Friday, July 15, 2016

Know Your Enemy: UMass-Lowell

The final non-conference opponent of the season for the Engineers is a team that, a few years back, looked to be having a boomlet of success to the casual observer. But with some of Hockey East's power teams going thorough prolonged periods of struggle, there's naturally going to be someone there to take their place - nature abhors a vacuum and all. Enter the River Hawks. Their sustained successes under Norm Bazin have left no doubt that they are now a program to be reckoned with on a year in, year out basis.

Nickname: River Hawks
Location: Lowell, MA
Founded: 1894
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 3 (1979, 1981, 1982 - all Division II)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2016
Last Frozen Four: 2013
Coach: Norm Bazin (6th season)
2015-16 Record: 25-10-5 (12-6-4 HEA, 4th place)
Series: UML leads, 12-10-1
First Game: December 30, 1982 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: December 16, 2006 (Troy, NY)
Last UML win: October 9, 2015 (Lowell, MA)

2016-17 game: January 3, 2017 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Evan Campbell, sr.; F Joe Gambardella, sr.; D Michael Kapla, sr.; D Dylan Zink, sr.; F John Edwardh, jr.; D Chris Forney, jr.; D Tyler Mueller, jr.; D Tommy Panico, jr. F C.J. Smith, jr.; F Ryan Dmowski, so.; D Niklas Folin, so.; F Nick Master, so.; F Guillaume Leclerc, fr.; F Ryan Lohin, fr.; G Garrett Metcalf, fr.; G Tyler Wall, fr.

Previous KYE installments:
2016 represented the fourth time in five seasons that UML reached the NCAA tournament (they were the first team out in 2015) and their fifth consecutive 20-win season. This is truly the best stretch of seasons in Lowell's Division I history, and their best overall run since they were beasts of Division II in the late 70s and early 80s.

Last season, UML rode their strong defense to fourth in a stacked Hockey East table, then swept Boston University in the league quarterfinals and survived a 3OT marathon with defending champions Providence in the semis before falling to Northeastern in the league championship game. In the NCAA tournament, Lowell had to tangle with the best two teams in Connecticut playing in the Eastern Regional in Albany. The River Hawks dispatched Yale in overtime in a measure of revenge for the Bulldogs' 2013 Frozen Four triumph, but could not overcome a championship game-bound Quinnipiac, falling 4-1.

On defense, Lowell will be looking to replace Kevin Boyle between the pipes, and they have a pair of incoming freshmen in Metcalf and Wall who are both NHL draftees that are the likely options. But in front of their young netminder, whoever that ends up being, the core of the remainder of the defense that brought UML within a game of their second Frozen Four in four seasons will be almost entirely untouched - and chock full of experience.

All six regular defensemen return from last year's team. Five are juniors and seniors, and as a group they missed a total of nine games last year, five of which were missed by Folin in his freshman season. In front of Boyle, they established the fourth-stingiest defense in the nation last year with a team GAA of 1.88. No doubt their return will help ease the transition in net.

The River Hawks didn't light the planet ablaze offensively last season but it was far beyond adequate at a rate of 3.02 goals per game, certainly enough to win most of time. UML lost just twice last season when reaching three goals - both times on the road in December. Of the five players who recorded 10 or more goals last season, three (Gambardella, Zink, and Smith) return this year, and all three repeated the feat from a season prior. Campbell, who missed the last 11 games of the season to an injury, will also be back in the lineup - he cracked double-digits along with his three teammates in 2015.

At the final accounting, 11 players on this year's team had 10 or more points last season, including four defensemen. Bazin's men have plenty of options for scoring, no doubt. On first glance, UML doesn't have any individual scoring option that will necessarily be striking fear in the hearts of opponents, but they have plenty of outstanding options collectively that will likely make again for a strong enough attack to make the River Hawks dangerous in any game.

That adds up to a difficult final non-conference opponent, even at the Field House, for the Engineers, who have lost four of the last five games against Lowell. RPI's loss last year at Tsongas Center to kick off the season was really one of the Engineers' worst performances of the entire season, but it wasn't entirely their fault - UML also looked very, very good, every inch one of the best teams in the nation. Give them the edge in this year's matchup, although with RPI being at home and likely being improved offensively compared to what they had early in last season, it should at least be a little bit closer, an excellent test at a time when the Engineers will be heading into the meatiest part of their ECAC schedule.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Arizona State

The new kids on the block are new no longer, and they more than paid their dues in their first season as a varsity program. College hockey's southwestern outpost is poised for another rough campaign or two, but there's no question that they've got the groundwork laid out very nicely for supporting a much brighter future in the Valley of the Sun.

