Thursday, September 29, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Cornell

It's time for the time-honored indication that the season is nigh - the final installment of WaP's Know Your Enemy. The Cornell class of 1996 very nearly went their entire collegiate careers without beating RPI (not that this is something they would even focus on), but they pulled out a 4-0 win in Ithaca in February of their senior year to avoid the feat - which has never happened in the half-century plus since the two schools have been regularly playing each other as league foes. With the Engineers boasting a 3-0-3 record against the Big Red in the last three seasons, the Cornell class of 2017 needs a similar result in February of their senior year in order to avoid becoming the first.

Cornell
Nickname: Big Red
Location: Ithaca, NY
Founded: 1865
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 2 (1967, 1970)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2012
Last Frozen Four: 2003
Coach: Mike Schafer (22nd season)
2015-16 Record: 16-11-7 (8-8-6 ECAC, 7th place)
Series: Cornell leads, 60-36-10
First Game: January 31, 1908 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: January 15, 2016 (Troy, NY)
Last CU win: February 22, 2013 (Ithaca, NY)

2016-17 games: February 4, 2017 (Troy, NY); February 24, 2017 (Ithaca, NY)

Key players: F Matt Buckles, sr.; F Eric Freschi, sr.; G Mitch Gillam, sr.; F Jeff Kubiak, sr.; D Patrick McCarron, sr.; F Jake Weidner, sr.; D Ryan Bliss, jr.; F Jared Fiegl, jr.; F Dwyer Tschantz, jr.; D Dan Wedman, jr.; F Trevor Yates, so.; F Anthony Angello, so.; D Alec McCrea, so.; F Beau Starrett, so.; F Mitch Vanderlaan, so.; D Yanni Kaldis, fr.; F Connor Murphy, fr.

Key losses: F Christian Hilbrich, D Reece Willcox, F John Knisley; F Teemu Tiittinen

Previous KYE installments:
Standards are high at Cornell. That's why this could well be a make or break season for Mike Schafer - the Big Red have finished 7th in the ECAC in back-to-back seasons, outside the top-half of the league twice in a row for the first time since the late 1990s. Now, that's not quite the end of the world, of course, but it's the things that are adding up. The senior class that just graduated was only the second of Schafer's tenure that never played an NCAA tournament game or won any league hardware. That's four years of not being among the fearsome beasts of the conference (and frequently, in the nation) as has been the norm in the last couple of decades, and their record against RPI in the last three years is merely a microcosm of that recent reality.

The Big Red no longer led the nation in lowest-scoring games last year (beaten out by Army and Lake Superior State) in part because of an improvement in offense - but when you were starting out at 1.84 goals per game a year earlier, 2.32 is at least a step up even if it is still pretty far from where you want to be in order to be regularly successful (just ask 2.42 goals per game RPI).

The good news is that Cornell was young last year, and that youth led the way to a pretty solid degree on offense. That's not always the easiest place to be in - but when you've got a freshman reaching double digits in both goals and assists (Angello with 11 and 13 respectively), and another almost reaching 20 points (Vanderlaan with 19), that's at least a good starting point for what the Big Red will certainly hope is a launching point for even bigger numbers in the future. Defenseman McCrea managed 15 points as a freshman as well - and it's easy to overlook Starrett, who has played just 22 games last two seasons (across juniors and his freshman year) with injuries. He's a third-round NHL selection who was admittedly off to a slow start last year before getting hurt (just one goal in 15 games), but he represents a good amount of potential as well.

In a spoiler alert for next week's "Know Thyself," Cornell finds itself in a very similar situation to the Engineers on offense - there's lots of places that it could come from, including Kubiak, Weidner, Buckles, and Yates, as well as everyone listed above - but the trick is going to be getting two or three of them to take significant strides forward, and for the team in general to be able to roll two or three lines that are capable of scoring on any given shift.

On defense, it's Cornell.

Oh, you probably want more than that. Well, if you're used to a stifling defense with a better-than-average goaltender and a difficult time unleashing shots on said goaltender, that's more of what you can expect this coming season. A solid, seasoned goaltender in Gillam, a solid, seasoned blue line featuring four upperclassmen and losing just one senior from an effort that put up a solid 2.41 GAA last year - a bit high, perhaps, from the Cornell norms, but certainly an acceptable output from any team that is looking to take a step forward. Even if they merely duplicate that effort this year - and they can probably best it - all they'd need is a squared-away offense to be the Cornell we've come to know.

