Monday, March 28, 2016

Now's Not The Time

Long time readers of Without a Peer may remember that during the "tsunami" of 2011 - the one which altered the landscape of college hockey on a scope unseen in 25 years - we endorsed the idea of RPI leaving the ECAC and joining Hockey East, had they been offered a spot to go along with Notre Dame's accession.

We had previously outlined the arguments from both RPI's and Hockey East's perspective, and while it was never absolute perfection for both sides, we thought it more or less made sense on the assumption that UConn was content giving hockey the short shrift. When that changed, they became the far more common sense 12th team and Hockey East absolutely made the right call by bringing the Huskies on board.

So, now that the question's come up, where do all of the points stand five years on? A good number of them have definitely changed - and they've started making an RPI-HEA marriage look like it's not quite as good of a deal as it did back then.

From RPI's perspective:

Competition: This simply isn't as big of an issue anymore. In 2011, the ECAC had gone eight years without placing a team in the Frozen Four, and just two in the previous 15. Now, as a conference, we've had teams there in four of the last five seasons, won two national championships (including seeing an all-ECAC championship in 2013), and are standing by for a potential third. Whatever has happened, whether it's a partial function of the shuffling or simply a resurgence of the ECAC, suddenly it's not looking like being in the ECAC is necessarily a roadblock to winning a national championship. That's not to say that Hockey East isn't still a step up, it's just that it's not that big of a step anymore.

Recruiting: To some extent, we could be seeing a microcosm of how RPI might fare in Hockey East in recruiting simply by looking at Quinnipiac. While the Engineers are basically already competing with Hockey East schools for top talent, there's also the academic issue that has to be examined closely - Quinnipiac may be a very good school with higher than average selectivity, but chances are pretty good that they've got a step on the rest of the ECAC in terms of the pool of players that can academically qualify to play there. That's just one team out of 11 - now imagine it being more or less the entire rest of the league. While being in Hockey East may help attract some better players simply by association, there's no doubt RPI's already losing most recruiting battles against Boston College. It gets worse when you're in the same conference. And, honestly, one can just go back to the change in competitive balance. Why take the risk when the step up isn't as big?

Exposure: Still better exposure in Hockey East. The league just markets itself better than the ECAC does.

Alumni base: Boston's still a good focus point with tons of alums. They're well represented every time RPI's at Harvard.

Increased attendance: Probably still a net benefit thanks to new matchups and more traveling fans.

Tournament: Hmm. Maybe let's worry about getting back to the semis first, eh? That task is likely to be slightly harder in Hockey East, but at least the ECAC is back in a desirable spot with Lake Placid.

Women's hockey: Probably still a slightly better situation for the women's team, although the top end of Hockey East is starting to get as good as the top end of the ECAC.

Small school security: This more or less now is a reference to the Ivy threat which always exists but has never seemed to come close to materializing. If the Ivies left the non-Ivies, Hockey East would probably be a better spot. But if they don't, it may not be.

Traditional rivalries and Ivy connections: With the change in competitive balance, the rivalries with the Liberty League teams and the Ivy-by-association elements are a little more difficult to relinquish.

Academic profile: It also makes moving to a league with a large public school contingent a little less attractive.

Glass ceiling: This has actually changed a bit toward the positive. In 2011, the top team in Hockey East had never come outside the traditional "Big Four." In 2013, for the first (and so far, only) time, a non "Big Four" team finished in first place - Lowell. In 2011, "Big Four" teams had won 15 straight Hockey East titles. They've now failed to win three of the last four (Lowell in 2013 and 2014, Northeastern in 2016). And of course, Providence won the national championship last year. So there does appear to be a bit more parity developing in Hockey East.

From the Hockey East perspective, things have changed too.

History: There's still no potential addition that can compare to RPI's overall history, but in terms of recent history, that's all to Quinnipiac. They've become a powerhouse in the 2010s - RPI hasn't been one since the 1990s. That's mighty important, for sure.

Traditional connections: Still there, but Quinnipiac seems to be cultivating their own relationships with Hockey East teams as well. These relationships don't go far enough to make for a logical choice.

Facilities: Houston Field House would still fit, but TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden is a far more desirable place. It's another reason why Quinnipiac is winning the ECAC's recruiting war.

Resurgence: In 2011, it looked like RPI was on their way back to the upper pantheon. That hasn't yet borne out in the intervening five years, sadly. But do you know who is resurgent (or at the very least, surgent - if that's a word)?

