s unsettling to see the names of unquestionably distinguished alums who felt disrespected at being left out of the recent coaching search, I also think it’s interesting to see what names were not mentioned, including some that I know are in the Troy area and have been involved with RPI hockey recently. And as important as Frank Chiarelli and Mike Sadeghpour are to the history of RPI hockey, I see nothing in their resumes to suggest that they are in any way authorities on what makes a good hockey coach. Joe Juneau may be, but I can’t help wondering if the only quote attributed to him in recent articles was taken out of context, since it mentions neither Seth Appert or RPI.

But one way or the other, the deed is done. Hiring Dave Smith, whose on-ice record isn’t much better than Appert’s, started another whole firestorm of bemoaning and criticism, but that’s what was done and what happens next, we shall see.

The only thing I will go on record as saying is that I am NOT one of those who feel you have to give a new coach four years, or even five years, before you can expect to see improvement. I firmly believe there is much more talent in the RPI locker room than recent results would suggest. While I agree that we can expect the best results from Coach Smith when he’s had time to make the team truly “his,” if he’s a better coach than Seth Appert, he should be able to get better results with the same team.

If a 5-year timetable for an ECAC championship is good enough for our AD, Dr. McElroy, it’s good enough for me. Let’s go, Red!

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Playoff Time!

Just a quick post to wish the Engineers luck in their playoff series at Clarkson this weekend. They did exactly this two years ago – beat Clarkson on the road in the first round of the playoffs – so we know they can do it. Here’s hoping they can repeat the feat!

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Down the Stretch

Here we are with just four games left in the regular season and the Big Red Freakout and Senior Night coming up this weekend! (I won’t get into how I feel about Freakout and Senior Night being the same night – that’s another whole post!)

I got my New Year’s wish to some extent – the Engineers have been playing better hockey and giving us more to cheer about lately. Wins over Clarkson and Colgate and better play in, really, nearly all their games since the big win over Harvard. In the five games immediately preceding that upset, RPI allowed 29 goals and scored just nine. In the last eight games they’ve played, beginning with that Harvard game, RPI has actually outscored their opponents 20-18. It hasn’t always translated to wins, but at least it’s been more fun to watch!

I have to say that I don’t think RPI’s most recent game, when they lost to Dartmouth by a very close 2-1, was of the same caliber as other games recently. They seemed to be back to play more similar to earlier in the season, when they were less aggressive with the puck, took more foolish penalties, and spent too much time on defense. Let’s hope that was an anomaly and this weekend will see them finish the regular season strong before they head into the playoffs. Home ice is not a realistic possibility at this point, but the Engineers have won playoff series on the road before in recent years – more, in fact, than they’ve won at home!

Clarkson, Quinnipiac and Yale are probably our most likely 1st-round opponents. Of those, I guess I’d prefer Clarkson, since RPI beat them in their most recent matchup (let’s not even think about Lake Placid) and the Engineers won a playoff series on the road there just two years ago. Of course, if RPI manages to beat Quinnipiac on BRF/SN this Saturday, I may change my opinion!

First things first, though. Let’s get that win against Princeton on Friday night and NOT fall into the historical trap of overlooking the game before the Freakout, and then we’ll take it from there. Let’s go, Red!

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! I’m sincerely hoping that 2017 will be a better year than 2016 was, both on a personal level and for RPI hockey. It would be hard to imagine the new year bringing anything worse than the first half of this season was for the Engineers.

Bright spots, bright spots… wait, I’m thinking. There must have been something…

Nope, I’ve got nothing. Zero, zip, zilch, nada. From Todd Burgess being lost to a red-shirt injury before the season even started, to numerous other injuries along the way (and I’m not offering any of that as excuses – injuries in sports in general and in hockey in particular are part of the game, so teams have to be able to deal with them), to inexplicable poor showings against (what should be) weaker teams like Brown and Arizona State, to unfathomable late collapses when close or even leading in games against Yale, Clarkson, Princeton and others. The first half of the season was just bad, bad, bad.

I’m not usually one for finger-pointing, especially while there’s still a lot of season left to play. I’ll leave that to others, but I will say that I’m not happy, nor should any RPI fans be who have memories long enough to know what RPI hockey is supposed to be. The short version: this ain’t it.