As with last week, I'm a little hesitant to really make predictions when it comes to RPI-Cornell simply because both teams have a lot of hockey - nearly their entire schedules - to play before they match up in Troy in early February in a game that was originally pegged as Big Red Freakout! before it was awkwardly pointed out that having the Big Red as an opponent would be strange - not to mention only add a few extra hundred eyeballs to a game that probably comes closer to selling out than any game that doesn't include Clarkson or Union.

But suffice it to say that if you know how the Cornell series has gone historically for the Engineers - and just take a quick glance at the wins and losses above if you don't - and it's hard not to just feel like Cornell's due. Yeah, it's being gun shy, but the Big Red have earned that over the decades. That said, Cornell may be the team that best mirrors RPI this season with pre-season expectations and potential, and that could make for a couple of really strong, close games when these teams meet, should they both live up to them.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Women's Hockey - at Maine (24/25 Sep)

The 2016-17 season got underway this past weekend with RPI traveling to Orono for a weekend pair against Maine. After playing a solid game on Saturday afternoon and skating to a 3-1 victory, the Engineers fell short on Saturday, getting shut out 2-0 in the weekend's second game.

Friday

Hayes/Tomlinson/Rooney
Horwood/Schwalbe/Orosz
Grigsby/Repaci/Raspa
Thomas/Hylwa/Orzechowski

Kimmerle/Renn
Farole/Behounek
Hansen/Iwanski

Selander

Lovisa Selander stopped 25 of 26 and Laura Horwood tallied a goal and an assist en route to a 3-1 victory over Maine on Saturday afternoon. Makenna Thomas and Hannah Behounek also scored for the Engineers, making it three unanswered goals after Maine took a quick 1-0 lead just 17 seconds into the second period.

Rather than get shellshocked by the early goal, Horwood answered just 23 seconds later, with a nifty move and a top shelf shot to beat netminder Carly Jackson and tie the game.

Thomas scored at 7:45 of the middle frame, with asissts to Ana Orzechowski and Lindsey Hylwa, giving the Engineers a 2-1 lead.

That lead grew to 3-1 in the middle of the third period after Maine's Tereza Vanisova was sent off on a five-minute major for boarding. About two minutes into that power play, a checking call put the Engineers two skaters up and Horwood took advantage, dropping down into the faceoff circle to score the Engineers' third goal.

RPI outshot Maine 29-26 on the afternoon, with Horwood leading the way with seven shots and Jamie Grigsby and Katie Rooney tacking on four each.

Saturday

Horwood/Schwalbe/Thomas
Nolan/Tomlinson/Tremblay
Grigsby/Repaci/Rooney
Raspa/Hylwa/Orzechowski

Kimmerle/Renn
Seper/Behounek
Hansen/Iwanski

Selander

After opening the season with a win, RPI couldn't maintain the momentum for a weekend sweep, falling 2-0 to Maine on Saturday afternoon. Selander made 29 saves in the loss while Mariah Fujimagari earned the shutout for the Black Bears.

It was another early second period goal on Saturday, with Kara Washer scoring on the power play just 22 seconds into the second. This time around, the Engineers didn't have an answer, and though the teams traded penalties throughout the rest of the second, it went scoreless until 9:41 of the third when Vanisova made it a 2-0 lead for Maine.

The Engineers spent the final minute with the extra attacker but couldn't find the back of the net.

RPI will continue non-conference play and hit the ice at Houston Field House for the first time next weekend as Ohio State comes to Troy.

-----

RPI at Maine
Non-Conference Game - Alfond Arena (Orono, ME)
9/24/16 - 4pm
RPI 3, Maine 1

BOX SCORES:
RPI: http://rpiathletics.com/boxscore.aspx?path=whock&id=5777
College Hockey Stats: http://collegehockeystats.net/1617/boxes/wmneren1.s24

RECAPS:
RPI: http://rpiathletics.com/news/2016/9/24/womens-ice-hockey-womens-hockey-takes-opener-3-1.aspx?path=whock
Maine: http://www.goblackbears.com/news/2016/9/24/womens-ice-hockey-womens-hockey-drops-season-opener.aspx

RECORD: 1-0

-----

RPI at Maine
Non-Conference Game - Alfond Arena (Orono, ME)
9/25/16 - 2pm
Maine 2, RPI 0

BOX SCORES:
RPI: http://rpiathletics.com/boxscore.aspx?path=whock&id=5778
College Hockey Stats: http://collegehockeystats.net/1617/boxes/wmneren1.s25