Geography: Quinnipiac is in New England, RPI is not (although it's very nearby). 11 of 11 remaining Hockey East teams are in New England. That's pretty solid stuff.

Small school: Still a potential tripping point.

Compact conferences: This stopped being a major concern when the CCHA schools either joined the NCHC or the WCHA. There's no concern about smaller conferences being "trendy."

It all adds up to Quinnipiac being a better candidate for Hockey East than RPI is. And that's something everyone should not only be OK with, they should be glad with that. Going over the points from five years ago, it's just kind of obvious that, from where we're standing, both RPI and Hockey East have very good reasons to not be getting together.

There's another reason RPI should stay away: the school's drowning in red ink. Thanks in large part to that big white elephant sitting on the hill above 8th Street, the Institute was facing $1 billion in debts and liabilities as of 2013-14. That situation hasn't markedly improved. Is this really a good time to move the hockey team to a conference that charged Notre Dame a $250,000 entrance fee and that would likely require an additional outlay of resources in order to be competitive? It doesn't seem like a good time, especially when you look at things from a holistic standpoint - to include the fact that the Institute is now taking over the entire athletic budget from the long-held auspice of the Student Union (which now itself may be about to fall victim to a hostile takeover).

If it comes down to adding a 12th team that currently exists - that is, there's no magic intervention from a sudden varsity program at URI or Syracuse - we'd have to peg RPI as 3rd on Hockey East's calling list, behind Quinnipiac's obvious #1 and Holy Cross' "we'd find a way to make this work because you're right here" 2nd.

Fourth is probably RIT, way out of the way but with a spiffy new rink and the history to make it work. Fifth is probably Bentley, completely predicated on the Falcons getting a new on-campus arena underway. Sixth... Union, maybe? It's kind of a stretch, what with the dump they play in and their immediate downturn after winning the national championship (the only thing that even makes them a candidate), but they're probably the only other ECAC team that would appear on their radar, unless Colgate's new rink is enough to make them look interesting (probably not). Clarkson and SLU are pretty much joined at the hip due to the geography and there's only one spot available.

So yeah, if Quinnipiac wants to stay in the ECAC, and Holy Cross continues to feel like their women's team is just fine in Division III, perhaps Hockey East might come calling. But from where we're sitting, the right response is going to be the same as that of the first two... "move along."

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Moving Parts

Yesterday, some big news hit the college hockey world - Notre Dame is moving out of Hockey East after the 2016-17 season concludes and joining the Big Ten as an associate member for hockey.

For those of you who have your ear to the ground, the move isn't terribly shocking. There have been murmurs that the Irish were unhappy in Hockey East for a little over a year, and obviously the Big Ten's struggles across their first three seasons have been well documented. This is a move that seems to make sense for both parties involved.

During the 2011 schism in the college hockey world caused by the formation of the Big Ten, Notre Dame's final landing spot was much debated. At the time, the Big Ten wasn't an option for them because the conference was not open to adding anyone who wasn't a member in every sport. That changed in 2013 when the Big Ten added Rutgers and Maryland to its ranks, two schools that sponsored lacrosse. With only five schools playing the sport, they added long-time independent Johns Hopkins (a D-III school in every other sport) for lacrosse only as an affiliate member to make six.

The Big Ten has lusted after Notre Dame's storied football program for decades, but that's always been a non-starter. So it's no surprise that the Big Ten, three years into a hockey experiment that has seen the conference embarrassed for basically all of the last two seasons with just one NCAA bid both years, was willing to admit the Fighting Irish this time around.

On Notre Dame's side, there's the understandable travel issue. While they had no problems financially taking a trip to New England every other weekend, and other teams didn't mind having to trek to Indiana once a year, the Irish had a problem with being the only team that had to go on long road trips all the time - a competitive balance issue. The travel within the mostly-Midwest Big 10 shouldn't be too much of an issue.

But that does now leave Hockey East with 11 teams, and moves the Big Ten to seven. The dominoes are starting to fall once more - and an odd number of teams is usually difficult to deal with on the long-term, due to issues with scheduling and playoff seeding. So what happens next?

Arizona State: The Sun Devils completed their first Division I season this year as an independent and they will do it again next year, this time with some additional home games against D-I teams. After that, they've said they want to be in a conference, and the Big Ten has long been touted as an understandable landing point. The one sticking point was considered to be the open question of whether the Big Ten would be OK with having affiliation in hockey. That question has certainly been resolved.