Arizona State
Nickname: Sun Devils
Location: Tempe, AZ
Founded: 1885
Conference: Independent (Pac-12)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: None
Coach: Greg Powers (7th season)
2015-16 Record: 5-22-2
Series: RPI leads, 2-0-0
First game: December 11, 2015 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: December 12, 2015 (Troy, NY)
Last ASU win: Never

2016-17 games: November 25-26, 2016 (Tempe, AZ)

Key players: F Robbie Baillargeon, sr.; F Ryan Belonger, sr.; F Sean Murphy, sr.; F Wade Murphy, sr.; D Brock Krygier, sr.; G Robert Levin, sr.; D David Norris, sr.; F Dylan Hollman, jr.; D Ed McGovern, jr.; D Jake Montgomery, jr.; F Anthony Croston, so.; F Cody Gylling. so.; D Nicholas Gushue, so.; F Matt Kennedy, so.; F Joe Lappin, so.; F Jordan Masters, so.; G Ryland Pashovitz, so.; D Joey Raats, so.; F Ryan Stevens, so.; D Brinson Pasichnuk, fr.

Previous KYE installments:
It was actually colder in Tempe than it was in Troy when the Sun Devils were in town, as bizarre as that seems, especially in December. That seems unlikely to happen again this season, when the Engineers stop by after Thanksgiving for another pair with ASU.

Expectations certainly were not high last season, but the Sun Devils cleared the low bar that was more or less set for them. They crushed their archrivals from Tucson (still playing club hockey) by 8-1 and 6-0 margins at opposite ends of the season, somewhat proving their advancement from club level. Against club teams as a whole, they went 5-0-0 and outscored opponents 35-3.

Against D-III competition, ASU was also undefeated, sweeping Southern New Hampshire at home in October by a combined 16-3 score, and tying UW-Eau Claire twice in February. Also a positive sign.

Against D-I teams? A much different story. Just three wins all season against 22 losses, 17 of which were by three or more goals. But even here, there's a silver lining. In their very first D-I matchup, the Sun Devils took Alaska-Anchorage to overtime before losing, and in their second, they defeated Alaska (Fairbanks) for their first ever Division I victory. They also swept an admittedly bad Lake Superior State team on the road in November.

Scoring was anemic against D-I teams, and this was ASU's biggest problem all year. They never scored three in a D-I game, and only reached two on four occasions (both Alaska games, a game against Clarkson, and a home game against UConn). At their worst offensive stretch between mid-December and mid-January, the Sun Devils scored just six goals in 11 games. The D-I season came to a brutal end in late January (as basically all teams are focused on conference play in February) with three games in three days against UMass-Lowell and Merrimack, which they lost at a combined 22-2, including a 10-0 loss to the Warriors to conclude the D-I portion of their first D-I season.

So there is still a gap, and that was always to be expected. But that gap should start closing sooner rather than later. ASU's 1.59 goals per game was worst in the country, but that's not some new benchmark for goal-scoring futility - Princeton a year earlier was at 1.30. Ultimately, Arizona State last year was about where they wanted to be, and where one would expect - better than club or D-III programs, but not quite ready to be steadily competitive in D-I.

They should be better this coming season, but it would have to be by absolute leaps and bounds for them to improve significantly over last year's D-I results.

Baillargeon is a graduate transfer from BU, where he led the Terriers in scoring as a freshman, although he hasn't been able to duplicate his numbers from that season he should still add a shot in the arm for the Sun Devils on experience alone. Masters had a decent freshman year as the pace-setter in scoring, as we mentioned last season he had some bonafides as a very strong player on his way into school and we can certainly expect him to continue to be a focal point for the ASU attack.

One of the bigger items on Arizona State's bucket list right now is defining the conference that they'll be joining in the near future - hopefully as soon as 2017. For a short time they were thought to be contestants for the Big Ten's eighth spot, that was shot down in late April. About the same time, they were rumored to be joining the NCHC, the conference that would probably make the most sense for them. That still has yet to happen, and the NCHC specifically shot down that rumor. The Sun Devils do need to finalize a conference sooner rather than later, if only to remove one of the remaining question marks on the program's long-term viability. With travel costs already weighing heavily on the WCHA, it seems like they may not be able to find a home there either if the NCHC balks.

Everything else, however, seems to be trending in the right direction. Greg Powers is doing a good job sectioning out the classes early on in order to avoid what is frequently a decade-long struggle for new programs to balance recruiting classes due to a usually abnormal-sized freshman class in the first season. With any luck, the Sun Devils are probably only a season or two from looking like a normal program in terms of class sizes. When that happens, expect the type of talent the program is already attracting to make the team far more formidable.