RECAPS:
RPI: http://rpiathletics.com/news/2016/9/25/womens-ice-hockey-womens-hockey-splits-with-maine.aspx?path=whock
Maine: http://www.goblackbears.com/news/2016/9/25/womens-ice-hockey-womens-hockey-bounces-back-shuts-out-rpi-to-split-series.aspx

RECORD: 1-1

-----

Upcoming Schedule

Sep. 30 - Ohio State (6pm)
Oct. 1 - Ohio State (3pm)
Oct. 7 - at Robert Morris (7pm)
Oct. 8 - at Robert Morris (3pm)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Colgate

Every once in a while, you get a team that underwhelms and it makes you scratch your head at just how unexpectedly bad they turned out to be. The 2014 Engineers were certainly one good example, but Jason Kasdorf's early season-ending injury was an obvious cause of that disappointing result. Chosen fifth in both preseason polls as a contender for a first-round bye with one of the program's best classes in decades reaching their senior year, the Raiders instead sputtered on defense all season long and ended up closing Starr Rink on the last weekend of the regular season instead of in the playoffs.

Colgate
Nickname: Raiders
Location: Hamilton, NY
Founded: 1819
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2014
Last Frozen Four: 1990
Coach: Don Vaughan (24th season)
2015-16 Record: 11-24-2 (6-14-2 ECAC, 10th place) 
Series: RPI leads, 61-57-4
First Game: February 19, 1916 (Hamilton, NY) 
Last RPI win: January 16, 2015 (Troy, NY)
Last CU win: February 26, 2016 (Hamilton, NY)

2016-17 games: February 3, 2017 (Troy, NY); February 25, 2017 (Hamilton, NY)

Key players: F Emilio Audi, sr.; D Brett Corkey, sr.; G Charlie Finn, sr.; F Tim Harrison, sr.; D Jake Kulevich, sr.; D Anthony Sanniti, sr.; F Mike Panowyk, jr.; F Evan Peterson, jr.; F Sebastian Weberg, jr.; D Willie Brooks, so.; D Ken Citron, so.; F Adam Dauda, so.; D Rory McGuire, so.;  F Hunter Racine, so.; F Jared Cockrell, fr.; F Bobby McMann, fr.; D Nick Quillan, fr.

Key losses: F Tyson Spink, F Tylor Spink, F Mike Borkowski, F Darcy Murphy, D Kevin Lough

Previous KYE installments:
The quintet of the Spink twins, Borkowski, Murphy, and Kyle Baun (who signed a pro deal after his junior season) will certainly go down in history in Hamilton. They were the effective engine of the Raider offense throughout their entire tenure at Colgate. One of the Spink twins led the team in scoring each of the four years (Tylor as a freshman, Tyson the other three years), and at least three of the group figured in the top four scorers each season (and they were the complete tally of the top five in their sophomore campaign).

But it was defense that by and large let the Raiders down last year. Last in the ECAC (3.23 team GAA) and in the bottom 10 nationally (3.57). RPI, Union, and Clarkson were the only three teams in the league who weren't able to hang three goals on the Raiders in at least one of their meetings - in fact, Princeton and Brown were the only other ones who didn't do it twice (although Brown did do it a second time in a non-league game in Vermont). Dartmouth was five-for-five in scoring three or more against the Raiders, which was helpful in the Big Green getting past them in the playoffs.

So while Finn returns for his senior season on a squad where he's been the undisputed starter since his arrival on campus, you've got to think freshman Colton Point, a fifth-round selection of the Dallas Stars back in June, will get more than ample opportunity to unseat him. At the very least, expect Colgate's clear netminder of the future to get plenty of playing time even if he doesn't fully displace Finn as the starter as Finn did to senior Erik Mihalik as a freshman.

And of course, on top of needing to find a way to keep the puck out of their own net, the Raiders need to replace four forwards who have been beyond crucial for their offensive structure for the last four years. They comprised the top four scorers last season, combining for 114 of Colgate's 253 total points last year - four players notching 45% of the offense, and now all gone.

The effort begins with Panowyk, the leading returning scorer (18 points) and Harrison, a Calgary draft pick who tied with Peterson for the goals lead among returning players (8 each). Dauda (9 points) deserves some recognition as well - he arrived midseason last year after initially expecting to defer his arrival to this season due to medical concerns, so with a full year he'd probably have been right up there with Panowyk.

