Friday, October 21, 2016

Dial It Back

The Engineers (0-3-0) open their home schedule with a doozy of a homestand - nine in 10 within the friendly confines of Houston Field House, with the oddball being the short journey to Houston Field House West just up Route 7 next weekend. That's more than half of the entire home schedule taking place within the next five weekends - only seven games remain on the regular season tableau after a weekend series with Ohio State on the 18th and 19th of November. It would be prudent for the team to produce some results in the next five weeks.

They get that mission underway tonight against Niagara (0-2-1) and tomorrow night against RIT (1-1-1). No offense to the Purps or the Tigers, but they're not quite Maine (who are off to a surprisingly strong start) and they're not quite North Dakota (enough said). Look at the last two weekends as a resistance run. Back when I ran cross-country in high school N years ago, we'd take a couple of practices and run down to the beach, where we'd do wind sprints while knee-deep in Lake George. It helped make running down a nature trail seem a whole lot easier.

If RPI can take a three really tough road games and play the same way at home against teams less likely to burn mistakes, less likely to simply outclass, and less likely to make life in general super difficult, it could be a strong bounce in the correct direction - and perhaps prove that losing your first three games isn't necessarily a season killer, especially if it prepares you for games that will ultimately matter more... games which start next weekend.

Continuing our selection of Tragically Hip pumpups, here's "Fifty Mission Cap," a song that relates the true story of hockey player Bill Barilko. If you don't know it, learn it. Certainly one that will help get the blood flowing as the Engineers return home after a couple thousand miles of road trip to start the year.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Men's Hockey - at North Dakota (15 Oct)

It was always going to be hard to expect anything about traveling to the defending and eight-time national champions, and the end result was pretty much as one would have expected. RPI was actually fairly efficient with their shots, scoring twice on 14 of them, but of course, 14 shots is not what you're looking for against a team like North Dakota, who have proven in their first three games to be very stingy on defense and full of firepower on offense. The end result was a 5-2 defeat from which the Engineers can at least draw some positives going forward, if not a victory for the resume.

North Dakota
Wood, Rodriguez



Whatever Brady Wiffen's injury is, it kept him from traveling with the squad and the Engineers again went with an 11x7 lineup, with Meirs Moore returning from a minor thumb injury and replacing Bradley Bell among the starting 18, with a healthy amount of line jumbling as well.

The first goal was a repeat from both RPI and North Dakota's last outings - the Engineers scored first and the Fighting Hawks gave up the first goal. Evan Tironese notched his first goal of the year and his second collegiate goal when he one-timed a pass from Riley Bourbonnais past UND netminder Cam Johnson to put the Engineers ahead 1-0 on their first shot of the game.

RPI maintained that lead for much of the first period, and even had two opportunities to extend that lead on the power play, but both power plays were cut short by penalties taken by Viktor Liljegren. The Swedish junior took a tripping penalty just under a minute into RPI's first power play of the game, and then a hooking call about 20 seconds into the Engineers' second man advantage.

UND tied things up with about 4:30 left in the first period as sophomore Joel Janatuinen struck pretty much out of nowhere with a one-timer from Ludvig Hoff to put the Fighting Hawks on the board.

The Engineers didn't fall behind until almost six minutes into the second period. North Dakota took a 2-1 lead on a goal by super-freshman Tyson Jost, and just over a minute later a second goal by Janatuinen gave the home team a more comfortable 3-1 edge.

After a very solid penalty kill for RPI about five minutes later, freshman Will Reilly found Jake Wood on an outlet pass, and the senior was off to the races. Wood buried the puck just three seconds after a penalty to Mike Prapavessis ended - technically an even-strength goal but functionally a short-handed tally as the play began before the penalty concluded, but nevertheless pulling the Engineers back within a goal with two goals scored on just 10 shots in the first two periods of the evening.

But the ending still wasn't terribly in doubt, and the Fighting Hawks left zero doubt early in the third period, as a goal by Cole Smith five and a half minutes into the final period gave UND their two-goal cushion back, and the conclusion of the hat trick by Janatuinen - the second hat trick scored on the Engineers in three games - pretty much sealed things tight. After putting five shots on goal in each of the first two periods, RPI managed just four in the third period, certainly not anywhere close to being enough to pull back the three-goal hole. Chase Perry was once again a hard-luck loser in net with 33 saves on 38 shots - it really wasn't poor play by the Engineers that caused the loss, more just the outstanding play by the home team getting the job done without a shadow of a doubt.