This season, for the third and fourth games in the nascent RPI-ASU series, even in the desert, it's almost certainly still a pair of games that the Engineers should be able to win, but the improved team and the change in venue will make for two games that will be more difficult than the two they fairly easily won in Troy - so there's going to be a natural let-down alert here. If RPI allows the Sun Devils to stick around, they'll be leaving things open for a serious upset.

By the way, if you are interested in attending either of these games, the recommendation is going to be to get tickets absolutely as soon as possible. Both will be played at ASU's super-small rink in Tempe that seats fewer than 1,000 people - and with the number of RPI alums that have likely retired to Arizona along with the likelihood of more than a few fans taking this unique trip, the tickets are likely to be in high demand. Two sold-out games are almost certainly going to happen here, so if you want to go, find out when tickets go on sale and get them quick.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Know Your Enemy: New Hampshire

This isn't your brother's New Hampshire. This might be your father's New Hampshire - if your father is older. The Wildcats are in a bad way, and some of their very brightest elements of what was a very rough season won't be returning to Durham, which means perhaps now, more than ever, UNH might be depending on some serious production from its freshmen in order to salvage what could be another dark year in the Granite State.

New Hampshire
Nickname: Wildcats
Location: Durham, NH
Founded: 1866
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2013
Last Frozen Four: 2003
Coach: Dick Umile (27th season)
2015-16 Record: 11-20-6 (4-12-6 Hockey East, 10th place)
Series: UNH leads, 25-23-0
First Game: February 7, 1964 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: November 24, 2015 (Troy, NY)
Last UNH win: January 6, 2013 (Durham, NH)

2016-17 game: November 22, 2016 (Durham, NH)

Key players: D Matias Cleland, sr.; F Jamie Hill, sr.; F Tyler Kelleher, sr.; D Dylan Maller, sr.; F Shane Eiserman, jr.; D Cameron Marks, jr.; F Michael McNicholas, jr.; G Daniel Tirone, jr.; G Adam Clark, so.; D Matt Dawson, so.; F Chris Miller, so.; F Ara Nazarian, so.; F Marcus Vela, so.; F Liam Blackburn, fr.; F Justin Fregona, fr.; F Brendan van Riemsdyk, fr.

Previous KYE installments:
UNH boasted one of the best lines in the country last year - and little else. RPI got to see that line up close and personal when Andrew Poturalski put the team on his back in Troy and just about single-handedly brought the Wildcats back from a 3-0 hole, tying the game up with a natural hat-trick before Alex Rodriguez's first collegiate goal doomed UNH to their third straight loss against the Engineers.

11 wins last year is the fewest in any season during Dick Umile's tenure. You have to go all the way back to 1988 to find the last time the Wildcats had fewer wins in one season, and almost as far for their previous 20-loss season, 1989. If UNH misses the NCAA tournament this season, the Class of 2017 will be the first to graduate without playing in the national tournament since 1991 - Umile's first season in charge in Durham. He is expected to retire at the conclusion of his most recent contract extension, which runs out in 2018.

The trio of Poturalski, Kelleher, and Dan Correale was simply outstanding, as the three combined for 48 goals (22 by Poturalski alone) and 75 assists (36 by Kelleher). Unfortunately Poturalski is forgoing his final two years of collegiate eligibility after signing with Carolina (the first NCAA player to sign an early pro deal at the end of last season), and Correale has graduated, as has Maxim Gaudreault, third behind Poturalski and Correale in goals for the Wildcats last year.

Forward Warren Foegele's defection to the OHL after one month of his sophomore year certainly hurt as well, and John Furgele, who missed just four games on the UNH blueline in two years, is transferring to Quinnipiac (where he'll be 26 as a senior in 2018 - cue the moans from around the Big Ten). If nothing else, this makes for two more unexpected roster holes that needed to be filled for the coming season, never a good position to have.

Mike Robinson has been described as the "goaltender of the future," and the third-round draft pick of the San Jose Sharks in 2015, was initially expected to bring some badly needed defensive capacity to a program that occasionally looked like it would struggle to keep a beach ball out of the net last year, but after being drafted in the 2nd round of the Phase II USHL Draft in May, it appears he is still another year out after an injury kept him sidelined much of last season. Ditto to Kelleher's younger brother Charlie, taken in the first round of the same draft - he is also a year out.

But speaking of younger brothers, the third and final van Riemsdyk brother - the tallest of the trio - arrives this year. You may remember James (now of the Toronto Maple Leafs) and Trevor (now of the Chicago Blackhawks) both coming through Durham, and Brendan will likely be leaned on to provide some additional offense early in his collegiate career. Adding Blackburn to the fold should also be a solid shot in the arm, as he was one of the top scorers in the BCHL last year, playing for the Royal Bank Cup champions West Kelowna.