All of it is for naught if the Raiders can't get back on track on defense, though. Along the blue line, Colgate had three freshmen suiting up regularly last season, so look for growth in those same three sophomores - Brooks, Citron, and McGuire - as keys to success. The whole scope seems to peg the Raiders as a work in progress this coming season, which undoubtedly will be a difficult one building more toward a much stronger 2017 and/or 2018.

RPI will be the last ECAC team to play its first game in Colgate's new digs, the Class of 1965 Arena, as they close out their league schedule on the final day of the regular season in Hamilton - and as with Harvard and Dartmouth, there's a lot of hockey that both teams will play before they finally link up in February (twice). On paper from September, more than four months out, it seems that RPI's defensive edges might certainly give the Engineers a leg up, but don't forget that while Colgate finished 10th in the ECAC last season, they won the season series against RPI in the process. There's certainly no room to overlook this team, at least not from Troy.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Dartmouth

2016 has been a bizarre year for Dartmouth hockey. The Big Green were a goal and about 15 minutes away from a perfect record in January (a 1-0 loss to Vermont and a home loss to Quinnipiac in which Dartmouth held a 5-2 lead in the 3rd period being the only blemishes). Then they were kind of all over the place in February to sputter into a 7th place finish. Then the playoffs got even more weird - relying on two overtime wins to beat Colgate at home in three games in the first round (trailing in all three games), which gave the appearance of limping into unbeaten-in-16-of-18 Yale. Nope, the Big Green swept two close games to punch their ticket to Lake Placid. That's why they play the games, kids.

Dartmouth

Nickname: Big Green
Location: Hanover, NH
Founded: 1769
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 1980
Last Frozen Four: 1980
Coach: Bob Gaudet (20th season)
2015-16 Record: 18-16-1 (11-11-0 ECAC, 7th place)
Series: RPI leads, 46-37-5
First Game: January 17, 1908 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: November 8, 2014 (Troy, NY)
Last DC win: February 13, 2016 (Hanover, NH)

2016-17 games: January 14, 2017 (Troy, NY); February 10, 2017 (Hanover, NH)

Key players: F Troy Crema, sr.; D Josh Hartley, sr.; F Grant Opperman, sr.; F Carl Hesler, jr.; F Corey Kalk, jr.; F Kevin Neiley, jr.; D River Rymsha, jr.; D Tim Shoup, jr.; F John Ernsting, so.; F Alex Jasiek, so.; F Kevan Kilistoff, so.; D Connor Yau, so.; D Ben DiMaio, fr.; F Shane Sellar, fr.; F Daniel Warpecha, fr.

Key losses: F Jack Barre, G Charles Grant, F Brad Schierhorn, F Nick Bligh, F Brett Patterson, G James Kruger, D Geoff Ferguson, D Ryan Bullock, F Tim O'Brien

Previous KYE installments:
The Big Green were almost perfectly average last year on both offense and defense. Within the ECAC, they had a pretty solid offense (2.73 GPG) but a defense that could lag at times (3.14 GAA). That kind of made them the anti-RPI in some ways (the Engineers were 4th in the league in defense and 9th in offense, Dartmouth was the exact opposite). With two senior netminders and two defensemen graduating as part of what was a senior-laden team last season, that certainly calls the defensive element of Dartmouth's game into question for the coming season.

Dartmouth has long had a fairly... fluid situation in net. You have to go all the way back to Nick Boucher, who graduated in 2003, to find a Big Green netminder who spent four years as the clear starter. Since then, we've seen goaltenders have solid seasons as freshmen or sophomores, only to take a backup role down the line, and vice versa. It's been true with a number of goaltender tandems that were in the same class or close together classwise, and it was the case with Grant and Kruger as well.

In 2013, Grant split time with junior Cab Morris. In 2014, Grant was more or less the top guy - then in 2015, it was Kruger getting the lion's share, without any reported injury to Grant. Kruger's 1.98 GAA in 2015 wasn't enough to let him keep the starting job in 2016, however, as Grant returned to the top last year - which you might not be aware of if you're an RPI fan, as the Engineers never saw Grant after his sophomore year. In fact, Grant only played against RPI three times - on three consecutive nights, during Dartmouth's playoff upset in 2014. In 50 ECAC league games during his career, Grant played exactly zero against the Engineers.

