Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Good, Bad, Ugly

Ok, so the season is over. One of the worst win loss records in memory and yet an almost magical playoff run that basically made the season a "draw" in my mind. I could go over the season in huge recaps but I am a lazy, lazy man. Instead, I will give you the good, bad and ugly of the season as a recap.

The Ugly:

Shots on Goal. RPI played 34 regular season games. Guess how many times they out shot their opponent? 8, 8 times! In fact, RPI was out shot 1047 to 858 (RPI). RPI averaged 25 shots a game sure but their defense gave up 30 or more shots in a game 17 times! In fact, opponents averaged 30 shots per game. Clearly the defense needs to step up big time to rectify this ugly statistic from the season.

The Bad:

Next to last in lots of categories. The ECAC is a 12 team league. RPI was 11th in PPG, power play percentage, goals against and GAA. 10th in goals, assists, goals per game and empty net goals against. As anemic as the defense was, the offense was worse.

The Good:

Finally, here we are at the good. What can be taken away from this season that puts a smile to your face? Allen York. As a freshman (drafted in 2007) York posted a save percentage above .900. He also recorded the only shutout of the season. Oh, and did I mention he was a freshman? Couple that with the top 4 scorers being either freshmen or sophomores and the future looks bright indeed for the cherry and white. Polacek 14th in the league in scoring. Not so great in individual categories but I think they have the young guns to change that in the next few years.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Backs To The Wall, The Boys Fought Hard

Wow, what a weekend!!!!

Despite being outshot 32-14 (15-6 in the third period alone), RPI managed to win the first game against Cornell 1-0! With York in net. Cullen scoring the game winner. Of course, the next night, Rippeee got blown out which set up the pivotal game 3 in Ithaca NY.

Down 4-1 going into the third period, RPI almost came all the way back, scoring 2 goals in the final frame and actually outshooting the Big Red for the entire game. Alas, it was not enough and RPI is thinking about finals and Frear Park at this date on Monday.

Still, what fight the lads showed. What heart. What confidence in the young guns by SA! Really, can the season start next week with the new recruits already? People over at USCHO are already chomping at the bit for next season.

A full recap of the season and a look ahead will be upcoming in a few days but I think I will just end with this for right now:

Here's to old RPI, her fame may never die.
Here's to old Rensselaer, she stands today without a peer.
Here's to those olden days,
Here's to those golden days,
Here's to the friends we made at dear old RPI.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Color Coded

Here we go. RPI beat the Big Green and now are matched up against the Big Red. The last game Cornell played was waaaaay back in February 28th (an OT winner over Brown). Could RPI be meeting a slumping Red much like they met a slumping Green? Well, after a stellar January, Cornell went 4-4 in February and 5-6-1 since January 23rd.

Sure that rink in Ithaca (its GORgeous!) is loud and uninviting. But now RPI must be feeling like its playing with house money. Starting a bunch of freshmen, seeing them score, led by a Frosh goaltender AND a sweep??? I think they are playing loose and won't be indimidated by Cornell or their fans. To keep the lucky streak going, I will pick Cornell this weekend to win in 3 but obviously, I am hoping for a different result.

USCHO's exhaustive roundup.

No. 11 Rensselaer @ No. 2 Cornell

The basics: Cornell swept the series, 3-0 and 4-1. Freshman defenseman Mike Bergin is out for the year, and hasn’t played since early December. Senior forward Kurt Colling was out last weekend, but is probable to play this weekend. Sophomore forward Joe Devin hasn’t played in the Big Red’s last three games, and Evan Barlow and Joe Scali didn’t skate in the season finale at Brown. Forward Tyler Roeszler hasn’t laced up since early February, but none of these are confirmed injuries: head coach Mike Schafer was unavailable for comment, so the absences are of unknown significance.

Rensselaer is perhaps two wins away from total absolution. Following a horrific regular season, the Engineers finally clicked in a meaningful and tangible way by edging Dartmouth out of the tournament by 3-2 (ot) and 3-1 scores. It was RPI’s first six-goal weekend since the North Country split eight weeks back, and also marked the fewest goals allowed in a weekend since the second week in January (also three). The much-maligned power play failed to show up again, but the penalty kill held the Big Green to one-for-seven and Allen York stopped 58 shots in his first taste of NCAA postseason.

Cornell flew right through mid-January, by playing Cornell hockey and winning Cornell wins. The offense was good for three or four goals a game, Ben Scrivens and the bruising defense rarely surrendered more than one or two, and life was good in Ithaca. But since Yale tipped the Big Red 4-3 at Lynah on January 23, things have seemed a little out-of-whack for the Red. The team is 5-6-1 down the stretch and was pressed into four overtime games (in which it went 2-1-1). The defense allowed two four-goal games and a fiver in its last six, but the scoring has prevented the situation from escalating into a full-on meltdown. The power play has been a big reassurance for Schafer and the Big Red, clicking along at nearly 22 percent in league play. The PK is also solid, functioning at a roughly 88 percent kill rate.