ASU may be in the hinterlands when it comes to hockey, but on the larger scale, they're a big deal - a power school in a power conference. But unless (until?) their Pac-12 brethren start adopting hockey, they need somewhere to reside. The only two conferences that ever made sense on a power and location basis were the Big Ten and the NCHC - the WCHA as it exists now is certainly too small to interest Arizona State.

With Notre Dame's decision and the news that ASU's discussions with the NCHC haven't been plentiful lately, it does seem like the Sun Devils becoming a second affiliate is a lot closer to reality. But it's not certain by any stretch of the imagination. ASU likely needs to start making some progress on their still nebulous plans for an on-campus rink. Their current homes are a tiny rink in Tempe that is the smallest in Division I and the Gila River Arena in Glendale (where the Coyotes play) that is the largest, impossible to fill.

But... who else could it be? Well, Miami has had some notable concerns about their travel situation in the NCHC. They've been strong enough in hockey for the last decade that the Big Ten might be willing to consider them as an affiliate (recall that Johns Hopkins is a lacrosse powerhouse, and Notre Dame is Notre Dame). That quality might open the door to North Dakota (who has traditional rivalries with Wisconsin and Minnesota) or Denver (certainly a storied enough program) as well, who would arguably have a better claim. Both of those schools, however, were among the driving forces behind the NCHC's very creation, and the NCHC certainly isn't having any problems.

Or, the Big Ten could stay with seven. It would be odd, but so is what they've already got going.

That leaves... Hockey East. With 11 teams, they're certainly going to want to get themselves back to 12. Five years ago, we pontificated on who the 12th team would be if Notre Dame was the 11th (basically at the bottom of that link). The answer ended up being UConn - but only after a serious change in their status quo fomented by their hockey loving governor.

Now, the question can be asked again, with UConn off the table. The top three answers are more or less the same.

Quinnipiac: Last time out, we thought Hockey East would arguably be more interested in RPI than in Quinnipiac despite the Bobcats having the newer facilities and the New England location. But in the last five years, there's no question that the Q has established themselves as a powerful program, and the opening in Hockey East probably couldn't have come at a better time if you're on the "Quinnipiac to Hockey East" bandwagon.

We still have to wait and see how the 2016 NCAA tournament plays out, but as the #1 overall seed, Quinnipiac have certainly made themselves the favorites to win the national championship. They played in the national championship game in 2013. The women's team is certainly on the rise, having just won the ECAC championship for the first time. Looking at things from Hockey East's perspective, there's no way at all that, among currently existing programs, they'd have anyone but the Bobcats at the top of their list.

The bigger question is this: does Quinnipiac really want to leave the ECAC? Five years ago, Hockey East was an obvious step up from the ECAC. Today it's still a step up, but it's not nearly as big - the gap has been closed slightly. And as things stand, it's hard to argue that Quinnipiac isn't one of the clear cut top programs in the league - which wouldn't necessarily be the case in Hockey East. Is it better to be a big fish in a smaller pond or a medium-sized fish in a bigger pond? That's the question that Quinnipiac will likely be asking itself.

Hockey East does have some benefits that the ECAC can't offer - national exposure is still far higher in Hockey East. But the ECAC also offers Quinnipiac guaranteed games with Yale every year, something they seem to cherish. The Yale-Quinnipiac "rivalry" is still very one-sided even despite (perhaps even because of) the 2013 national championship game. It's basically RPI-Union from the late-1990s, with Yale playing the role of RPI. Will Yale ever really care about Q though, at least enough to play them regularly in different conferences? It's hard to get an Ivy League team to care about a non-Ivy. That's just history working against the non-Ivy, and history trumps geography big time.

Holy Cross: The Crusaders are still kinda there in the discussion if only because they're right smack in the middle of the league's footprint. But nothing has changed in Worcester since 2011. They're still kinda middling in Atlantic Hockey. They're still playing in the same small rink on campus attached to their basketball court (which will be renovated soon, but not made bigger or more impressive). Their women's team is still in Division III. If anything, things may have dipped a bit for Holy Cross. Paul Pearl, an alum who was head coach of the team for almost 20 years, left in 2014 to become an assistant at Harvard. And they haven't been back to the NCAA tournament since that well-known upset of Minnesota in 2006.