There may also be sort of a returning answer in net. Clark hurt his shoulder last year and played in only two games (a scenario that undoubtedly sounds familiar to Engineers fans), and he returns this year as a redshirt sophomore. He's had an interesting college career thus far, coming in two seasons ago for the spring semester as an emergency measure, and then getting hurt last year.

It does seem like any success UNH is going to have in this coming season will bank largely on Clark's ability to live up to his expectations, Kelleher's capacity to function as well as he did last year without Poturalski, and potential contributions from the freshman class. That probably translates to another difficult season in Durham. The Wildcats are a team searching for the bottom, and hoping that last year represented that bottom - but that's far from a given.

This game will be on the road for RPI, and will be the third game in five nights as it comes on a Tuesday following the two home games with Ohio State. We've seen this set-up before, in fact, this will be the third consecutive season that the RPI-UNH game takes place on a Tuesday. The timing should provide a good test for the Engineers' fitness, but much as with OSU, UNH enters this season with too many question marks to make this them solid favorites in this matchup.

Much depends on how the Engineers find goals and how the Wildcats find defense, and we should know quite a bit more about that by the time these teams do battle. But Seth Appert certainly has found UNH's number in the last few years, and there's nothing to immediately suggest that the recent trends are about to change.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Ohio State

Frequently over the last several seasons, we've seen some personal connections emerge in some of RPI's opponents - especially through head coach Seth Appert. For example, we've seen a few games against Ferris State (Appert's alma mater), Denver (where he won two national championships as an assistant) and Miami (coached by his good friend Enrico Blasi) in that vein. This year was supposed to feature a special family reunion with a pair of games in Troy against the Ohio State Buckeyes - but that reunion will not happen.

Ohio State
Nickname: Buckeyes
Location: Columbus, OH
Founded: 1870
Conference: Big Ten
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2009
Last Frozen Four: 1998
Coach: Steve Rohlik (4th season)
2015-16 Record: 14-18-4 (8-8-4 Big Ten, 4th place)
Series: Tied, 0-0-3
First Game: December 27, 1973 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: Never
Last OSU win: Never

2016-17 games: November 18-19, 2016 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Drew Brevig, sr.; G Christian Frey, sr.; F David Gust, sr.; D Josh Healey, sr.; F Nick Schilkey, sr.; F Luke Stork, jr.; F Matthew Weis, jr.; F Miguel Fidler, so.; F Mason Jobst, so.; F Dakota Joshua, so.; D Sasha Larocque, so.; D Tommy Parran, so.; F John Wiitala, so.; F Tanner Laczynski, fr.; F Sam McCormick, fr.

That "reunion" was supposed to be of the Nanne brothers. Lou Nanne's younger brother, Tyler, committed to Ohio State in January 2014, just a couple of months after Lou committed to RPI. That summer, he was drafted by the New York Rangers in the fifth round of the NHL Entry Draft. But just before his freshman season was about to begin, the younger Nanne nearly lost his life to myocarditis, an inflammation of heart muscle. He sat out all of last season, and last month a report by KSTP-TV indicated that he would be transferring to Minnesota - understandable given the circumstances, allowing him to be closer to home. Tyler hopes to play for the Gophers this coming season, which would allow him to play with Vinni Lettieri, the brothers' cousin.

The pair of meetings between the Engineers and Buckeyes remains on the ledger, however, and it resumes an exceptionally infrequent series between the two schools with perhaps the most bizarre occurrence in a single series in college hockey. The teams have officially played each other three times in the last 43 years, all in Troy, and all three games not only ended in a tie, all three games were tied 5-5. (OSU counts one game in November 1980 that RPI says was an exhibition - played in Troy, which RPI won 8-5. Mike McPhee had a hat trick. Without that hat trick...) With two games coming this season, it seems beyond unlikely that this trend will continue.

Ohio State has sponsored varsity hockey since December of 1963, when the Buckeyes played their very first game at Ohio University - a game they lost 16-1. OSU remained mostly on the margins in the college hockey world through the 1960s, mostly earning historical note during their early years for being the first college job for Glen Sonmor and Harry Neale, who would both go on to coach in the NHL before settling into long careers as radio commentators (for the Minnesota Golden Gophers and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively).