Anyway, expect a three-man playing time battle between junior Devin Buffalo and freshmen Dean Shatzer and Adrian Clark. Buffalo looked great in picking up his first collegiate victory at RPI last season, but then he got rocked in his next two outings against Union and UNH and never saw the ice again. He's appeared in only five games for his Dartmouth career, so simply being the elder statesman doesn't really make the job his. The favorite might be the 6'3" Clark, who according to recruiting guru Chris Heisenberg is the only NCAA recruit coming from the almost universally ignored by colleges Maritime Hockey League this season, and he replaces another MHL alum in Kruger.

RPI and Dartmouth don't play until January, so expect them to have a pretty solid handle on their goaltending situation by then. Fortunately, the Big Green does at least have three upperclassmen on the blueline to help smooth the transition, especially with guys like Hartley and Shoup, who have done yeoman's work on defense during their Dartmouth careers without a great deal of fanfare.

On offense, the Big Green lose a number of solid contributors in guys like Barre, Patterson, Bligh, and Schierhorn. They do return some leaders in Hesler and Kalk, who both reached double digits in goals, along with Crema and Opperman who were also among the team lead in points. The rest of the attack had a good amount of balance to it last season - 14 players with 10 or more points, but only three (Barre, Hesler, and Patterson) reached 20. So there were a number of players who could ably contribute on offense, but many times they weren't doing it with frequency.

This is a team that will probably have some growing pains this season. It's hard not to when you graduate 10 seniors and then bring in 11 freshmen. If the Big Green can replace their senior goaltending tandem with a guy who'll display top-end ability, they'll be able to turn some heads. If not, it could be a real struggle this season in Hanover while the new arrivals mature in the college game. It's hard to put a finger on the Dartmouth-RPI series just yet since both squads will have plenty of time to develop their question marks before they meet in January, and the recent games between the two sides have been... odd to say the least (for instance, RPI led nearly the entire game in Hanover but were utterly dominated otherwise). But if we're going off recent trends, expect Dartmouth to get good production from someone unexpected - that seems to be the most consistent norm in this series lately.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Harvard

Harvard now has four Hobey Baker Award winners in its history, which is four more than any other ECAC program can claim and more than any other school outside of Minnesota-Duluth (five) and Minnesota (also four). Never mind that Jimmy Vesey's crowning as college hockey's top player came more than a quarter-century after Harvard's (and the ECAC's) last Hobey winner - the plaudit certainly helps re-establish the Crimson to its position as one of college hockey's more storied programs despite the fact that they've now lost eight consecutive NCAA tournament games.

Harvard

Nickname: Crimson
Location: Cambridge, MA
Founded: 1636
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 1 (1989)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2016
Last Frozen Four: 1994
Coach: Ted Donato (13th season)
2015-16 Record: 19-11-4 (12-6-4 ECAC, 3rd place)
Series: Harvard leads, 53-37-7
First Game: December 27, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 12, 2016 (Boston, MA)
Last HU win: March 12, 2016 (Boston, MA)

2016-17 games: December 30, 2016 (Boston, MA); January 13, 2017 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Clay Anderson, sr.; F Luke Esposito, sr.; F Alexander Kerfoot, sr.; F Sean Malone, sr.; F Tyler Moy, sr.; F Devin Tringale, sr.; D Jake Horton, jr.; F Seb Lloyd, jr.; G Merrick Madsen, jr.; D Wiley Sherman, jr.; F Ryan Donato, so.; F Mike Floodstrand, so.; D Jacob Olson, so.; F Lewis Zerter-Gossage, so.; D Adam Fox, fr.; F Colton Kerfoot, fr.; D John Marino, fr.; F Ty Pelton-Byce, fr.

Key losses: F Jimmy Vesey, F Kyle Criscuolo, F Colin Blackwell, D Desmond Bergin, D Brayden Jaw

Previous KYE installments:
Let's get this out of the way first - Harvard has plenty of talent returning, but losing a Hobey Baker winner is rarely easy for any but the most entrenched of the national powers - a fraternity that really doesn't include any ECAC program, let alone the Crimson. Harvard's attack wasn't quite as balanced as Quinnipiac's last year, so a program like the Q is likely to be able to absorb losing a huge scoring star like Sam Anas a bit better. Anas and Vesey undoubtedly helped their cohorts succeed a bit more by drawing the opposition's best defensive efforts whenever they were on the ice, but Harvard simply wasn't getting quite as much out of their other lines as the Bobcats were.