The hangup in 2004 when Holy Cross applied to the ECAC was that they weren't interested in paying equal attention to their women's team. There doesn't seem to be anything that's changed there, which makes CHC a tough sell to Hockey East.

RPI: Much has changed for the Engineers in the last five years. Back then, we thought RPI might have made the most sense for Hockey East, and they probably still did if UConn's sudden epiphany had not happened. Much of what we wrote back then remains true.

But from RPI's perspective, the allure of staying in the ECAC has certainly changed. While five years ago we pondered that an RPI move to Hockey East could strengthen the program simply by playing in a higher-end conference, today the Engineers are playing in a conference that has produced two of the last three (and are favorites to make it three of the last four) national champions. The move would be slightly more lateral than it had been back then, and that makes the difference in the academic profile a bit more difficult to deal with.

And this time around, they're definitely second banana to Quinnipiac as things stand, at least from a Hockey East perspective.

More on this in the near future. As with five years ago, the topic of RPI to Hockey East deserves a more detailed look at this blog.

So... what if there's an open spot in the ECAC? What happens then?

Holy Cross: Basically, the same as above. There's no way Holy Cross goes anywhere unless they agree to move women's hockey to Division I, and if they're happy with where it is right now, they're probably happy being in Atlantic Hockey.

RIT: If only Rochester were closer to... Albany, or Worcester, or something, RIT is the totally obvious choice. Academics, history, everything's there. They'd be an 8th program without athletic scholarships.

The problem - and this is a problem - is that the ECAC has a really good thing going with its travel partner system, and RIT doesn't fit into it well. It might work if RPI ends up bailing for Hockey East, but almost certainly wouldn't if it's Quinnipiac. Without RPI, Union is orphaned, and one could see a Colgate-Union pairing and a Cornell-RIT pairing sort of working (or Colgate-RIT and Cornell-Union). If Quinnipiac bounces, Princeton could go back with Yale, but who does RIT pair with that doesn't turn that road trip (and likely, others) into a nightmare? It's a logistical problem for a league that depends on some easier travel schedules to stay a manageable bus league.

If RIT comes large with an ECAC bid, the league could certainly bend quite a bit in order to make it work, especially since they'd add a solid following. There's a lot that RIT has going for it and, geography aside, they bring everything you'd want to the table. But whatever they come up with has got to fit with the Ivy League's preferences, too. The Ivies have the power to blow up the league, so that makes their opinion matter just a little bit more.

Bentley or Sacred Heart: They fit the footprint, but not the gusto. Bentley at least is taking steps in the right direction on getting themselves an on-campus rink, but neither are ready for a step out of Atlantic Hockey.

Army: They've been in the ECAC in the past, and they're a fellow Patriot League member with Colgate, but if you can find anything that would suggest that they'd have a better time in the ECAC than the last time they were there that led to their departure, we'd love to hear about it.

Mercyhurst, Niagara, Canisius, or Robert Morris: No shot. Too far away for all of them. Canisius at least has a sparkly new rink, but that's about it.

American Interna OK, I can't even get to the joke here.

So the quick answer is that there's no really good answer to who makes the ECAC "whole" again if Quinnipiac or RPI leave. And that's problematic for the five non-Ivies that would be left - because if the Ivy League isn't satisfied with how things shake out, they've always got the option of striking out on their own, an option which arguably created Hockey East in the first place.

The real answer of "which team would best make #12" is a team that hasn't been around since 1978: Penn. The Quakers would pair supernaturally well with Princeton, and everything else would stay the same. Unfortunately there's no magic pixie dust that can be used to re-create a team at Penn in order to save the ECAC's bacon. Not to mention that Penn's addition would only make for a stronger possibility of an independent Ivy League down the road, possibly one day made whole if they ever learn about hockey in Morningside Heights.

Bottom line? It's time to tread carefully right now, especially if you're Hockey East and Quinnipiac is unavailable, because there's no other really good answer for #12. If you're Quinnipiac and RPI, you've got to ask yourself if moving to Hockey East is really the best long-term plan, and if not, is the ECAC going to stay iron clad after Hockey East gains a new member?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Looking to Next Year

With the season over and the schedule for next year still not out, might be a good time to take a look and see exactly what we're expecting for 2016-17.

First thing we always do is look at the non-conference schedule from the season past and try to divine things from that:

UMass-Lowell could be coming to Troy if they were part of a home-and-home starting last season.