Following a few weeks of consistent efforts and dramatically improved quality of play, RPI suddenly dropped a couple of eminently winnable games. Just as coach Seth Appert began to worry about how much more his team could take, the Engineers pulled together through exceptional leadership and resilient pride.

“We really lost our belief in the month of February,” began Rensselaer head coach Seth Appert. The coach praised captain Matt Angers-Goulet for successfully buoying the troops during tough times though. “I think a lot of teams going through some of the struggles we went through would have very little spirit or life left in them this week,” he said after complimenting A-G’s hard work.

Last weekend, RPI finally saw some dividends from its months of hard work … and this was no chump change, either.

“We played very good playoff-style hockey: blocking shots, finishing checks, taking care of the puck, knocking up a lot of odd-man rushes — things of that nature — and staying out of the penalty box,” praised the coach, who counted 55 blocked shots in two games against Dartmouth, “and that’s a good recipe for success,” he said.

The sweep wasn’t a product of finally being on the right side of what had been an endless string of unlucky bounces, Appert proclaimed. Bounces, he said, aren’t really in his vocabulary.

“I’m not a big believer in bounces. I just don’t believe in ‘em,” he stated. “I think that you get what you earn, and our lack of success in the season wasn’t because of bad bounces, and our success this weekend wasn’t because of good bounces. It was because of hard work. You earn everything you get, nobody gives you anything. I’m a firm believer in that in hockey, and also in life.”

“We played with a little more determination and collective will than we did throughout the season,” he assessed. Now that his charges know what it feels like to earn a win, Appert believes they can avoid making the little-yet-critical errors that accumulate into losses. “When you lose a lot of close games, sometimes those little things can be the difference.”

“I think we played a similar style (to how we’d been playing), but I just think we did everything a little bit better and perhaps with a little bit more urgency and passion than we have in the regular season.”

As for Cornell, the Engineers have learned one thing for certain from their two defeats at the hands of the Big Red: don’t fall behind.

“They’re a tough team to play from behind against. That’s their comfort level, and they’re good at it, they’re good defensively. They just don’t give you a lot of opportunities to play from behind,” the coach stressed, further mentioning how Cornell had built early and ultimately insurmountable leads against RPI during the regular season.

For the ‘Tute to triumph, not only will it have to play with poise, determination and confidence, but with a bit of a chip on its shoulder as well.

“We’re going to be aggressive because that’s who we are; that’s when we play our best,” said Appert. “We’re going to be physical, we’re gonna go after them, and we’re going to play the style that we have to play when we’ve had success this season, and that we played with at Dartmouth last weekend.”

It’s crucial to keep the Red off the scoreboard early, the coach believes, as the Red defense can be positively punishing when allowed to dictate the play. The visitors will have to play tight defense, but also pay the price in the offensive zone by getting into Scrivens’ part of the ice.

“I think we’re willing and ready, and have the understanding of that’s where you need to get at this time of the year no matter who you’re playing, and probably even moreso against Cornell.”

Do the upstart Engineers have another upset in ‘em? Puckman Nation is eagerly waiting to distribute some custom-made “Get Out of a Bad Season Free” cards if they do.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Well Slap Me With A Pickle!

Whodathunkit? I mean seriously? In a posting last week, I did point out that Darmouth was slumping and their team was getting blown out but really??? A sweep for the Cherry and White? And led by freshman, including York??????

Well, RPI may or may not do it against Cornell this next weekend but I am savoring the win this week. And, next year is suddenly looking brighter with all the young guys stepping up. Perhaps we are seeing the inklings of RPI's fabeled turnaround at last?

More on this weekend's matchups in a bit but for right now. Go Red, Go White!

Friday, March 06, 2009


To say I am not "up" for this first round ECAC series with the Big Green is an understatement. I just find myself almost not caring at all. Of course, I will be listening to WRPI, Troy, 91.5 both nights (I don't see RPI extending the series) hoping beyond hope for some Appert inspired turnaround and then going on USCHO's forum to hear the same complaints about the team (lack of offensive punch, defense like pylons, Appert saying the same shit over and over) and then what will this season have accomplished?

