Some Postseason Thoughts – A First Take

Another season in the books for RPI already – where did the time go?! I feel like I’ve been remiss this year in my blogging, posting too rarely and missing some significant moments in RPI’s season. Mea culpa – I’ve had some health issues and some family occasions that distracted me, and I apologize. I have been at nearly all the games cheering the boys on, but I just didn’t find time to write about it often.

And now it’s over, another senior class has finished their time in cherry and white, and we’re facing the long off-season. Many will start the speculating on what next year’s team has to offer almost immediately, but I prefer to leave that for later and enjoy looking back on the season just finished for a while yet – at least until after the end-of-year hockey banquet!

There were some low points, as always. Certainly being blown out by Harvard in what turned out to be the final game of the season was one, even if it was understandable in light of Jason Kasdorf’s injury and Cam Hackett’s lack of recent playing time. Games like that can be painful to watch, but for what it’s worth it looked like the Engineers never stopped fighting in that one. Losing the Freakout against Clarkson and losing the game at Colgate that could easily have made the difference between a first-round bye and a middle-eight finish were two other lows.

But this season had more than its share of high points too, including some that weren’t reflected on the scoreboard. Finally winning a playoff series at home after a long drought was certainly one of them, as was sweeping Union in the regular season games and the Mayor’s Cup. For me it was a particular pleasure to see the blossoming of several players who were able to up their contribution dramatically this year, including junior Riley Bourbonnais (who doubled his points contribution from last season) and sophomore Kenny Gillespie (who tripled his!), and on defense senior Phil Hampton (who after logging just one assist last year chipped in three goals and seven assists this season) and junior Parker Reno (who went from a +/- of -14 last year to a +12 this season). There were many others who stepped up as well and the team as a whole showed plenty of fight and plenty of heart in all their games.

I’ll have more on the season later. For now, congratulations to Jason Kasdorf on signing a professional contract with the Buffalo Sabres yesterday!

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Thank you, Seniors!

RPI Hockey Class of 2016 on Senior Night

Congratulations to the class of 2016 on their victory over Princeton at Houston Field House on Senior Night, February 20th!

In addition to giving the crowd some thrills and something to cheer about, they kept hopes alive for a first-round bye in the upcoming ECAC playoffs. It’s going to be a photo-finish, with five teams vying for the remaining spots in the top four. Quinnipiac and Yale have locked up one and two in some order, but Harvard, St. Lawrence, Dartmouth, RPI and Cornell all have a shot at the next two.

The Engineers have been playing pretty well of late, though they haven’t always put together a solid 60 minutes. They came out a bit flat against Princeton Friday night, but got their act together and took care of business. If they play like they did in the second half of that game, or like they did in all of the Quinnipiac game the night before, they can beat both Colgate and Cornell next weekend. And realistically, that’s what it will take to get that first-round bye.

In the picture above, the seniors are, from left, Milos Bubela, Travis Fulton, Phil Hampton, Mark Miller, Chris Bradley, Zach Schroeder (actually a fifth-year grad student because of his earlier red-shirt), Sam Goodman and Jason Kasdorf. Thank you to all of them for four years of hard work and many, many exciting games. And here’s hoping there are quite a few more still to come!

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Scoring on the Ivy League Digital Network

The Ivy League has its own network for streaming live sporting events at all schools, including all of their hockey games. Beginning tomorrow night at Princeton, RPI has six regular-season road games remaining with the Ivies this season. Since the Ivy League Digital Network offers a variety of league-wide subscriptions in addition to one-school, one-day passes, a smart shopper can save themselves some dollars by planning ahead. Here’s how.

A one-school, one-day pass costs $9.95. This is the way to go if you’re only planning to watch the live streaming of only one of RPI’s games at an Ivy League school.

A monthly pass covering all Ivy League schools costs $15.95. This subscription runs for 30 days from the date you first sign up. It happens that RPI’s schedule lines up favorably to make the most of these monthly passes this season. There are two scenarios that enable you to get better value from your subscription.

You can sign up for a monthly pass on January 7th to watch the game at Princeton and your monthly pass will still be in effect when RPI travels to Brown and Yale on January 29th and 30th. You’ll get three games for your $16.95 instead of paying $9.95 each.