Boston College was thought to be a home-and-home deal for 2013/2015, which would be concluded. If it's not, it's possible that 2015 was the first end of a home-and-home, so that would see the Engineers playing at Chestnut Hill this year.

Hosting New Hampshire this year was the conclusion of a second consecutive home-and-home, they're a common opponent and a trip to Durham wouldn't be unexpected this year.

Michigan was part of a 1-for-2 deal that concluded last year. The Engineers are done with the Wolverines.

At Arizona State for two is expected this coming season, if not, in two years.

Miami was the conclusion of a home-and-home four-game set. They are out.

--

Then there are the other teams we've heard scuttlebutt about. Last year they were on the schedule is in parentheses.

RIT (2012) is expected to be coming to Troy at some point as part of a Capital District weekend for them. RPI has played at least one Atlantic Hockey team every year since that conference was founded.

Rumors of Maine (2008) being on the schedule early in the season have been heard, not sure if that is home or away. Might pair well with UNH. As with Atlantic Hockey, RPI has had a Hockey East team on the schedule every year since that conference was founded (if you count beating Providence in the '85 championship game). Both make lots and lots of sense, they're right nearby.

North Dakota (2011 NCAAs - 1990 scheduled) is coming to Schenectady for a single game on New Year's Eve, and Union returns to Grand Forks for two in 2017-18. Tough to envision UND coming out east for just one game at Union of all places, but it's unknown if RPI would be a second game. Have heard it rumored that the Engineers and Fighting Hawks (huh?) are going to be paired off in this year's U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame game. That would be in Grand Forks and would be an exempt game, giving RPI an extra game to schedule. It's not out of the question that both could be true - which would set up an odd situation where there was essentially a home-and-home against a non-conference team in the same season, months apart. Stay tuned.

Ohio State (2007) supposedly is going to play a pair of games in Troy as the series with the Buckeyes searches for its first ever winner. All three prior games between the Engineers and OSU were in Troy and ended in 5-5 ties - two in the 1970s, and one in the 2000s. For what it's worth, expect to see more big names from out west coming east now that there is a Pairwise benefit to playing road games. Minnesota is known to be playing at Clarkson and St. Lawrence next season, something that never would have happened even four years ago. This is in line with Michigan coming to the Capital District last year and North Dakota next year.

No specific discussion has been heard on Boston University (2015), but like New Hampshire, they're a common opponent and it was unusual that the Terriers were not on the schedule this year. We're still waiting to see if David Quinn is going to schedule RPI as often as Jack Parker did, we may still see a lot of BU but maybe not year in and year out.

Finally, the tournaments. The Engineers have been in an in-season tournament every year since 1952 with one exception: 2013. This is partially because they had one that they hosted from 1952 until 2011, but ultimately it's usually a good bet. This season, maybe not so much. Taking a look at the usual tournament periods...

Early: RPI isn't in the Icebreaker field, and it's highly unlikely they'd go to Alaska two years in a row.

Thanksgiving: Not in the Friendship Four field in Belfast, and unlikely they'd be in the Shillelagh Tournament two years in a row. This might be an opportune time for the Arizona State trip, if it is in fact this season.

Christmas: Plenty of opportunities for a tournament appearance here, though we've sort of eliminated more than half of them - GLI (WMU), Pittsburgh, and Florida (both known fields). If Arizona State keeps up their tournament, it's probably not overly likely that RPI will play in it, since they're due to head out there anyway. Burlington (which RPI played in 2006), Minnesota (2014), and Dartmouth (never in 27 years) tournaments are all possibilities among tournaments that existed last season.

As always, expect to learn about completely unexpected specific opponents when the schedule is released. At present, we haven't heard anything about WCHA teams on the schedule, but every other conference is represented among the rumors at least.

We do, however, have the dates for the non-travel partner games in the ECAC, which are planned in advance. They're subject to slight changes, especially the game at Harvard, since it's due the Saturday before the Beanpot final.

The Union games are likely to be home-and-home as has become the norm. Since the addition of the Mayor's Cup, these games have always been in the fall semester, either in October (to start the ECAC schedule) or November.

Saturday, 8 October - at North Dakota (US Hockey Hall of Fame Game) ?