Again, this wasn't an unexpected result. RPI was going to need to catch North Dakota on a bad night in order to find success and it just wasn't in the cards. The Fighting Hawks didn't even look particularly bad in the first period, when the Engineers led for over 10 minutes. So it's an 0-3 start for RPI, but that's probably not the best metric for measuring them just yet. The sweep at Maine suddenly looks a lot better after the Black Bears split with Quinnipiac in Orono over the weekend, with both games going to overtime - and from here, the schedule not only gets a touch easier, it also shifts home for the first time... and for the next five consecutive weekends.

RPI went 6-for-6 on the penalty kill on the evening, extending their streak of penalty kills to start the season off with 17 successful kills in a row. Only Bemidji State (22) has started off their season with more successful kills without allowing a power play goal, and Penn State (15) is the only other non-Ivy that has yet to allow a power play goal.

On the flip side, the Engineers are 1-for-19 on the power play to start the season. Only Alaska-Anchorage (1-for-23) and, amazingly, Boston College (a mind-numbing 0-for-20) have been worse on the power play to start the season. Mercyhurst, Minnesota, and St. Cloud State all have yet to score a power play goal as well, but all have fewer than 10 opportunities, so let's not be too harsh on them just yet.

In the meantime, the first two games of a nine-out-of-ten in a row homestand - the one being a road trip all the way to Schenectady - get underway this weekend against Niagara and RIT of Atlantic Hockey. RIT is no slouch, but they're not Maine on the road and they're not the defending national champions. The key, especially on Saturday night against the Tigers, is for the Engineers to display what they've learned in three tough games and show that they can win games that they're supposed to win, even if they couldn't win games they weren't necessarily favored to win.

RPI at #1 North Dakota
US Hockey Hall of Fame Game - Alfond Arena (Orono, ME)
10/15/16 - 8:00pm

RESULT: North Dakota 5, RPI 2

RECORD: 0-3-0

Upcoming games
21 Oct - Niagara
22 Oct - RIT
28 Oct - Union
29 Oct - at Union
04 Nov - Brown

Monday, October 17, 2016

Women's Hockey - UConn (14/15 Oct)

RPI finished off its early season non-conference play by hosting UConn for a weekend pair at Houston Field House. The Engineers soundly defeated the Huskies in a 3-0 shutout on Friday, but the tables were turned Saturday as UConn took a 4-1 victory in the rematch.





Lovisa Selander earned her first shutout of the season in a 3-0 victory over UConn Friday night, also notching an assist on the Engineers' first goal. Six other players each tallied a point on the evening, while Marisa Raspa led the team in shots with seven.

RPI scored once in each period, starting out with a goal by Makenna Thomas at 5:45 of the opening frame. Thomas skated in one-on-one and put a shot off the pipe and in to give the Engineers a 1-0 lead.

Amanda Kimmerle made it a 2-0 game at 17:48 of the second period, firing a rocket of a shot through traffic from the point to beat a screened Annie Belanger.

Hannah Behounek grew the lead to 3-0 8:59 into the final period, an impressive unassisted tally where she picked up the puck in the neutral zone, skated in one-on-three and still managed to get the puck past Belanger.

RPI outshot UConn by a 41-21 margin on the night





After a good win on Friday night, the Engineers didn't fare so well on Saturday - defeated by UConn 4-1 while being outshot 35-22. Aly Tremblay scored the Engineers' lone goal, while the Huskies' second line of Leah Lum, Briana Colangelo, and Theresa Knutson combined for a 3-6-9 line on the afternoon.

Lum was responsible for two goals, both scored in a first period which saw the Engineers outshot 16-2. Both goals were assisted by Colangelo and Knutson.

After a scoreless second period, RPI drew to within one on Tremblay's goal at 5:05 of the third. The Engineers found themselves back in a two-goal hole shortly after when Knutson scored to make it 3-1.

With the RPI net empty in favor of the extra attacker to get back to 5-on-5 during a penalty kill, UConn put the game away with a goal from Madison Badeau.

Morgan Fisher earned the win in the Huskies' net in her first collegiate appearance, making 21 saves on 22 shots. Lovisa Selander stopped 31 of 34 shots she faced on the afternoon.

RPI now takes a weekend off before opening up ECAC play at home against Cornell and Colgate on October 28th and 29th. Both games will have 3pm start times as the men also host Union the evening of the 28th.