I will say I feel bad for the boys in the program who didn’t expect this and don’t know what to do. Before you jump on me to argue that they ARE the problem, let me agree up front that, yes, they are the ones who are underperforming. But they’re kids, really, and while they certainly know there are problems, they don’t know how to fix them. I honestly believe that they are as frustrated, angry, discouraged and disgusted as we fans are. Maybe moreso as they see the professional hockey careers they dreamed (rightly or wrongly, it doesn’t matter) were ahead looking much less certain.

I certainly don’t have the answers. And I’m not for one minute suggesting that we should be resigned or in any way okay with this performance. I’m just saying that, for me, it’s hard to see the beaten-down looks when they come off the ice after another loss and not feel that, in some way, they are being let down here just as much as we fans are.

So here’s to a MUCH better second half of the season and a happy, healthy 2017 for the Engineers and all of their fans! Let’s go, Red!

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Better Pricing for Upcoming Ivy League Games!

RPI’s game at Quinnipiac this Friday will have video available online free of charge, just as Arizona State did last week and just as RPI does, of course, for all of its home games.

The Ivy League schools, however, are apparently more cash-strapped than most schools (!) and still feel the need to charge to watch their home games. Viewing a single game costs $9.95 each time.

By a fortunate quirk of scheduling, though, RPI’s next four games after Quinnipiac are all against Ivies – Princeton, Yale, Brown and Harvard – and all within a 30-day span. This makes it possible for RPI fans to get a great deal by purchasing an Ivy League Monthly Pass that will allow them to watch all four games for a total of $15.95, or $4 each.

Purchase your monthly pass here to watch the Princeton game on Saturday, December 3, the Yale game on Friday, December 9, the Brown game on December 10, and the Harvard game on December 30th.

Just don’t forget to cancel your monthly subscription after the last game, or else the penny-pinching Ivy League will renew it automatically and charge you another $15.95!


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Finally Again – Finishing Up On Last Year’s Seniors

Continuing my comments on the Class of 2016’s senior speeches at the hockey banquet held last May:

Milos Bubela told of how, when he arrived at RPI, he didn’t really know anyone and felt a little lost. Before long, though, with everyone’s support, he found he had a new family. He thanked everyone who supported him through “the bad years and the good years” and gave a special nod to Tera (Associate Athletic Trainer Tera Patenaude). He said he had so many injuries that he was eventually told that he had set a new team record – for visits to the training room! Milos’s infectious grin was present throughout his speech and is one of the things we’ll all miss most about him, along with his tenacious style of play.

Zach Schroeder went next. Sporting a snappy plaid bowtie and matching handkerchief in his pocket, the fifth-year senior would have surely got the award for best-dressed had their been one. His speech was as classy as his outfit, especially when he said that being a student-athlete at RPI had been a great experience – “the people I’ve met, the opportunities I encountered, and yes, the hockey.” He also said that at RPI, “we have one of the best, most loyal, fandoms in college hockey – from students, to residents of Troy, to family members, they stick with us even at our lowest points. Whenever I heard the crowd cheering ‘Red’ during the National Anthem, chills would run down my back because I knew our fans had our backs.” Very eloquently said, Zach.

Jason Kasdorf too spoke of how fast the time went and said that his four years at RPI had been some of the best years of his life. He said when he looks back over those years, the first word that comes to mind is support. Like Zach, he spoke of how “we have some of the best fans in college hockey.” He was, he said, amazed to know that some fans had been following RPI hockey for over 30 years. He added that it’s “extremely humbling” to see how many fans travel to road games and how much pride people have in the program. He thanked Coach Appert at length for believing in him and for all the extra hours he put in helping Jason improve his game. Along with friends and family, Jason also  thanked his beautiful wife Stacey, who was present despite being overdue with their first child. He thanked her for all the hard work she put in helping him to earn his degree even though, he pointed out, “sorry, but mine is going to be the only name on it.” Their adorable and equally beautiful daughter Everly was born a few days later.

Last but not least, captain Chris Bradley took the podium. He spoke of how proud he was to be a member of the RPI community, and of all the amazing people he had met along the way. He said the most important thing he learned from RPI hockey was to “never give up on myself, never give up on my teammates, and to embrace every single challenge that you face.” He said he would take those lessons with him in life and own them. Being an Engineer, he said, “is not about you, it’s about being a teammate, it’s about that guy sitting next to you and about being a part of something bigger than yourself.” Well said, Chris.

