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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It’s That Time Again

I’ve been following a strategy of waiting until there was good news to talk about before writing, but I’m not sure it’s going to work for me this time. After all, we’re heading into the last weekend of the regular season on an eight-game non-winning streak that started immediately after my last post. The closest thing we’ve had to good news in that span was the tie at Cornell, but considering that RPI lost a two-goal lead in the third period of that game, allowing the tying goal with just 33 seconds on the clock, it’s a bit of a stretch to think of it as good news.

But this is where we are and my job now is to make the best of it and see what positives we can find. So here goes…

The Engineers are, for the most part, healthy now, in fact probably the healthiest they’ve been all season. As far as I know, there is no one actually sidelined with an injury at this point, though some may be playing at less than 100%. This can only be a good thing, giving Coach Appert more choices for his lineups and giving the players their best shot at a strong postseason.

Some of the players seem to be upping their games lately, increasing their scoring even if the total numbers on the scoreboard still aren’t impressive. Drew Melanson has had assists in four of the last five games. Jacob Laliberte and Mark McGowan each had two goals and an assist over the same span and Viktor Liljegren accomplished the same thing in the last four games. And Lou Nanne’s goal at Cornell broke a scoring drought (interrupted by injury) for him that began just after November 15th.

My math guy tells me that the greatest likelihood now (about a 70% chance) is that RPI will finish in 9th place and head to Clarkson for the first round of playoffs. I don’t see this as entirely a bad thing considering the poor record the Engineers have had with home playoff series recently – in the last ten years RPI has not won a playoff series at home, losing four 1st-round and one 2nd-round series. They have a better first-round record on the road, where they’ve won two of five series including one at Clarkson. I won’t pretend to be crazy about a second drive to the North Country in one season, but I’m okay with the idea of Clarkson for an opponent. At least that’s what I’m thinking now – ask me again after we tackle them along with second-place St. Lawrence at Houston Field House this weekend!

It’s do-or-die, now-or-never time for RPI and, while their fate is not entirely in their own hands, the Engineers can certainly help themselves by taking some points this weekend. Let’s go, Red!


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Ready to Rock and Roll!

At least that’s how it looks to me. From what they’ve said and what I’ve seen, I think the RPI hockey players are ready to rock the joint at the Times Union Center on Saturday and keep the roll they’re on going! Three straight wins including a home ECAC weekend sweep beating Colgate and shutting out Cornell – now that’s more like it!

I was going to title this “Ready to Rumble,” but I don’t think anyone really wants a repeat of last year’s post-game debacle (although the expected attendance of 10,000+ could be a sign that I’m wrong!).

Some of the things I wished for in my last post seem to be falling into place, for sure. Jason Kasdorf has been playing much more like his pre-surgery self. Most of the injured players are back and healthy again (exceptions being Mark Miller who is still healing and Travis Fulton with a recent injury). And best of all, players who were struggling earlier in the year are starting to up their contributions. This is particularly true of the seniors, who have supplied seven goals and 15 assists over the last three games! Now that’s leadership!

RPI heads into the Mayors’ Cup game with a three-game winning streak over Union and a three-game winning streak in current play. Union, meanwhile, is on the ropes a bit with a three-game losing streak they’re looking to shake. Here’s hoping they don’t shake it for at least one more game! Let’s go, Red!

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A New Year Coming and New Hopes With It!

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve posted here! So long, in fact, that my last post was still talking about RPI’s Union sweep and, in view of the up-and-down play that immediately followed, lamenting the lack of any clear early answers about this year’s team. The way this season has gone so far, we may still be talking about the Union sweep as the highlight when the whole thing is over. Even now I’d hesitate to say we have clear answers about the Engineers’ capabilities this year, but with half the season behind us it’s not too early to talk about their performance.

In short, it’s been less-than-stellar. Five shutout losses and three more with only one goal scored. Two five-game losing streaks, including one that we can only hope ends with a win at Harvard tonight. Outscored 57-30 over the first half of the season (and if you take out the very enjoyable but somewhat inexplicable 6-1 win over Union, the differential is much worse!). And several key players – I won’t name names – scoring at much lower levels than they did in the past. You could look at this and think the news is all bad. And yes, it isn’t good. There’s no way to put a good spin on any of that.

BUT (hey, there’s always a but – what would be the point in writing this otherwise!) … the good news is that the season is only half over, and the ECAC season not even that, and there are plenty of realistic reasons to hope. With eight league games behind them, the Engineers are 4-4 and tied for 5th place in the ECAC. That’s solidly in the middle, maybe a little better than middle, with the meat of the season still ahead of us. And while I haven’t heard any specific reports, there’s every reason to expect that the semester break and time at home has got the team a lot healthier, with injuries healed, illnesses conquered, and good spirits restored.

And we saw some really exciting potential from new players like Lou Nanne and Drew Melanson and from previously-unsung players like Riley Bourbonnais and Jake Wood. If Nanne and Melanson are healthy and ready to go as we start the second half, they could make a big difference in some tight games. Jason Kasdorf has been out too, and perhaps not playing up to his potential before that, so seeing him back to his old self could be another reason to hope.

In short, there are lots of question marks right now, and tonight’s game at Harvard could be our first look at some answers. Harvard has been hot this year and will be a tough opponent for sure, but the rest of the season starts tonight. Let’s go, Red!

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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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