But here’s the best scenario for anyone who plans to watch several of these games online: you can sign up for a monthly pass on January 29th and your pass will cover all the remaining Ivy League games: the Brown and Yale games that weekend, the Harvard and Dartmouth games on February 12th and 13th, and the Cornell game on February 27th. You’ll get access to the webcasts of five games for your $15.95, which averages out to $3.20 per game!

You can view all the Ivy League Digital Network subscription options here. One caution: these subscriptions will renew automatically at the end of the month if you do nothing, so be sure to log back in and cancel your subscription after viewing the last game.

Enjoy the games and let’s go, Red!

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Updated Travel Section on RPIhockey.net!

This is just a quick post to point out that we have completely revamped and updated our Travel Section for this season and hope you’ll check it out.

If you’re planning to attend a road game at any ECAC school this year, we can help you plan with lots of useful information about tickets, parking, the rink, and the surrounding area including links to restaurants, hotels and things to do. Happy traveling and let’s go, Red!

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Consistently Inconsistent

Not RPI, not this time anyway. I meant me. Maybe that’s why I love RPI hockey so much – we have a lot in common. We’re both consistently inconsistent, predictably unpredictable, regularly irregular. Er, wait, let’s leave my digestive health out of this and just go with the first two. If you’ve paid attention to how the Engineers have fared in the last few years, you know that generally the only thing you can be sure of is that there’s nothing you can be sure of. Kind of like waiting for my next blog post. You could wait for months and then see three new posts in one day. Just saying.

Those of you who have been RPI fans for a long time have to have heard that axiom at some point. And while that logic certainly seems to apply to some of the teams Seth Appert has coached, it just as certainly didn’t begin with his tenure. There’s an old saying, predating Coach Appert by many years, that goes something like, “Don’t bet for Cornell in the regular season, don’t bet against Harvard in the playoffs, and don’t bet on RPI. Period.” Maybe it’s something in the Troy water…

Hence my October post expressing cautious optimism, yes, but also puzzlement as to how to explain where they were and how to anticipate where they might end up. Hence, also, my lack of subsequent posts for a bit while I tried to figure out what to expect of our Engineers this season. You’d think I’d know better by now. I did set out twice to write a new post – once after their amazing 0-0 tie with Harvard and once at the semester break. Both times I got sidetracked by other things and was kind of glad I did since every new game seemed to change my perspective a little.

So here we are, 22 games into the season, 11-7-3 overall and 4-1-3 in league play, and ranked in the national polls this week for the first time this season. Not bad at all. And here I am, writing just my third blog post of the season. Not good at all. Then again, maybe the team does better when I keep my mouth shut and sit on my hands. You know how superstitious hockey players and hockey fans can be!

So for now I’ll limit myself to a somewhat lengthy list of what I’m impressed with from the Engineers this season, and a considerably shorter list of what I’m not.

Getting the negative out of the way first, I’m not impressed by:
- the power play. With a dismal .116 record overall and .077 in league play, this continues to be RPI’s bugaboo. If this doesn’t improve down the stretch, it could prove costly.
- the split with Miami last weekend. It may seem nit-picky to question a road weekend split with an NCHC team, but the Redhawks have not been good this season, with a 6-10-2 record, and RPI in fact handed them their first win in eight games. I’ll chalk it up to getting back in the groove after the semester break if the Engineers take care of business going forward.

I’m impressed by:
- Cam Hackett. Wow! What a way to step in and step up! This guy is nobody’s backup goalie. He filled in superbly when Jason Kasdorf missed eight games due to injury and after Kasdorf returned, the two pair split the Arizona State weekend and both racked up wins. Kasdorf stopped 23 of 24 shots on Friday, allowing just one goal 14 minutes into the third period, while Hackett stopped an identical 23 of 24 shots on Saturday, allowing just one goal 12 1/2 minutes into the third. Conclusion: it doesn’t matter which guy is between the pipes, we’re good either way.
- Riley Bourbonnais. Riley had just five goals last season and none in his freshman year, when he only earned his way into the lineup in time to play nine games. This year, with 15 regular-season games still to play, he’s leading the team – and tied for the ECAC lead – with 12 goals and 6 assists!
- the RPI defense. All of them. Last year the Engineers finished the season with a combined average +/- of -32. This year, to date, the team has a combined average of +9. Special kudos to Parker Reno and Jared Wilson, who are +13 and +10 respectively.
- the aforementioned 0-0 tie with Harvard. Coming off a 4-0 loss to the Crimson the previous week, the Engineers showed what they are made of in doing everything it took, blocked shots, hard hits and all, to deny Harvard at every opportunity. Harvard took 43 shots in all and got not a single one of them past Jason Kasdorf, in his first game back, and the RPI defense.
- the freshman class as a whole. All of them except Lonnie Clary have scored goals already (and Lonnie has only been in eight games so far) and all have shown a willingness to play tough, hard-nosed hockey and do the little things it takes to win. Special kudos to Jesper Ohrvall who didn’t get his first goal until December 11th and has already added three more.
- the Houston Field House faithful, who have supported the team through thick and thin, with a lot of thin some years, and have really stepped up to cheer the boys on to their 6-2-2 home record so far this season. Way to go, fans!