There were no really emotional guys this year – Chris Bradley would have been my guess, but he held it together pretty well. They were an eloquent group for sure, and it was clear that their experience with RPI hockey meant a lot to them. They are a great group of guys – we wish them well and will certainly miss them. Thank you, RPI hockey class of 2016!

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Here I am to apologize, yet again, for the long delay between my posts. I do have excuses, as I always do – shingles and double vision last year, Lyme disease and Bell’s palsy this year – but you don’t want to hear about that, right? You want hockey! Me too. 🙂

Even though we’re well into the 2016-17 season, I have to go back and finish where I left off at the end of last season. It wouldn’t be fair to the terrific boys in the class of 2016 and their wonderful families if I didn’t give a little closure to their time at RPI by writing about their hockey banquet speeches. So here we go.

Sam Goodman went first and was the designated “thanker,” mentioning everyone associated with the team in any way so that the other boys could say (albeit in fancier words) “like Sam said.” He added his personal thanks to family and friends, and to Coach Appert for giving him such a great opportunity. The highlight of Sam’s speech, though, was when he told us there was only one time during his two years with the team that he didn’t do what Coach Appert told him to do – “when he told me to get in the game against Harvard!” The game was lost and the season all but over and of course his coach wanted to give him that opportunity in the last game, but I guess Sam wasn’t expecting it!

Travis Fulton went next and spoke of how honored he was to have been a part of such a “storied program with national titles and so many famous alumni” and how much it meant to him to fulfill his dream to be a D-I hockey player at a school like RPI, where the fan and community support is so amazing. Travis also thanked his family at lenth, and especially his fiancee, fellow RPI senior Celia D’Agostino, and said he was “looking forward to August.” They were married on August 14th.

Mark Miller was next up. He commented, as so many of the boys do, on how fast the time went and how, as a freshman, he listened to the senior speeches and thought what a long time it would be before he was up there but in the end it seemed like no time at all. Mark said that RPI let him combine “everything that’s important to me – family, a world-class engineering degree, and the ability to play D-I hockey for one of the best programs in the world.” He thanked his family at length, and especially singled out his fiancee. Mark and Serra were married on July 28th.

Phil Hampton’s speech took a bit different approach. He acknowledged that he had a difficult time dealing with his very limited playing time in his first two years and said for a long time he wasn’t sure he would be at RPI long enough to make a senior speech. He said he took stock after his sophomore year and decided that “one man’s failure is another man’s success” and that he would stay, work as hard as he could, and make the most of his time at RPI. He did that, and very well, and had a great senior year, playing in every game. Phil also turned out to be the comedian of the evening, peppering his speech with jokes that had the crowd laughing, like when he said that his proudest moment at RPI was beating Coach Appert at ping pong to earn the team a day off from practice! Phil has been back to RPI to visit already, attending a job fair and still looking for that perfect position in his field of aeronautical engineering.

Next blog entry – the remaining four seniors: Milos Bubela, Zach Schroeder, Jason Kasdorf and Chris Bradley.


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2016 Hockey Banquet Awards

Handout from 2016 RPI Hockey Banquet

The annual RPI Men’s Hockey Banquet was held on Saturday, May 7th, at the Hefner Alumni House. Here’s a first look at the events of the evening.

Athletic Director Dr. Lee McElroy gave the opening remarks, speaking of how often he and Coach Appert met this year and how they discussed what could be done to “make every day better day than the day before” for the program. Following that, Father Ed Kacerguis gave the Invocation, as usual, and dinner was served.

After dinner, the rest of the evening’s events kicked off with Coach Seth Appert’s season remarks. Coach Appert spoke of how he felt the program as a whole “dropped the ball a bit” last year on being who and what they wanted to be, and of how he looked at this as a recovery year. He said you couldn’t go from where they were last year to competing for a national championship, and that the intent this year was to get the program back on track. It was clear from things he said that he was talking about attitude and commitment moreso than performance on the ice, although clearly he felt one affected the other.

A video of season highlights was shown next, after which the remainder of the evening alternated awards with speeches by all eight departing seniors, including fifth-year senior Zach Schroeder and goalie Jason Kasdorf, who is departing with a year of eligibility left. Both young men had medical redshirts during their time at RPI. Because the banquet was held a little later than sometimes this year, all four of the seniors who spent time away playing professionally – Chris Bradley, Milos Bubela, Mark Miller and Jason Kasdorf – were able to be back and deliver their own speeches, which was very nice. I’ll go into more detail on their speeches in another post sometime soon.