But the qualifier is still important. Harvard does have plenty of talent returning, even if the loss of Vesey and his linemate Criscuolo is going to be a bit tough to swallow. It'll be interesting to see what happens with Alexander Kerfoot, who played on that top line as a set-up man, especially with so many options for pairing off. Malone and Donato both return as 10+ goal scorers from last year, and Esposito had a great season playing alongside Malone and Blackwell as their puck distributor. There are still some very good options offensively for the Crimson, the questions really are how Ted Donato puts them together and how effective they can be without Vesey and Criscuolo helping to open things up for the others.

On defense, Madsen is certainly in the discussion for the top returning goaltender in the league alongside SLU's Kyle Hayton. His 1.75 GAA and .936 save percentage is tops among returning netminders in league play, giving Harvard a huge boost heading into a season where they'll need to retool their attack. Anderson, Sherman, and Horton return as key elements along the blue line, and they add a pair of strong freshmen in Fox and Marino to the mix this season. While Harvard's defense wasn't wildly impressive on the national level last season, coming in 17th at 2.38 GAA as a team, this is one area of their game that shouldn't be a problem at all.

Harvard was very clearly one of the top teams in the ECAC last season - they had a year that in recent decades past would have probably made them far and away the best in the league, but last year was good enough for only third in the final league standings. Nevertheless, the Crimson stormed their way through the ECAC playoffs to the championship game for the second straight year, falling short of their second straight league crown after being downed 4-1 by Quinnipiac. Their NCAA rematch with Beanpot rivals Boston College down the road in Worcester ended with the same score. Both games featured Harvard falling behind 3-0, scoring to break the shutout, and then giving up an empty-netter to seal their fate. Harvard hasn't won an NCAA tournament game since 1994, when they defeated UNH 7-1 to advance to the Frozen Four.

The five games between RPI and Harvard last year were a study in three different sets. Harvard played to its advantages against a depleted and illness-ravaged RPI squad in the Shillelagh Tournament title game. Jason Kasdorf put on a defensive masterstroke against the Crimson in the two ECAC contests, making an amazing 43 saves as part of a 75-save goaltender's duel between him and Madsen in one of the best 0-0 draws you will ever see, then practically singlehandedly won the game in Boston by making 49 saves on 50 shots. Perhaps more than most, Harvard won't miss Kasdorf's presence in Troy - his injury and departure from the ECAC Quarterfinals helped the Crimson grease the skids a little and overcome RPI with a 13-4 punishment across the two game set, defeating an injured and ineffective Kasdorf on Friday and Cam Hackett, who had taken the loss in South Bend, on Saturday.

This year's RPI-Harvard matchup figures to play better for whichever team is able to better overcome their greater loss, RPI with Kasdorf or Harvard with Vesey. With both league games coming fairly quickly - within a few weeks of each other just after the Christmas break - there are a lot of variables that could play into things. Injured players, even with somewhat minor injuries, could miss both games. The game in Boston especially will be a "return to action" game for both teams after the December layoff.

So while Harvard may now be missing the engine of its offensive success last season, there's still plenty of reason to expect that they'll be a tough out for anyone this year, including RPI.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Princeton

The Quinnipiac/Princeton weekend, for the last few years, has become a study in contrasts. It cannot have been easy for the Tigers to face a team on Saturday nights that had just had to up their games to take on one of the very best teams in the nation - not when Princeton has been among the worst. The results kind of bear this out - the Tigers have won only two games on Saturday night of a regular league weekend in the last three years (Clarkson and Yale last year), but honestly, things have just been downright bad in New Jersey for a while now and it's hard to ascribe that futility to Quinnipiac's impact alone. Fortunately, things may be starting to turn in the other direction - slowly.

Princeton
Nickname: Tigers
Location: Princeton, NJ
Founded: 1746
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2009
Last Frozen Four: None
Coach: Ron Fogarty (3rd season)
2015-16 Record: 5-23-3 (3-16-3 ECAC, 12th place)
Series: RPI leads, 67-33-11
First Game: January 18, 1952 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 20, 2016 (Troy, NY)
Last PU win: January 10, 2014 (Princeton, NJ)

2016-17 games: December 3, 2016 (Princeton, NJ); February 17, 2017 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Tommy Davis, sr.; F Ben Foster, sr.; G Colton Phinney, sr.; D Quin Pompi, sr.; F Ryan Siiro, sr.; F Garrett Skrbich, sr.; D Joe Grabowski, jr.; F David Hallisey, jr.; D Matt Nelson, jr.; F Eric Robinson, jr.; F Ryan Kuffner, so.; F Alex Riche, so.; D Josh Teves, so.; F Max VĂ©ronneau, so.; F Jackson Cressey, fr.; D Derek Topatigh, fr.

