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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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!

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, 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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