In 1971, Ohio State joined with Ohio University, St. Louis University, and Bowling Green to form the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, a small upstart league that represented the first coalescence of college hockey programs outside of the WCHA and ECAC, conferences that had fully represented the power programs of the west and the east respectively. The Buckeyes, under head coach Dave Chambers - a third straight coach who would eventually coach in the NHL - won both the CCHA regular season and playoff titles in 1972 for the league's inaugural campaign. However, given the CCHA's minor status at the time, the successes did not lead to an NCAA appearance in what was still a four-team tournament.

OSU left the CCHA alongside their early rivals from Ohio University in 1973, leaving the CCHA on life-support with just three programs, but their return alongside Western Michigan in 1975 under new head coach Jerry Welsh helped the young conference survive. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, their break from the league and subsequent return saw their on-ice performance take a serious turn for the worse. With the exception of their success in 1972, the 1970s as a whole were much like the 1960s for OSU - time spent on the margins of college hockey, now in a minor conference, apart from the Big Ten schools (which were in the WCHA) and with the sport clearly not an emphasis for the athletic program.

The Buckeyes' fortunes began to pick up slightly as the 1980s began, helped in part by a serious boost for the CCHA when Michigan and Michigan State joined the conference. They strung together five 20+ win seasons out of six between 1979 and 1984, including a school record 30 wins in 1984 - a run that unfortunately coincided with an even bigger run by Bowling Green, who capped that stretch of dominance with the CCHA's first national championship in 1984, leaving the Buckeyes on the outside looking in for any hardware at all.

The timing couldn't have been worse. As Bowling Green began to decline, so did Ohio State - perhaps even harder. 11 of the next 12 seasons were losing ones in Columbus, including a run from 1993 through 1995 in which the Buckeyes failed to reach 10 wins for three years in a row. The final year of that putrid stretch was the final one for Welsh, who left the team in February 1995 after being told that he would not be retained at the end of the season.

The interim coach would become the man in charge at the end of the season - John Markell, who would eventually bring the program to its greatest highs. After improving the bottom-dwelling Buckeyes to eight in the CCHA in his first full season and seventh in his second, Markell and his charges earned the program's first ever NCAA berth in 1998 with a third-place finish and OSU's first winning season in over a decade. They made it count - knocking off ECAC champions Yale 4-0 in the first round and then upsetting Big Ten rivals Michigan State in overtime to reach the Frozen Four in their first try. In Boston, the Buckeyes ran into the hometown Boston College Eagles, falling 5-2 to thwart what would have been an all-CCHA national championship against Ohio State's mortal enemies from Ann Arbor.

A second consecutive third-place finish in 1999 earned OSU a second straight NCAA berth, but Maine quickly ended their season with a 4-2 loss in Worcester. Ohio State did produce some sustained success in the mid-2000s, putting together 20-win seasons between 2002 and 2005 and appearing in three straight NCAA tournaments, including their first ever auto-bid after winning the 2004 CCHA tournament, their first league crown since the very first one in 1972. But each of these NCAA appearances ended after just one game, following losses to Boston College, Wisconsin, and Cornell.

Four losing seasons in five years following the team's 2005 NCAA loss to Cornell saw Markell's tenure in Columbus come to an end, even though the team delivered in his penultimate season with a 23-win season and a sixth NCAA appearance (an 8-3 thrashing at the hands of BU). While Ohio State won their first two NCAA games to make that Frozen Four appearance in their first try, they have lost six consecutive national tournament games since.

Mark Osiecki lasted just three middling years at Ohio State before being fired on the cusp of OSU's move to the new Big Ten conference in 2013. His replacement, Steve Rohlik, has produced similar results in Columbus, but apparently will get the opportunity to run a team of only his recruits this coming season, his fourth. The Buckeyes have finished fourth in the six-team Big Ten in each of the past two seasons after finishing fifth in 2014 - though they did come within a goal of earning the conference's first ever autobid, falling 5-4 in overtime to Wisconsin in the league's inaugural season.

Overall, Ohio State's college hockey experience has been that of the red-headed stepchild of the Big Ten. They have the least amount of success of the five Big Ten programs that have existed since the 1960s by a pretty wide margin - all of the other four have won national championships in the last 20 years and have rather sizable trophy cases overall.

The Buckeyes were young last season. They graduated just three seniors and return all four of their top scorers (Schilkey, Gust, Weis, and Jobst), who each cleared 30 points on the year (by way of comparison, Riley Bourbonnais led the Engineers last season with just 26).

They will boast four NHL draftees in Joshua (17 points last season), Fidler (7 points in 20 games, a contemporary of the Nanne brothers at Edina High School), and incoming freshman Laczynski, along with senior netminder Matt Tomkins, who has backed Frey for the last two years.