RPI vs. UConn
Non-Conference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
10/14/16 - 6pm
RPI 3, UConn 0

College Hockey Stats:

Video Highlights:

RECORD: 2-4-1


RPI vs. UConn
Non-Conference Game - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
10/15/16 - 3pm
UConn 4, RPI 1

College Hockey Stats:


RECORD: 2-5-1


Upcoming Schedule

Oct. 28 - Cornell (3pm)
Oct. 29 - Colgate (3pm)
Nov. 4 - at Yale (6pm)
Nov. 5 - at Brown (3pm)

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Great Plains

Neither the men nor the women got off to the starts they wanted - but the women may have turned the corner a bit last night with a 3-0 victory at home against UConn, and the men have at least the opportunity to mimic last season with a tough game against the #1 team in the nation.

For the third straight year (2014 - Minnesota, 2015 - Boston College) the Engineers' second opponent of the year is the #1 team in the nation. For RPI (0-2-0), it's not looking like a game that's going to produce a result. The goal tonight against North Dakota (2-0-0) is to take strides from last week's pair of losses in Maine - get shots on goal. Finish when possible. Hopefully, don't get destroyed. Then take what you learn in playing against the very best and apply it at home next weekend against not the very best.

The women (2-4-1) got themselves off a five game winless streak with their first shutout of the season, at home against UConn last night, a 21-save shutout for Lovisa Selander that included the third goals of the season for both Makenna Thomas and Hannah Behounek. They'll be seeking an opportunity to complete their first weekend sweep since January (the Union home-and-home) on home ice this afternoon.

Yes, it's more Tragically Hip this weekend, and it's impossible not to use this tune. Sure, the Engineers have a pair of games that will be played farther west than this, but they'll never be closer to the magic longitude.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Men's Hockey - at Maine (7/8 Oct)

The opening weekend is almost never an opportunity to define a season, but it's at least a good way to get an early vibe for the most part. Even on a long road trip like Maine, it's hard to look at RPI's season opener and feel overly positive. While it's hard to go into any barn on the road and win twice in two nights, the expectations on results from the Maine road trip had to be a lot higher than the end results - a pair of losses, one a sound defeat and one a heart-crushing loss as the Engineers looked flat in a 5-1 loss on Friday before blowing a lead in the third period to fall 4-2 on Saturday.




The starting lineup was actually very little changed from the exhibition contest. As expected, Lou Nanne replaced Jake Marrello on the third line. Perhaps the only minor surprise was on the third blueline pairing, as both Bradley Bell and Will Reilly suited up at the expense of Meirs Moore.

Any wishes that the penalty-fest that marred not only the McGill exhibition in Troy but exhibition contests across the country were limited to games between NCAA and Canadian teams were dashed pretty quickly on Friday night. As games around the country became similar death marches to the penalty box, so too was the season opener in Orono. Seven minor penalties were called in the first period alone - none of which resulted in any power play goals being scored.

The Black Bears jumped out to a quick lead about six minutes into what had previously been a pretty back and forth affair. Freshman Patrick Shea scored at 6:06 of the first to put the home team ahead, and then just 1:26 later another freshman, Mitchell Fossier, made it 2-0 to put RPI in a serious road hole early in the game.

In dire need of the next goal, RPI hit a post and came perilously close to netting one over the next 20 minutes, but simply couldn't find a way to beat Maine netminder Rob McGovern, who made 23 saves in the opening 40 minutes. Meanwhile, Fossier made it 3-0 at almost exactly the same time in the second period that he'd scored during the first period.

Late in the second, the Engineers picked up four power plays, almost back-to-back-to-back-to-back (the last one created a short 5x3 opportunity), but still were unable to get anything done.

Maine pretty much sealed things up two minutes into the third period when yet another freshman, Chase Pearson, notched his first collegiate goal to make it 4-0 in the home team's favor. Jared Wilson responded 45 seconds later, 9 seconds into a power play opportunity, but it was quite obviously too little, too late. Fossier finished up by completing a hat trick in his first collegiate game at 14:45 of the third period.

The Engineers went 1-for-10 on the power play, while the Black Bears were 0-for-7, a rare bright spot for RPI on an otherwise dismal night. Chase Perry had limited returns in his first official game in an RPI sweater, making 31 saves on 36 shots.

Liljegren, Ohrvall



Brady Wiffen went off in the second period and did not return, and then did not factor into the starting lineup on Saturday. His effective replacement was Charlie Manley, making his RPI debut and giving the Engineers 11 forwards and 7 defensemen - although this lineup choice may have been heavily influenced by the number of players RPI brought on the trip to Maine.