Key losses: F Kyle Rankin, F Mike Ambrosia

Previous KYE installments:
In seven seasons at D-III Adrian, a program that Ron Fogarty started from the ground up, the Bulldogs lost a grand total of 23 times under the tutelage of their first head coach. In two seasons at Princeton, Fogarty has lost 23 times... in both seasons. That's against a grand total of 9 wins across those two campaigns. Things couldn't get more starkly different for the man behind the wheel at Baker Rink.

Princeton has been in the absolute basement of the ECAC for the last three seasons, finishing 8 points behind 11th place in 2014 (twice their point total), and 7 points behind 11th in 2015 (on a total of 6 points). 2016 saw an improvement of sorts, as the Tigers finished just 3 points behind 11th place Brown (on 9 total points), but that's pretty thin.

There is certainly room for hope that this year will be better - perhaps only marginally better, but better nonetheless. Rankin and Ambrosia combined for just 5 goals and 13 assists last year (6th and 7th on the team in scoring, respectively), so their contributions won't be that difficult to replace. Realistically, there's nowhere to go but up, and the lack of "losses" for the Tigers only reinforces that idea.

And there's no doubt that Fogarty's recruits are showing some promise. Kuffner became both the first freshman to lead Princeton in scoring and the first Tiger frosh to post a 20-point season since Andrew Calof did both in 2011. VĂ©ronneau's 11 goals were the most by a Princeton freshman since Brett Wilson in 2006. The two freshmen paced what little offense the Tigers were able to put up, followed by sophomores Robinson and Hallisey. This quartet is doing good things at a relatively young experience level, and if they can show more growth in the next season, that only improves Princeton's upward mobility.

This year, there's no one coming in that stands out as a sure thing injection into a team that still has a lot of gaps to fill, but Cressey at least qualifies as a player who's coming in off a very strong season, scoring well over a point per game with Coquitlam of the BCHL as the captain of the Express. Topatigh was also captain of his team in the OJHL, where he led Orangeville as a puck-moving defenseman. Notably, Fogarty's son Jordan also joins the program this year, giving the ECAC two sons playing for their fathers (Harvard's Ryan Donato being the other).

The Tigers' ace in the hole is Phinney, a player that would probably be earning far wider plaudits had he not been playing on the worst team in the league and being compared to guys like Alex Lyon, Kyle Hayton, Jason Kasdorf, and Michael Garteig at the same time. He's been Princeton's MVP practically since his arrival, and his numbers have only improved from year to year. 2.86 and .924 may look plain and average for most strong netminders, but on this team those are fairly impressive, especially the save percentage. He faces a ton of shots and manages to keep a lot of them out - 2,450 saves in three seasons. By way of comparison, Kasdorf made only 2,290 at RPI and had a career save percentage of .920 - below the mark Phinney had last year. That's a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, but it's at least illustrative that Phinney is better than he's usually given credit for.

It's hard to see Princeton making vast improvements over what they had last year to the tune of being super competitive in the ECAC this year, but they pieces are certainly in place to at least continue the progression. If Phinney can get any semblance of defensive capacity in front of him, he might be enough to push the Tigers toward a position where they could fight to nab one of the last home playoff spots in the first round, but it'll be a battle for sure. Princeton might be improving, but they're still not quite at the league average just yet. But Ron Fogarty does at least seem to have things moving in the right direction and this could be an entirely different conversation in a year, maybe two.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Quinnipiac

Well, that has to be the proverbial kick in the plums. For the second time in four seasons, Quinnipiac was one of the last two teams standing in the nation. And for the second time in four seasons, Quinnipiac had to watch someone else raise the national championship trophy, this time at least with the consolation that it wasn't their most hated rivals from literally down the road - and that they finally got to raise a trophy of their own three weeks earlier by finally winning their first ECAC championship.

Quinnipiac
Nickname: Bobcats
Location: Hamden, CT
Founded: 1929
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2016
Last Frozen Four: 2016
Coach: Rand Pecknold (23rd season)
2015-16 Record: 32-4-7 (16-1-5 ECAC, 1st place)
Series: Quinnipiac leads, 12-6-9
First Game: October 16, 1999 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 19, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last QU win: February 19, 2016 (Troy, NY)

2016-17 games: December 2, 2016 (Hamden, CT); February 18, 2017 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Connor Clifton, sr.; F Tim Clifton, sr.; F Tommy Schutt, sr.; D Derek Smith, sr.; F K.J. Tiefenwerth, sr.; F Tanner MacMaster, jr.; D Kevin McKernan, jr.; F Bo Pieper, jr.; F Landon Smith, jr.; F Andrew Taverner, jr.; F Tom Aldworth, so.; F Scott Davidson, so.; D Chase Priskie, so.; D Luke Shiplo, so.; D Karlis Cukste, fr.; G Andrew Shortridge, fr.