Ohio State has not had a problem scoring goals. Indeed, they were eighth in the nation in goals per game last year with 3.56, which puts them almost on par with North Dakota. It's the defense that has left something to be desired, clocking in at a 3.47 team GAA, which was in the bottom 10 nationally, closer to Colgate and Wisconsin. Frey and Tomkins both produced numbers that were on the disappointing side for Ohio State partisans.

That left the Buckeyes playing in a whole lot of track meets last season, and they lost many of those. Incredibly, OSU lost four games in which they scored four or more goals, including a game in which they potted six but gave up eight against hated Michigan. On the flip side, they did manage to win six games in which they gave up four or more, incredibly going unbeaten in six games in a row (5-0-1) in late February and early March during the Big Ten stretch run. Giving up 19 goals in four games and winning all four of those games is very impressive. With 63 total goals being scored in that six game stretch, the red light was definitely getting a workout.

So in all likelihood, the weekend in Troy is going to come down to RPI's offense against OSU's defense. Whichever side can make the most of their weaker element is going to be most likely to find success. RPI being at home should help even out the slight discrepancy between the visitors' high-flying offense and the home team's mostly stingy defense, so when you throw all of this together, it should equal out into a pretty fun couple of games with no real favorite. This is definitely a weekend where we'll get a much better idea of where the Engineers fit into the national discussion.

And who knows? Maybe with a setup like this, additional 5-5 ties aren't entirely outside the realm of possibility...

Monday, June 20, 2016

Know Your Enemy: RIT

The Engineers will have home games against all four competitors in last season's NCAA East Regional, which was held in Albany. Two are cheating, of course, since Quinnipiac and Yale made up half of that field, but the other two are also making a quick jump up 787 from where they entered the national tournament to tangle with RPI, including this week's KYE entry, which was unable to make their second trip to Albany for the NCAAs pay off with a second trip to the Frozen Four.

Rochester Institute of Technology
Nickname: Tigers
Location: Henrietta, NY
Founded: 1829
Conference: Atlantic Hockey
National Championships: 2 (Division II in 1983, Division III in 1985)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2016
Last Frozen Four: 2010
Coach: Wayne Wilson (18th season)
2015-16 Record: 18-15-6 (14-9-5 AHA, 5th place)
Series: RPI leads, 5-1-0
First Game: November 29, 1985 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: November 25, 2011 (Henrietta, NY)
Last RIT win: November 1, 1986 (Troy, NY)

2016-17 game: October 21, 2016 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Caleb Cameron, sr.; G Mike Rotolo, sr.; F Todd Skirving, sr.; F Danny Smith, sr.; D Matt Abt, jr.; D Brady Norrish, jr.; D Chase Norrish, jr.; F Myles Powell, jr.; F Erik Brown, so.; F Abbott Girduckis, so.; F Liam Kerins, so.; F Gabe Valenzuela, so.; D Darren Brady, fr.; F Reed Delainey, fr.; D Chris McKay, fr.

Previous KYE installments:
It has been claimed that RIT benefits from getting to play in Rochester when they reach the Atlantic Hockey semifinals. We wouldn't go that far - but it certainly doesn't hurt. The Tigers are the two-time reigning Atlantic Hockey champions off of third and fifth place finishes in the last two years, but give them credit for being a gutty, difficult out pretty much any year in the Atlantic Hockey tournament. They get the job done based on a little more than home cooking.

The Tigers finished their sixth winning season in as many tries after joining Atlantic Hockey following their last tussle with the Engineers, a 2-0 road victory for RPI in Scott Diebold's first collegiate victory and shutout. Both goals in that game came during a five-minute major power play that RPI picked up early in the second period, the only scoring in an otherwise evenly played contest. That probably didn't really speak well for either team, especially since RPI went on to get absolutely shelled in giving up 27 goals in their next six games.

RIT's streak of winning seasons came to an end the following season, and in 2014 RIT lost 20 games in one year for just the second time since joining the Division I ranks in 2005 - the only other time being their very first season as D-I independents. But the last two seasons have been a marked return to form with their two Atlantic Hockey titles, which included another upset NCAA victory over a top-ranked team in 2015 - a 2-1 win over Minnesota State in the Midwest Regional that put the Tigers one win away from a second Frozen Four in six years.

This past year, there was hope that RIT's somewhat unexpected Atlantic Hockey title would lead to another fantastic trip in the NCAAs, especially returning to the "scene of the crime" where they shocked the college hockey world in 2010, but Quinnipiac snuffed out those hopes with a dominant performance in the third period for a 4-0 victory in a game that was probably closer than the final score indicated.