Friday, 4 November - BROWN (Black Friday, unless the Union home game takes place earlier)
Saturday, 5 November - YALE
Friday, 11 November - CLARKSON
Saturday, 12 November - ST. LAWRENCE

Friday, 2 December - at Quinnipiac
Saturday, 3 December - at Princeton
Friday, 9 December - at Yale
Saturday, 10 December - at Brown

Friday, 13 January - HARVARD
Saturday, 14 January - DARTMOUTH
Saturday, 21 January - vs. Union (Mayor's Cup) ?
Friday, 27 January - at St. Lawrence
Saturday, 28 January - at Clarkson

Friday, 3 February - COLGATE
Saturday, 4 February - CORNELL (possible Freakout!)
Friday, 10 February - at Dartmouth
Saturday, 11 February - at Harvard
Friday, 17 February - PRINCETON
Saturday, 18 February - QUINNIPIAC (possible Freakout!/Senior Night)
Friday, 24 February - at Cornell
Saturday, 25 February - at Colgate

Fri-Sun, 3-5 March - ECAC First Round (at 5-8 seeds)
Fri-Sun, 10-12 March - ECAC Quarterfinals (at 1-4 seeds)
Friday, 17 March - ECAC Semifinals (Lake Placid, NY)
Saturday, 18 March - ECAC Championship (Lake Placid, NY)
Fri-Sun, 24-26 March - NCAA Regionals (Manchester, NH; Providence, RI; Cincinnati, OH; Fargo, ND)

Thursday, 6 April - NCAA Frozen Four (Chicago, IL)
Saturday, 8 April - NCAA Championship (Chicago, IL)

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Men's Hockey - ECAC Quarterfinals (11/12 Mar)

Throughout his career at RPI, Jason Kasdorf has been the most important player on the team, period. When healthy, and playing well, the Engineers were difficult for even the very best teams in the country to beat. When he was not healthy, RPI was a far less dangerous team. Perhaps the final three games of his college career against Harvard illustrate this perfectly. Healthy on February 12, he backstopped an improbable victory by making 49 saves. After injuring his groin ahead of the ECAC Quarterfinals, he was far less effective on Friday, giving up four goals before coming out of what would become a 5-2 loss, and unable to go on Saturday, the Crimson simply overwhelmed the Engineers, ending their season with an 8-2 drubbing that was difficult to swallow not because of the way it happened, but because of what could have been different.

Game 1
Bourbonnais-Schroeder-Nanne
Liljegren-Bubela-DeVito
Wood-Miller-Ohrvall
Rodriguez-Fulton-Gillespie

Bradley-Prapavessis
Wilson-Grant
Moore-Hampton

Kasdorf

We didn't know really anything about Kasdorf's injury on Friday. He started, fully as expected, and the Engineers fielded the same lineup they had against the Crimson when they pulled off the big upset a few weeks earlier in Boston.

And, early on, things actually looked much better for RPI than they had back on February 12, where they were absolutely manhandled in practically every possible statistic, save one - the score. The first period, by and large, was about as evenly played as you can get. The Engineers actually outshot Harvard 11-10 in the opening 20 minutes and were practically even on faceoffs.

RPI was unlucky not to have picked up the game's first goal on a number of different opportunities in the game's opening 15 minutes or so. The biggest difference maker was Harvard's Merrick Madsen, who brought his "A" game all weekend long as perhaps the best young netminder in the ECAC. He constantly frustrated the Engineers all weekend long, but his strong play early in Game 1 set the tone for what was to come.

The Crimson struck first late in the first period as another Harvard hero-to-be, Sean Malone, scored seconds after an RPI penalty to Mike Prapavessis ended to put the home team ahead 1-0, but even once the first period was over, things appeared to be setting up for a good back-and-forth game.

Harvard quickly disabused everyone of that notion in the middle frame, which looked far more like their dominating performance the last time these sides met in Boston. The Crimson unleashed 22 shots on goal in the second period, scoring three times in the first 15 minutes of the period to grab a commanding 4-0 edge, many on shots that Kasdorf frequently would get to under normal situations.

It did seem that the game was pretty much over when Jake Wood picked up a five-minute major and a game misconduct for kneeing at 13:27 of the second, setting up the fourth goal for Harvard on the power play. Following that goal, Kasdorf was pulled from the net in favor of Cam Hackett, who hadn't played since beating Arizona State in December. It was thought at the time that it was a similar move to what happened against Clarkson in last year's playoffs - where Kasdorf was pulled from a game that had gotten away from the Engineers if only to keep him mentally fresh for the next night's elimination game. It would ultimately be the final moments of ice time for his collegiate career.