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You Gotta Like Their Chances!

We may not know what to make of the start the Engineers had in their non-league schedule this season, but it’s hard to argue with what they’ve done in league games thus far!

What do you make of a team that beats Boston College – the only blemish on BC’s otherwise perfect record to date, by the way – and then blows two third-period leads against the Alaska teams? Alaska-Anchorage looks to be a pretty good team this year, with a .688 record so far; Alaska-Fairbanks much less so, with a .375 record currently. Losses to UMass-Lowell and Michigan, currently ranked 5th and 12th in the nation respectively, are less surprising and less informative, but nonetheless RPI fans were a bit worried when the team went into ECAC play with a 1-4 record.

Fast forward two weeks and the Engineers sit atop the league, tied with Harvard, after sweeping Union in a home-and-home and taking three points in the North Country (although they did once again blow a third-period lead in the tie at Clarkson). This is their best league start in over 20 years. It’s also significant to note that some of this success has come with key players missing – senior center Milos Bubela and hot freshman Evan Tironese missed the whole Clarkson-SLU weekend with injuries, and star goalie Jason Kasdorf left the Clarkson game in the third period, also with an injury. Other players stepped up to fill the gaps, most notably Cam Hackett, who took over for Kasdorf at Clarkson and got the win at SLU.

So what does this tell us? Honestly, I don’t think it tells us a whole lot yet about how the Engineers will do over the entire season. RPI is notorious for being unpredictable, for playing up or down to their competition, and for putting up inexplicable wins as well as inexplicable losses.

It does tell us, however, that this installment of the RPI Engineers has talent, has grit and perseverance, and most apparent, has heart. They are capable of good things, maybe even of great things. They know how to come together and play for each other and for missing teammates. They know how to keep fighting when the odds are against them and the scoreboard is taunting them. And they know that one win is just one win and one loss is just one loss – it ain’t over till it’s over.

This weekend they’ll face another tough challenge playing 10th-ranked Yale, and probably have to do it without Kasdorf and Tironese again. There’s no way to know if they’ll come away with a win. But you gotta like their chances!

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Some Early Thoughts

Well, maybe not as early as they should have been, but better late than never.

I like to wait until the season is underway a bit to form any opinions about … well, anything. New players, returning players, special teams, the team as a whole. Because it seems like RPI will inevitably make things confusing by beating at least one team I didn’t expect them to beat (this year’s version is Boston College) and losing to at least one team I didn’t expect them to lose to (take your pick).

My early opinion is that the Engineers clearly have some work to do. It’s especially frustrating to see them take a lead into the third period and then give it away. Too many penalties, not enough willingness to do the dirty work of blocking shots – call it what you will. The end result is that RPI has wasted some really good early efforts.

The flip side of this, though, is that RPI has put up some really good early efforts. If they can learn to sustain those efforts, they can become a dangerous team this year. Here are a few of the positives I’ve seen.

Jason Kasdorf has been impressive and is, perhaps, back to the form that got everyone’s attention in his freshman year. His .928 saves percentage thus far deserves a far better record than his current 1-3-0.

This team can score, even against tough teams like BC. With just four games under their belts, five different players have goals and eleven have points.

In particular, junior Riley Bourbonnais looks poised to elevate his game. With two goals against BC and one against Alaska, he’s currently the team’s leading goal-scorer.

The freshman class looks ready to contribute early. Meirs Moore got his first goal in Friday’s game against Alaska-Anchorage, with Jesper Ohrvall getting one of the assists.

And freshman Evan Tironese has had points in every game he played thus far. He didn’t play against UMass-Lowell, when RPI was shut out, or in the exhibition game against St. Thomas. He assisted on both goals in his first RPI game, the big victory over Boston College, got his first goal in his next game against Alaska-Anchorage, and picked up an assist again in the loss to Alaska the next night. He definitely seems to be a player to watch.