The first award given was for Most Outstanding Freshman and it was presented by Scott Basiuk ’04 and Kurt Colling ’09. Both Scott and Kurt live in the area and I believe they were the only hockey alums in attendance apart from assistant coach Nolan Graham ’03. The award went to Tommy Grant, which was a bit of a surprise. Tommy did a great job this year, but didn’t get into a game until October 30th against Union and, honestly, I just figured Cam Hackett would be a shoo-in after the way he stepped up and saved the team’s bacon when Jason Kasdorf went down with an injury. Kudos to Tommy, though, on a job well done all season.

The Community Service award was presented by RPI Assistant Vice President Jeff Miner and went to Travis Fulton. Coach Appert commented that it practically had to be renamed the Travis Fulton award, given the extent of Travis’s community involvement, not only this year but throughout his time at RPI. In fact, this is the third straight year that Travis received this award – he’ll have a whole collection of Community Service trophies to take with him when he leaves!

The Erick R. James ’99 Top Scholar Athlete award was presented by RPI Vice President Jon Wexler to Phil Hampton. Phil had a 3.98 GPA in his senior year and has a 3.95 GPA overall, which is particularly impressive given his aeronautical engineering major! Just how hard it is to combine an Engineering major with the time commitment of playing D-1 hockey can be seen in how few guys attempt it: only four players on the current roster are Engineering majors; the other 22 are Business & Management. Without taking anything away from how hard the B&M guys work at RPI, I have to say that more than one of them have told me themselves that they can’t understand how the Engineering majors do it!

The Most Improved Player award, presented by Coach Graham, was shared by two players, both chosen by a vote of their teammates. Junior defenseman Parker Reno, whose plus-minus of +12 was far and away the best on the team, shared the award with freshman forward Brady Wiffen, who ended up academically ineligible this year and didn’t play at all. Parker missed a lot of games too, sitting out most of the second half with a broken collarbone, but his determination to help the team saw him back on the ice for the last regular season weekend and the first playoff game before he gave in and took a seat in the stands again. Brady was praised by Coach Appert for showing up at every practice and working as hard as anyone on the team to improve even though he knew he wouldn’t see the ice in a game until next year. It sounds as though Brady will be ready to contribute in a big way right from the start of his playing career as an Engineer.

Assistant Coach Bryan Vines presented the Best Defensive Player award, also shared by two players – captain Chris Bradley and “Super Senior” Zach Schroeder. Coach Appert talked about how many shots Chris blocked this year and how much he put himself out there for the team. He also talked about how Zach, a forward, played defense the right way and was always where he needed to be. The two together, he said, led the team by example, defensively and otherwise.

The Ben Mayo Most Inspirational Player award was, for the first time in recent years, not presented by Ben, who became an unofficial team member after successfully battling cancer several years ago. Coach Appert was happy to report that Ben, now completely in remission, is away at college as a freshman this year and thus wasn’t available to present the award. RPI Vice President John Kolb stood in instead and presented the award to Zach Schroeder. Coach Appert said that Zach was a leader and an inspiration to his teammates in every way – in the locker room, on the ice, and in his conduct away from the rink. He led by example in his attitude, his work ethic, his willingness to do whatever helped the team, and his positive approach to the season. And in his spare time, he earned a master’s degree along with his bachelor’s in Business and Management!

The final award of the evening was, of course, the Most Valuable Player award, which was presented by RPI Vice President Graig Eastin. It was no surprise to any of us that it went to Jason Kasdorf, whose stellar goaltending kept the Engineers in many a close game this season. His .931 saves percentage and 2.30 GAA, while impressive, don’t tell the full story of what he meant to the team. Forty-four saves in a shutout of Cornell, 46 saves in the tie at Quinnipiac, and a combined 92 saves and one goal allowed in the two regular-season games against Harvard will give you a better idea. Those last numbers also tell how badly Jason wanted to be out there for his teammates in the ECAC Quarterfinals at Harvard and how much his injury cost the team. (Aside: Jason and his wife Stacey are expecting their first child any day now, but Stacey was in attendance Saturday night looking happy and healthy.)

The evening concluded with a senior tribute video featuring pictures of each player from childhood up through their RPI years. What a cute bunch of kids they were! And what a terrific group of young men they are now! More on the departing seniors coming soon.


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