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.