My conclusion? RPI is, as they always seem to be, frustratingly inconsistent. They’ve shown some great efforts, especially defensively, and some real talent, especially offensively, but thus far have been unable to play for a complete 60 minutes most nights. That has to be their goal and, if they can accomplish that, much better days will be ahead this season for the Engineers.

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Hockey Banquet Report, Part 2

Here’s the second installment of my hockey banquet report – the long one!

The evening was opened with some remarks from Dr. Lee McElroy, RPI’s “Interim” Athletic Director. (I put interim in quotes because, according to a recent Times Union article, his stay at RPI may be a lengthy one.) He talked about the rich history of RPI hockey and admitted, laughingly, that this is his first AD experience at a school with a hockey program. He professed to be excited and very much looking forward to the experience.

Father Ed Kacerguis gave the benediction and everything else waited until after dinner. Then, Coach Appert took the podium and talked a little about the season, admitting it was in some ways a disappointing one but complimenting the players on never giving up and finishing the season with a playoff series win at Clarkson and a strong showing at St. Lawrence. He then went on to praise the seniors for their contribution and leadership.

The highlights of the evening, as always, were the speeches made by each departing senior. This year two of the seniors, Curtis Leonard and Matt Neal, were unable to attend because they were still playing pro hockey for the ECHL Reading Royals and Quad City Mallards respectively. They prepared speeches, though, that were read by teammates of their choice.

First up was Scott Diebold, who was back at RPI after a stint playing for the Louisiana IceGators of the SPHL. Scott was in charge of the group thank-yous this year, mentioning everyone the guys could think of so the others could just say, “I’d also like to thank all the people Scotty mentioned.” Saves time and repetition. In his personal thanks, he thanked the coaches for giving him the opportunity to come to RPI and his classmates who he went to battle with each week, learning life lessons and facing adversity (which, he added in an aside, there was plenty of during their RPI years). And of course he thanked his family at length. His parents and sisters were a constant presence throughout his years at RPI and he thanked them for their unwavering support.

Curtis Leonard was next on the agenda, but since Curtis couldn’t be there he chose to have his speech read by “one of my best buds” and defensive partner Chris Bradley. Curtis reiterated a lot of the thank-yous Scott mentioned and then thanked his teammates and especially his classmates for giving him “stories and memories to last a lifetime.” He too thanked his family at length, mentioning his two sisters and of course his parents.

Matt Neal chose fellow senior Zach Schroeder to read his speech. (A little early practice for Zach who, thanks to his earlier redshirt, will be back next year to play his fourth year of eligibility and work on a masters degree.) Matt said he couldn’t have asked for a better group of guys for teammates and also thanked Colonel Knowlton, RPI’s former AD, for being an “extraordinary leader and director” and wished him luck in the future. He said how proud he was to play for a school with RPI’s rich tradition and history and mentioned the life lessons he learned while working together with his teammates to achieve a common goal. He thanked his classmates – “his best friends and the kind of quality people this program produces” and of course his parents, and finished by apologizing for being unable to be present.

Jacob Laliberte went next. He thanked the coaches “for believing in me” and then went on to especially thank the fans. He spoke of how amazing RPI’s fans are, how they were always behind the team and how, no matter where the team was playing, near or far, there were always RPI fans there to cheer for them. Like the others, he finished by thanking his parents (in English – I was expecting French!) and saying he wouldn’t have been there without them.

Luke Curadi took the podium next, with his arm in a sling from shoulder surgery earlier in the week. He was my guess for the most emotional speech this year, and he didn’t disappoint. He started to choke up before he even got past thanking the coaches who, he said, have a thankless job sometimes. He started by reminiscing about the start of his freshman year, saying that he and his classmates were at the golf tournament in August that year talking about how long they’d have together and then how fast it went. He advised the underclassmen to enjoy every minute. He thanked the great fans, and the Pep Band in particular. He also thanked all his teammates, especially those who came before him and showed him the way. He especially thanked his mom, who he said is an incredibly strong person, and his dad who first got him on skates. As most know, Luke lost his dad last summer, so this was rather an emotional moment for everyone. But his mom Denise has always been a rock for Luke – I don’t think she ever missed a single game no matter where it was – and she is his rock still.