I will delve into that more in the offseason but first, Dartmouth, at Dartmouth. RPI gets sweeped in my book. USCHO does a nice breakdown of the series which I have reprinted below:

No. 11 Rensselaer @ No. 6 Dartmouth

The basics: Dartmouth swept the season series with two 5-2 wins. The Engineers are expected to be healthy, with the exception of the long-term injury to frosh defenseman Mike Bergin. Second-year forward Andrew Owsiak (8-9-17) and junior forward Josh Gillam (2-4-6) are probables for Dartmouth, but third-year striker Rob Smith has been out all year.

Rensselaer and head coach Seth Appert are still awaiting the high-energy, up-tempo offensive game that the coach prefers to orchestrate; this year’s team just doesn’t have the dynamic talent to make that vision a reality. The ‘Tute has topped three goals just four times all year, and enters the postseason having scored only five times in its last five games. Appert deigned his defense “one of the better — if not the best — D-corps in the league, with a top goalie tandem” before the season began, but the woes in the offensive end have led to team-wide pressing, which has in turn led to defensive lapses. Despite a depressing record, the Trojan six has turned it up in recent weeks with better energy and a more deliberate and physical game. Belittle the offense all you like; it won’t spare you any bruises.

Dartmouth would easily rate as this season’s most surprising team, if it weren’t for that Blue Man Group from New Haven. The pack jumped out to a 5-2 start and an 8-4 record by New Year’s, but like many young teams began to struggle as the season’s minutes accumulated. The Big Green went 3-3-3 in January, then stumbled to a 3-5-0 result in February. The Green are offensively loaded, with 11 players boasting double-digit points overall and 17 goal-scorers, but one of their most noteworthy members has got to be rookie netminder Jody O’Neill. The freshman has started 28 games already, has made the most saves in the league (698 against the ECAC), and ranks fifth in the conference with a .928 league save percentage. It may not be the most veteran bunch, but sometimes overestimating the unknown can prove more motivating than properly assessing a known quantity.

As always, RPI head coach Seth Appert is a quality source for solid quotes. He doesn’t beat around the bush, he sees the game in a creative but comprehensible way, and as much as anything else, he’s extremely high-energy.

“There’s three areas where they’ve been very good,” he said of Dartmouth, diving right in. “One is in goal, and obviously Jody O’Neill’s had an outstanding freshman year, so we need to try to get to him. He’s given up quite a few more goals in the last month than he probably did in any previous time in his freshman year, so we’re going to need to continue to get on him, get to the net, get traffic on him, and make the game difficult on a young goaltender.”

The rough patch Appert referenced was O’Neill’s dirty-dozen weekend in the North Country two weeks back. In a busy 27 hours, the goalie ushered five Clarkson goals twineward, then another seven for St. Lawrence the following night in his — and many of his teammates’ — first-ever trip to the northernmost reaches of ECAC Hockey.

“I think the (other) two other areas that they’re very dangerous and a very talented team is in transition and then also on their power play,” Appert continued in an efficient, effervescent clip. “In transition they’re a very good rush team, they create a lot of offense on the rush, they activate their defensemen on the rush, and they’re a very, very talented and dangerous team if you’re going to give them three-on-twos, and four-on-threes, and two-on-ones, et cetera. We need to make sure we stop their transition game by taking care of the puck and being in good defensive position against them.

“And then obviously on the power play … our special teams have not been good this year. We need them to be this weekend, but we also want this series to be a five-on-five series. We want to be physical, we want to be aggressive — that’s when we play our best, when we’re aggressive and we’re physical — but at the same time we want this to be a five-on-five series. That plays to our advantage, to our strengths, if the power plays for both teams are five or under (per game).”

The Engineers allowed 29 of their 75 total league goals against on the penalty kill. Their 79.6 percent PK figure was worst in the league, and only two teams averaged more penalty minutes per game than the ‘Tute.

In goal, Appert has a critical decision to make. Senior Mathias Lange has had flashes of brilliance and even dependability this year, but has fallen on hard times in the second half. First-year challenger Allen York has provided some quality minutes since Lange began to falter, and both have demonstrated postseason know-how before.

“I’m not sure (who to start), I’m torn on that still. Mathias Lange obviously is a senior and he’s got a lot of experience for us, and he played well in the playoffs last season at Yale, and I think he had his best game of the second half against St. Lawrence on Saturday night. But at the same time, Allen York, a freshman, has played very good down the stretch for us, and has had extensive runs deep in the playoffs. He’s won two Alberta championships in a row, two Doyle Cups in a row, and taken his team to the Canadian Royal Bank Championships (all with the Camrose Kodiaks) two years in a row. He’s not only played well down the stretch this year, but he’s also had a lot of postseason success in his career. So I think we have two good options, and it’s possible that both could go this weekend.”

Overall, Appert just hopes that his charges have their heads on straight and their eyes set dead-ahead.