One name in particular should stand out to RPI fans - Liam is Paul Kerins' cousin. The younger Kerins had a phenomenal freshman season for the Tigers, tying for second on the team in goals with classmate Valenzuela with 13, and just two behind the team leader, Powell. Chase Norrish (8) and Brown (7) were also among the team leaders in that category last year.

Rotolo is the team's starting netminder, and as a senior he should probably see the majority of time in net. He missed 9 weeks of the season during the stretch run with an ankle injury, during which time RIT's other two goaltenders did a fantastic job keeping the Tigers in contention and positioning the team for the run they made in the playoffs when Rotolo returned. His career numbers in the pipes are fair enough to keep RIT in games when they aren't lighting up the cages on the other side, but they're not quite "singlehandedly stealing games" level.

RIT is the last team on which the Engineers have hung double digits - a 10-7 win in Troy in December 2005, with the Tigers a year removed from Division III. That won't be happening this year - RIT is going to be too good defensively and RPI simply hasn't been a team that can even approach that level of offensive explosiveness, even if they do manage to provide early answers to the offensive question marks they have coming into the season. But it's probably fair to say that, at home, the Engineers will be favored in this game. It won't be by as much as they will be expected to win the previous night against Niagara, but it'll still be likely to be a situation where a loss will come as something of a disappointment. RIT's last non-conference victory on the road was against St. Lawrence in January 2013 - and they haven't beaten anyone outside of Atlantic Hockey but SLU (which they've done three times) since a 5-4 OT upset of Michigan in October 2012.

That being the case, RPI sleeps on the Tigers at their own peril. They have demonstrated ability to be one of the best teams in Atlantic Hockey even above and beyond the fact that they are reigning back-to-back champions and they are more than passable on both sides of the puck. When one factors in the raucous fans that they tend to bring with them on the road, we can expect a fun atmosphere for the contest, but one that can turn dangerous for the home team if they allow the home fans to get deflated early. Having that kind of dependable traveling fan base is a wonderful intangible that can help build a team's confidence when they're finding success.

Expect a solid slugfest when the Engineers and Tigers clash at Houston Field House in late October.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Niagara

This week's KYE entry is an odd bird to say the least - and not just because there's no such thing in nature as a purple eagle. Niagara seems to either be pretty decent or pretty bad - and lately, they've been pretty bad. RPI does seem to get them, for the most part, when they're pretty good, so perhaps they're in for a little bit of a reversal of fortune as NU comes to Troy for the first time in six years with the Engineers looking to draw the all-time series just a little bit closer to equilibrium.

Nickname: Purple Eagles
Location: Lewiston, NY
Founded: 1856
Conference: Atlantic Hockey
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2013
Last Frozen Four: None
Coach: Dave Burkholder (16th season)
2015-16 Record: 6-25-6 (5-18-5 AHA, 10th place)
Series: Niagara leads, 4-2-0
First Game: November 15, 1997 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: October 23, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last NU win: November 18, 2009 (Lewiston, NY)

2016-17 game: October 21, 2016 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Vinny Muto, sr.; D Kevin Patterson, sr.; F Stephen Pietrobon, sr.; F TJ Sarcona, sr.; G Jackson Teichroeb, sr.; F Derian Plouffe, jr.; F Stanislav Dzakhov, jr.; F Nick Farmer, so.; D Niko Kovachis, so.; F Tanner Lomsnes, so.; F Sam Rennaker, so.; G Guillaume Thérien, so.; F Derek Brown, fr.; D Noah Delmas, fr.

Previous KYE installments:
Since last RPI saw the Purps, there's really only been one season worth writing home about: in 2013, Niagara became the first Atlantic Hockey team to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. NU more or less dominated the conference all year long, and despite a non-conference record below .500, they appeared heading into the AHA tournament to be in a position to earn a bid even if they did not win the league championship. And that's exactly what happened after suffering a 5-3 upset loss to Canisius in the semifinals.

It was the second at-large bid ever for Niagara, which was also the first at-large bid from outside the "Big Four" conferences when they nabbed a slot in the 12-team tournament in 2000 in the pre-autobid CHA. But unlike their previous at-large bid experience in which they shocked the college hockey world by upsetting New Hampshire, a second upset was not in the cards - although they gave it a good shot. The Purple Eagles took a 1-0 lead into the third period against North Dakota, but the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux put an end to those hopes early in the third with two goals in the first three minutes to take a lead they would not give back.

That NCAA appearance certainly represents a local peak for the program, as it's been mostly downhill since then. Niagara struggled to a 15-20-5 record the following year, tying the school record for losses, before shattering that record in 2015 with a 7-28-4 record, falling short of the previous benchmark for fewest wins by five. They actually finished behind American International in Atlantic Hockey, finishing dead last just two seasons after they won the AHA regular season by seven points.