A penalty to Wilson for hooking five minutes into the game - ending what was seemingly the longest stretch of 5x5 play all weekend to that point - turned into a shorthanded goal for the Engineers as Riley Bourbonnais scored on a breakaway 19 seconds after the kill began to put RPI ahead 1-0. That lead lasted for nearly 10 minutes until senior Blaine Byron tied things up with about four and a half minutes left in the opening period.

A five-minute major to Jake Wood for kneeing four minutes into the second period looked like a negative turning point for the Engineers, but for the second consecutive penalty kill, RPI managed to go +1 while down a man. Drew Melanson's first goal of the season, assisted by Jacob Hayhurst (for his first collegiate point) was scored short-handed just over a minute into the major, putting the Engineers ahead 2-1, which was the scoreline for the next 20 minutes.

Perry made 21 saves on 22 shots in the first two periods, but the offense in front of him left the door open for the third period, and Maine took advantage. Daniel Perez scored for the Black Bears about six minutes into the final period on a delayed penalty to Bourbonnais to knot the score, and Friday night's hero, Fossier, scored to put them ahead about three and a half minutes later.

The Engineers put 11 shots on goal after Perez tied the score, but couldn't put another one past Rob McGovern - and in fact, scored no even-strength goals on the entire weekend. Pearson scored an empty-netter with eight seconds left to seal the weekend sweep for Maine, whose freshmen scored just eight goals all of last season but accounted for seven of Maine's nine goals this weekend.

Saturday's game was also a serious departure from Friday (and the exhibition) in terms of penalties. Just seven power plays on Saturday, where there had been seven in the first period alone on Friday. The Engineers do at least go forward boasting a 100% penalty kill (11-for-11) in two games, which is 24-for-24 if one includes the exhibition (which you shouldn't).

Next up for the Engineers is an even bigger test - one game next weekend in North Dakota against the #1 team in the nation and the defending national champions. The Fighting Hawks opened their season by bludgeoning Canisius twice at home, 6-0 and 4-1. A step in the right direction for RPI would be to at least put up a better front than did the Golden Griffins, who managed just 28 shots on the weekend.

RPI at Maine
Non-Conference Game - Alfond Arena (Orono, ME)
10/7/16 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Maine 5, RPI 1

RECORD: 0-1-0

RPI at Maine
Non-Conference Game - Alfond Arena (Orono, ME)
10/8/16 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Maine 4, RPI 2

RECORD: 0-2-0

Upcoming games
15 Oct - at #1 North Dakota
21 Oct - Niagara
22 Oct - RIT
28 Oct - Union
29 Oct - at Union

Friday, October 7, 2016

Bearing Down

Fair warning this season - there's probably going to be a lot of Tragically Hip in the pumpup rotation in the approaching months. That's just how it's going to be. I know our Canadian audience won't have much of a problem with that. Americans, just avail yourself the opportunity to soak in a band you should have been listening to years ago - their lead singer, Gord Downie, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an uncurable brain tumor recently and they just concluded what may be their final tour back in August.

Anyway. The women (1-3-0) were in Maine a couple of weeks ago and got their season off on the right foot with a victory, but they've dropped three in a row since, including both games at home to Ohio State. The Buckeyes are battle-tested, playing in a league that, to paraphase a coach out there in the midwest, is "women only." The ECAC's no slouch, but the WCHA is a war, night in and night out, which is a good reason why they've produced all but one of the women's hockey national champions. Robert Morris (2-0-0) may not be much of a respite for the Engineers, especially as they travel to Pittsburgh to do battle with the Colonials. RPI dropped a pair at home to RMU last season, and the Colonials are off with a road sweep of Providence to kick off their season. Another tough pair coming up for the Engineers this weekend.

The men (0-0-0) are two weeks behind the women in kicking off their season at Alfond Arena in Orono. It's never easy to go on the road and get two wins, but against the Black Bears (0-0-0), picked to finish last in Hockey East, RPI's probably going to want to at least pick up a split in this series if they want to start off on the right foot.

So for the first time this season - and sorry about missing the last two weeks - turn the speakers up and get in the mood for some hockey. Four games this weekend for the first time since February.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Know Thyself: RPI

Well, the time is here. We've seen the exhibition, we've analyzed the opposition, and now it's time to cast a critical eye on our own side. Last year the Engineers overcame an institutional hurdle by winning a home playoff series for the first time in over a decade. That shouldn't be a thing, and now it's not. And the way they did it, coming from 3-0 down in Game 2 to ensure that there would be no Game 3 was crucial. It showed guts from a team that played well for each other all season. If that same kind of attitude can prevail this season, perhaps there are a few more long-term problems that can be overcome.