Key losses: F Sam Anas, F Travis St. Denis, D Devon Toews, G Michael Gartieg, D Alex Miner-Barron, F Soren Jonzzon

Previous KYE installments:
RPI came so frustratingly close to scoring a season sweep of Quinnipiac - two minutes and 14 seconds, to be exact. That's something no team has done since St. Lawrence and Cornell did it in 2012 - and as noted above, an individual win over the Bobcats by RPI hasn't been accomplished in over six years. Instead, the Engineers secured one measly point. That in and of itself speaks volumes of what the Q was capable of last season. It usually seemed like they were never out of any game they were in, no matter how dire things looked.

And they really weren't. Of their four losses on the season, two were by a single goal, and the other two were games that were within a goal heading into the third period. On Twitter, we started using the slogan "kill it with fire" when talking about the Bobcats, especially after they took a 5-2 deficit at Dartmouth with 15 minutes left and won in regulation (with an empty-netter for extra cushion). One certainly could be excused for giving Quinnipiac every potential to come back from a 4-1 third-period hole in the national championship game against North Dakota, but they'd finally met their match in terms of a defense that could withstand the comeback attempt.

In Anas, St. Denis, and Toews, the Bobcats lose three players that combined for 53 goals (more than Arizona State had all year) and 129 points last season. Jonzzon added another 10 goals. That's a lot of juice right there that's now out the door. A sizable part of the offense. But there's plenty returning - six players who tallied 20 or more points last year (both Cliftons, Landon Smith, Priskie, Tiefenwerth, and MacMaster), and 10 players who scored 5 or more goals. It's possible the Q won't be scoring at will as they were wont to do with some frequency last season, but they're not likely to be even remotely helpless up front.

And there's one other element about last year's Quinnipiac team that made them so good - depth. Shiplo in particular is a great example of that. He played in only 13 games last year and scored five goals in that time, but was frequently unable to crack the lineup despite solid play when he was out there. With Toews gone, expect him to get a lot more playing time this year in a similar role. Cukste comes in as Toews' direct replacement, a Baltic beast from Latvia with size and talent who could well compete for plenty of ice time himself. The depth that the Bobcats had among defensemen certainly is something that will play this year as well.

The situation in net is more unknown. In all likelihood, incoming freshman Shortridge is the favorite - he was the top choice goalie for the BCHL's Vernon Vipers last year, finishing 6th in the league with a .915 save percentage. The other options are junior-transfer Chris Truehl, who started at Air Force in 2014 as a sophomore before deciding that the military life wasn't for him (military service at the academies doesn't become a requirement until starting your junior year), and junior Sean Lawrence, whose numbers in limited appearances backing Garteig certainly leave the door open for the job to be someone else's.

Truehl's transfer to the Q is not unusual - part of what has made the Bobcats successful in recent years has been the ability to draw transfers from other programs. The third-leading scorer on the 2013 national championship game team was Jordan Samuels-Thomas, a transfer from Bowling Green. 2015's squad featured Justin Agosta, who transferred from UNH for one season in Hamden. Junior forward Kevin Duane transfers in this year from BU, and next season the Q gains junior-to-be defenseman John Furgele from UNH.

Quinnipiac looks an awful lot like Yale does coming into the 2017 season, only with far more depth along the blue line - plenty of offensive capacity, with questions between the pipes. If Shortridge, or whoever wins the starting job, is able to emulate the man they're replacing in Garteig, Quinnipiac is probably not going to skip much of a beat from last season - perhaps not quite as dominant after losing some very key forwards, but certainly still a force to be reckoned with. Even if the goaltending isn't as strong, this is still a team that would be shocking to see move outside of the top half of the league.

As mentioned above, Quinnipiac has been a serious bugaboo for the Engineers over the past several years, but RPI does seem to be close to solving that riddle. But there's no doubt at all that Jason Kasdorf's heroic play - he made 73 saves in the two games - was a big part of those games being close. Unless the Engineers get some similar goaltending exploits or manage to exploit differences in the Bobcats' last line of defense, the story may not change much from past experiences.