Last season was either just as bad or worse, depending on your perception. Just six wins was again the lowest mark in school history, although the overall win percentage was up slightly thanks to fewer losses and a couple more ties. But make no mistake, the last two years have been absolutely miserable. It can't be fun winning just 13 games in two seasons.

Niagara's last non-conference victory was actually early in their last NCAA tournament season - a 2-0 win at Clarkson on October 26, 2012. Since then, they are 0-20-2 against teams from outside of Atlantic Hockey.

Last season, only Lake Superior State and Arizona State were worse at putting the puck in the net, and they ranked in the bottom 10 in the nation at keeping the puck out of the net. The power play was dead last in the nation at an abysmal 9.1% - the only PP unit in the country that did not convert at least 10% of the time - and the penalty kill was just below the ersatz Mendoza-line for playing shorthanded, killing penalties at only a 79.9% rate (usually 80% is considered a bare minimum).

In net, Teichroeb had numbers that weren't exactly the pits, but they weren't special either. He did maintain a 2.60 GAA, which isn't horrid, but his save percentage was .909 and that is something that usually needs to be better. Both are slightly ahead of his career figures, but the man who has been Niagara's top starter for the last three years is going to need a serious improvement if he's going to lead the team to better results than they've seen over the course of his career. Thérien got 12 starts in net and is still looking for his first collegiate win.

On offense, three of Niagara's top four goal scorers return, including Plouffe (11), Sarcona (7), and Rennaker (7), but outside of them (and one graduating senior who had 7), no one else on last year's roster managed more than 4 goals on the year. The goal scoring was spread out well, but it was too thin all around, really. The top four goal scorers netted 45% of the team's goal production, and that's a bit too top heavy.

This is just a team that has an awful lot about it that needs fixing and there's no obvious answer as to how they're going to be able to get it all fixed for this season. Perhaps the freshman class can come on board and provide some answers, but all in all this is a team that lacks cohesion to produce victories, especially outside of Atlantic Hockey. With RPI's game against Niagara not just being at home, but the overall home opener, this is absolutely a game that the Engineers should be favored in, especially after opening the year with three games on two long road trips against usually tough opponents. After taking on North Dakota the previous week, Niagara should be a bit easier to manage. Anything less than a win in this game would be a disappointment for RPI.

Friday, June 3, 2016

2016-16 Women's Hockey Schedule

The women's schedule appeared earlier this week on the RPI website. Here it is in its entirety.

Friday games at 6pm, Saturday games at 3pm unless otherwise stated.

Saturday, 24 September - at Maine, 4pm
Sunday, 25 September - at Maine, 2pm
Friday, 30 September - OHIO STATE

Saturday, 1 October - OHIO STATE
Friday, 7 October - at Robert Morris, 7pm
Saturday, 8 October - at Robert Morris, 4pm
Friday, 14 October - UCONN
Saturday, 15 October - UCONN
Friday, 28 October - CORNELL, 3pm
Saturday, 29 October - COLGATE

Friday, 4 November - at Yale
Saturday, 5 November - at Brown
Friday, 11 November - at St. Lawrence
Saturday, 12 November - at Clarkson
Friday, 18 November - MERCYHURST, 3pm
Saturday, 19 November - MERCYHURST
Friday, 25 November - RIT, 4pm
Saturday, 26 November - RIT, 2pm

Friday, 2 December - PRINCETON
Saturday, 3 December - QUINNIPIAC

Friday, 6 January - BROWN
Saturday, 7 January - YALE
Friday, 13 January - at Harvard
Saturday, 14 January - at Dartmouth
Friday, 20 January - at Union
Saturday, 21 January - UNION
Friday, 27 January - CLARKSON
Saturday, 28 January - ST. LAWRENCE

Friday, 3 February - at Colgate
Saturday, 4 February - at Cornell
Friday, 10 February - DARTMOUTH
Saturday, 11 February - HARVARD (Senior Night)
Friday, 17 February - at Quinnipiac
Saturday, 18 February - at Princeton
Fri-Sun, 24-26 Feb - ECAC Quarterfinals (at higher seeds)

Saturday, 4 March - ECAC Semifinals (at highest remaining seed)
Sunday, 5 March - ECAC Championship (at highest semifinal seed)
Saturday, 11 March - NCAA Quarterfinals (at higher seeds)
Friday, 17 March - NCAA Frozen Four (St. Charles, MO)
Sunday, 19 March - NCAA Championship (St. Charles, MO)