Nickname: Engineers
Location: Troy, NY
Founded: 1824
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 2 (1954, 1985)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2011
Last Frozen Four: 1985
Coach: Seth Appert (11th season)
2015-16 Record: 18-15-7 (8-7-7 ECAC, 5th place)
All-Time Record: 1042-938-135 (1017-865-129 in the modern era)
First Game: January 25, 1902 (Cohoes, NY)
First Win: February 26, 1904 (Albany, NY)
First Modern Era game: January 7, 1950 (Clinton, NY)
First Modern Era win: February 3, 1950 (Plattsburgh, NY)

Key players: F Riley Bourbonnais, sr.; F Jimmy DeVito, sr.; D Parker Reno, sr.; F Jake Wood, sr.; F Viktor Liljegren, jr.; F Drew Melanson, jr.; F Lou Nanne, jr.; D Mike Prapavessis, jr.; D Jared Wilson, jr.; D Tommy Grant, so.; G Cam Hackett, so.; D Meirs Moore, so.; F Jesper Ohrvall, so.; G Chase Perry, so.; F Brady Wiffen, so.; F Jacob Hayhurst, fr.; F Evan Tironese, fr.

Key losses: G Jason Kasdorf, D Chris Bradley, F Milos Bubela, F Zach Schroeder, D Phil Hampton, F Mark Miller, F Travis Fulton

(I know, I know, I'm missing this potential impact freshman or that upperclassman primed to break out... I only assembled it the way I assembled the KYE teams, just to be fair. I'm sure I've left out some of the same for other teams.)

Of the teams who lost their all-star goaltenders this offseason in the ECAC, the Engineers might be in the best position. Yale and Quinnipiac both have at least some questions as to how they're going to fare in net, but RPI basically doesn't have a wrong answer. Hackett was the ECAC's All-Rookie selection last season, and he's now joined by Perry, who may be one of the best incoming netminders in the country (and one with NCAA experience already to boot, as he's a transfer from Colorado College). What will be interesting here is seeing exactly how the goaltending duties are meted out in Troy - how often each of them will get playing time - but there's little doubt that it should continue to be a strength for the Engineers, even with the departure of Kasdorf.

It's easy to look at the situation and shrug your shoulders if you want to. When last we saw Hackett, he gave up 8 goals against Harvard, and he was being named as the ECAC All-Rookie goaltender, but almost by default as there were pretty much no other decent candidates. But that overlooks the reason why he was a legitimate All-Rookie selection, given that he was unbeaten in his first seven decisions (one relief, six starts) with an overall 2.88 GAA certainly skewed by the lopsided finale. One can look at Perry and see a 3.97 GAA at CC two years ago and an .892 save percentage in the BCHL last year - except CC was beyond bad two years ago and the BCHL is a goal-happy league. The bottom line is that the Engineers have two excellent options to choose from. Word out of the exhibition game is that Perry is more or less the starter at the moment, but that Hackett certainly has the ability and capacity to displace him. Regardless, Perry looked outstanding in net against McGill.

Defense should be a strong point in front of Perry and/or Hackett as well. Reno last season really grew into the starring role he was long expected to play at RPI, while Prapavessis and Wilson have turned in two very solid years already halfway through their collegiate eligibility. Moore was a mainstay in the back last season, and saw good development in his defensive skills to compliment his offensive capacity, and Grant was a revelation last year when he started getting regular playing time when Reno came out of the lineup late in the season. All five should dress regularly, with four options for the role Hampton played well last year as the reliable if not overwhelming sixth d-man.

Injuries and other issues keeping players off the ice played a significant role in the struggles that the Engineers had from time to time last season. Kasdorf, Bourbonnais, Reno, Melanson, and Bubela were crucial parts of this team's success last year, and they missed a combined 47 games, practically never as healthy scratches. Tironese looked on pace to have a phenomenal freshman season, leading the team in scoring six games in with seven points, but a season ending shoulder injury meant he was out of the lineup for 34 starts (he will be a redshirt freshman this year), and DeVito proved to be a crucial element of the team's second semester makeup - he missed 20 games early in the year with academic concerns. Wiffen's designation as a partial qualifier by the NCAA kept him on the sidelines for the entire season.

This year hasn't even started yet, and there are more issues that have cropped up. Freshman Todd Burgess picked up a knee injury in Ottawa's development camp after being drafted in the 4th round of this year's NHL Draft, and he'll be redshirting. Kenny Gillespie, who developed into a team leader and a reliable grinder, is on a leave of absence from the Institute - word is he could return in January, but it's not a given.