“It doesn’t matter what’s happened in the past, we can’t change that, no one was happy with the regular season that we had. But that has no bearing and no effect on our performance Friday night unless we let it. So we’ve put that away, we’ve learned some hard lessons, and now we’ve got to get re-energized and excited about playing playoff hockey because these are the opportunities that you dream about as a young kid.”

On the Dartmouth side, head coach Bob Gaudet has been around too long to dare overlook an underdog like Rensselaer.

“They’re a really good team. They’re a team that’s good in goal, it’s a well-coached team that’s very skilled,” he began. “They do a lot of creative things offensively: they get a lot of people involved in the rush, they get a lot of people involved in the offensive zone, defensemen coming down and interchanging with forwards. They’re a very creative team, and they’re a team that’s actually quite physical too. They’re a team that finishes a lot of checks.”

Looking at his own roster, Gaudet can’t be blamed for feeling proud of his boys’ results thus far.

“The interesting thing about our team is that we were picked 11th, and some picked us 12th (in the preseason polls), and our kids are a pretty humble group. They’re pretty confident in what they can do, but we feel that we have to be at our best. We have to have our A-game to be successful, and it doesn’t matter who we play against.”

Even Gaudet is surprised at the prolific youth of his club.

“We have a very young team. For the last few weeks, basically, we’ve been playing four or five combination juniors and seniors on our team, so the rest of our team has been freshmen and sophomores. So there’s a lot of times — a surprising amount of times, and it’s not by design — that I watch video (and notice) that there’s six freshmen on the ice for us: two defensemen, a goalie and three forwards. And any combination of units that we have is really young.

“With that, we have guys (for whom) it’s a brand new experience. And so when we go into the playoffs, we have a bunch of guys that have never been in college playoffs. So these guys are going to be working their hardest to be at their best, because that’s what they know they have to do.”

A former goaltender himself, Gaudet knows his way around a crease … and how tough it really is to weather the strains of a full season’s work, both physically and mentally. That’s why he’s so impressed with O’Neill, for whom the coach seems to have a genuine admiration.

“Jody is an unbelievable strong kid. Fundamentally, he’s got great technical attributes. But what I like most about him is his mental toughness and his ability to battle, and that’s something that you really can’t teach. He’s a guy that can let in a goal that he thinks he should have, and come back and make huge saves. He’s been really consistent.

“In my 20-whatever it’s been, 25, 26 years, he is the best young goaltender that I’ve ever coached in terms of what he brings to the table. He has pretty good size … he plays big too, he’s upright quite a bit, and he has good technical abilities, but he’s unbelievably tough mentally. He’s been without question our biggest factor in our games.”

Like all his players, the coach and his staff have watched for tell-tale signs of fatigue as the goalie’s first collegiate season wore on. Weight loss, diminished performance in practice, games, or the weight room, or any number of other indications can tell you that a player needs a rest, but apparently O’Neill is as good to go as ever.

“We’ve tried to keep our goalie sessions short and to the point. The physical fatigue works toward mental fatigue. He’s actually surprisingly fresh, which is encouraging for me.”

Time to see if the rest of the Big Green can play as fresh as they did in the fall.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Limping To The Finish

You could see the team being deflated after the Florida tourney last year. They got blown out by nationally ranked teams and then played the second half of the ECAC schedule like they just wanted the year over with.

This year, there was a slight bump in the middle of the season where the team found its scoring touch, the defense did NOT act like pylons and Lange was not platooned that it looked like RPI might actually make a run. The home and home series against Union took care of all of that.

Now this team is just on cruise control and looking forward to finals (if any college student actually looks FORWARD to finals). This last weekend included a 4-2 loss to Clarkson (out shot 11-4 in the first period, 4-0 after 2, Tyler being the only bright spot in the third) and a 2-0 shutout on Senior Night (Lange, predictably in net, 0-6 on the powerplay, allowing 2, count em TWO powerplay goals).

So what is coming up for RPI this weekend? A first round matchup with Dartmouth. If I was a betting man, I would put it all on the Big Green. Seriously, what campus does not have a mascot for its teams? Although, I might give the big D a pass for having a de facto mascot like this:

Let us take a quick look at Dartmouth shall we? 14-12-3 overall, 8-5-2 at home. Games against RPI, 5-2 win and, surprise, surprise, a 5-2 win! Well that doesn't bode well does it? Especially with RPI's stellar 3-10-1 away record. The only positives is that Dartmouth has lost 3 of their last 4 games by a COMBINED score of 8 to 17. They are reeling but methinks will get healthy against and overmatched and, more importantly, unmotivated RPI squad.

More thoughts later in the week but clearly they aren't going to get any more positive!