Mark McGowan was last but not least. He thanked the coaches for the opportunity to play at RPI and echoed Luke’s advice to his younger teammates – “appreciate what you have because before you know it, it will be gone.” He thanked all his teammates and especially his classmates. Mark’s parents were unable to attend the banquet because of a scheduling conflict, but Mark thanked them at length for all the sacrifices they made, choking up a bit when he got to his Mom, saying how she always put him and everyone else before herself.

Sorry this is long but, as usual, we’re saying goodbye to a terrific group of young men and I wanted to give them all their due. Thank you, seniors, for your four years of hard work and for the great example you set!

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Hockey Banquet Preliminary Report

Here’s a preliminary report from the RPI Men’s Hockey Banquet that was held Saturday night. For now, I’ll just mention the awards, the presenters and the recipients. I’ll get to the fun part – the departing seniors’ speeches – in another post soon.

The Most Outstanding Freshman award was presented by Marc Cavosie, volunteer assistant coach and ’03 hockey alumnus. The award was given to Drew Melanson, who led the team in goals with 9 and in scoring with 20 total points.

The Community Service Award was presented by RPI Vice President Claude Rounds and went to junior Travis Fulton for the second straight year. Travis is involved in numerous charitable efforts including coaching youth hockey and participating in the ACS Relay for Life.

The Scholar Athlete Award, which has been renamed the Erick R. James ’99 Top Scholar Athlete Award in honor of Erick, who passed away last fall, was presented by Erick’s friend, Dr. Judy Barnes ’84 and by Student Advisor Bob Conway. This award is always given to the player with the highest GPA and this year it went to junior Mark Miller, whose 3.83 GPA is particularly impressive given his major in mechanical engineering!

The Most Improved Player Award was presented by RPI Vice President Ginny Gregg and went to freshman Kenny Gillespie, who played in only three games in the first half of the season, but earned playing time in 12 games after the semester break, scoring three assists along the way.

The Best Defensive Player Award was presented by RPI hockey alumni Matt Murley ’02 and Kurt Colling ’09 and went to this year’s captain, Curtis Leonard. Curtis was unable to attend since he is still playing pro hockey with the ECHL Reading Royals.

The Ben Mayo Most Inspirational Player Award was once again presented by cancer survivor and honorary Engineer Ben Mayo and went to Mark McGowan, who Coach Appert commended for his always-positive attitude and determination to win.

The final award of the evening was the Most Valuable Player Award, which was presented by Vice President John Kolb. It went to Jason Kasdorf, who battled back from season-ending surgery last year to play in 33 games this season, posting a .902 saves percentage and 2.97 GAA.

More coming soon!

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Season Wrap-up

Okay, okay. No more sitting here staring at my computer screen – time to bite the bullet and write a season-ending post.

It’s not easy. It’s never easy to say goodbye to guys that I’ve watched play for four years and come to know and care about. And lately, I’ll admit, it’s not always easy to put a good spin on the overall results of the season. There have been quite a few years that didn’t meet our expectations in one way or another and, yes, I guess the 2014-15 season was among them.

It would be disingenuous of me to pretend that there was nothing disappointing about a season that saw losing streaks of five, nine and six games at different points, and an overall record of 12-26-3. A season where RPI finished in 9th place in the ECAC and opened the playoffs on the road. And of course a season where they, for the 13th consecutive time, didn’t make it to the ECAC tournament.

But there’s always that view through the rose-colored glasses, always the upside to look at too. Sandwiched in among those losing streaks were a 3-game winning streak, a 3-1 streak, and a nice 5-2-1 streak that began with an exciting weekend-sweep of defending-national champion Union. The boys won all the home games that have special meaning for the fans – Black Friday (a 6-1 pasting of Union!), the Big Red Freakout, and Senior Night.
And their series win on the road at Clarkson in the first round of ECAC playoffs definitely gave us some end-of-season thrills. They lost in the next round at St. Lawrence, but played two good games and gave us some moments to cheer about there too.

Also on my list of positives to take from the season is the impressive performance of the freshmen class, who look like they will be big contributors over the next three years. More on them in a later post.

I’ll also have more in later posts about the departing seniors. I’ll wait until after the Hockey Banquet on April 18th to share some final thoughts about those terrific young men who worked so hard for the program over their four years at RPI. Meanwhile, though, a big thank you to them and to all the players for all their efforts this year and for all the exciting moments they gave us. Thank you, Engineers!

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