The biggest question mark, as it has been for the last several seasons, is offense. And as it has been for the last several seasons, there are a number of potential answers - unfortunately for that same stretch, those answers haven't really cropped up.

We've said it for years that college hockey is frequently "first to three." Therefore, it stands to reason that averaging three or more goals per game is a good thing. And as we mentioned in May, the Engineers haven't accomplished that bar since 2002 - perhaps not coincidentally, the last year they went to Lake Placid. In the ECAC, every other team has accomplished this in the last 10 years, and only Brown and Clarkson haven't done it since 2010. In fact, discounting Arizona State, 54 out of 58 other teams have done it since RPI last accomplished the task. Army also last did it in 2002, and only Alaska-Anchorage, Lake Superior State, and American International are on a longer drought of failing to reach three goals per game.

That needs to change. It's said that defense wins championships, but you still can't win games without putting the puck in the net a little more often than RPI has for many years now. As with Cornell in last week's capsule, the options are there, it's simply a matter of getting those options to click. If this team can reach that three goals per game bar, there's no telling what they can accomplish.

* Melanson and Nanne have been linemates for two years, but it's always seemed like one or the other was out of the lineup too often to get into a rhythm (word is they'll be starting the season with Alex Rodriguez).

* Bourbonnais was an offensive juggernaut for RPI last year - until he got hurt.

* Wiffen was an offensive powerhouse in the OJHL in 2015, and was the "most improved player" last season without being able to play a shift.

* As mentioned above, Tironese displayed serious offensive capacity before being lost for the season at the end of October.

* Liljegren had a displayed goal-scoring touch as a freshman, but had a downturn last season. Countryman Ohrvall did everything but score in game after game after game as a freshman - and he found his finishing touch late in the season.

* Wilson and Prapavessis have offensive prowess from the blue line, and both became increasingly vital as last season progressed. Reno's set-up potential also increased dramatically.

* Hayhurst produced over a point per game in the OJHL at the age of 18 two years ago (he turns 20 in January).

* And in the realm of what might have been for this season, Burgess tied the NAHL record for points in a season before becoming a rare 20-year-old NHL draftee in June.

These are all great options, and the Engineers really only need two or three of them to be the real engine, especially if the others can simply be threats to score on an even basis, the way St. Lawrence and Yale have been able to boast a balanced attack in their second and third lines for a few years now.

(For the sake of the future, bear in mind that everyone above except for Bourbonnais and Reno will have eligibility in 2018 - when the team will add to the mix Burgess, Ohrvall's brother Emil, who last year led Shattuck-St. Mary's in scoring, and Bailey Conger, who last year potted nearly two points per game for Cushing Academy.)

So here's the call on RPI this year - let's look at this in the context of the rest of the ECAC. There's always three kinds of teams at the end of the regular season: the top four with byes, the middle four at home in the first round, and the bottom four on the road.

Looking at the two preseason polls and our (mostly secret) ballot that was part of the media poll, it's fair to call Quinnipiac and St. Lawrence really strong favorites for the much-desired top four. We're on record picking SLU as our top selection.

The next tier has to be Harvard, Yale, and Clarkson - none of these teams finishing in the top four should shock anyone.

After that, Cornell, RPI, and Union. The Dutchmen would be at least mildly shocking as they don't seem to be quite as well-rounded, but they have one or two pieces that could power a solid run. We don't think anyone should be shocked if Cornell or RPI manage to nab a top four finish, both have longer odds for anything outside the middle four, where they should be solid favorites.

The bottom four, according to both preseason polls, were Dartmouth, Colgate, Brown, and Princeton (and we'll admit to agreeing with at least three of those calls), all look pretty hard-pressed to make a run at the top, but the ECAC being what it is, there's no team that can start the season with a bad projection that can't potentially find a way to finish at least in the middle four.

That said, RPI may be the most unpredictable team in the ECAC this season. Of that third tier, Cornell finishing in the bottom four would probably be as unlikely as we described Union in the top, but RPI finishing in either the top or bottom... doesn't seem impossible given what they bring back, what they add, and what they've accomplished (or failed to accomplish) in recent years.

We'll see what the coaching staff can coax from this group. It has the potential to be very, very good, but we've seen the potential to be great translate into "OK" or "not so great" recently - that's why the Engineers are perhaps the most enigmatic team in the entire conference for 2017.