Despite the huge hole, RPI did not quit. Later on the major penalty, with about two minutes remaining in the period, Milos Bubela slipped past Harvard's five-forward power play unit and had a breakaway before he was at the center red line, and he beat Madsen to get the Engineers on the board. In the final minute of the period, back at even strength, Madsen had to be keen with his glove to keep RPI out of the goal - an important save that could have clawed the Engineers within two, a more manageable deficit, with 20 minutes left.

That second goal for the Engineers did come early in the third period as Phil Hampton put back a rebound off a shot by Mark Miller to make the score 4-2 after Harvard came out rather flat for the beginning of the period. For a few minutes, it looked like RPI had some of the same fight they had in their previous game to effect a big comeback, but Malone scored his second of the night against the flow of play five minutes after Hampton's goal to re-open a three-goal edge. That was as close as the Engineers would get, but at no time did they look like they were ready to give in.

Game 2
Bourbonnais-Schroeder-Nanne
Liljegren-Bubela-DeVito
Wood-Miller-Ohrvall
Rodriguez-Fulton-Gillespie

Bradley-Prapavessis
Wilson-Grant
Moore-Hampton

Hackett

Expectations that Kasdorf would be back in net were not immediately dismissed before Game 2, with Seth Appert even indicating in a pre-game interview that he would be back in net. However, something changed between warmups and the beginning of the game, as the alert came just before the teams took the ice for the start of the game that Hackett would be starting - the first inkling that something was not quite right, although the full explanation (a groin injury) didn't come out until after the game was over.

The first period in Game 2 played out largely the same as it had in Game 1, with RPI again unable to establish the 1-0 lead in the first despite the lion's share of the quality scoring opportunity in the opening 15 minutes, once again squelched by the terrific play of Madsen in net for Harvard. And, once again, it was Harvard scoring first with Jake Horton beating Hackett at 15:02 to give the Crimson the 1-0 edge for the second night in a row.

Things began to get hectic seconds later, as Jake Wood was sent off for a hook and Seb Lloyd followed behind on the subsequent dive, setting up a 4-on-4 situation. About a minute later, Riley Bourbonnais struck for his 15th goal of the year, a rebound off a shot by Lou Nanne to tie things back up at one, although a lengthy review persisted afterwards.

The Engineers attacked off the ensuing faceoff, and just 23 seconds later, a goal by Jesper Ohrvall had RPI ahead 2-1, and it seemed that their hard work and dedication was beginning to pay off just a bit. But that lead held for all of 59 seconds. Just a few moments after Wood and Lloyd returned to the ice, Viktor Dombrovskiy scored his first collegiate goal on a bomb of a shot from the blue line, tying the game back up. Regardless of the sequence, a 2-2 scoreline heading into the first intermission was still a bit of an improvement over the previous night's showing.

Perhaps it was some kind of karmic balance being struck for RPI's win against the Crimson in February - a dominant performance by Harvard, yet all but even (and uneven in RPI's favor) on the scoreboard. The remaining 40 minutes, honestly, were very, very even in most respects except the scoreboard - which was instead dominated soundly by the home team. The Crimson would go on to score six goals against none scored by the Engineers (although an apparent RPI goal in the second period, when it still would have very much mattered for the Engineers, was waved off with no real explanation).

Malone potted his third goal of the weekend a minute and a half into the second period to break the tie, and then Harvard really established their dominance on the scoresheet eight minutes later on a horrifying turnover by Prapavessis in front of his own net while the Engineers were looking to break out of their own end. Just moments after Bourbonnais missed the net on a breakaway shot that beat Madsen (and would have tied the game), the miscue deep in their own end was buried by Harvard's Clay Anderson, turning the game significantly by making it 4-2.

Even as the game, the series, and the season were slipping away, the Engineers notably never showed even the slightest little drop of quit, even though Harvard began racking up the goals in the third period, frequently on odd-man rushes as RPI pushed forward in vain search of a breakthrough chance. Another defensive zone turnover in the opening seconds of the third period ended up on Jimmy Vesey's stick, and the Hobey Baker finalist from last year finally made his presence felt, scoring on a pro shot that slipped through the smallest crack between Hackett and the post to make it 5-2.

An aforementioned push forward allowed Vesey to score a second unassisted goal 13 minutes later, a goal that looked very similar to Bubela's from the previous night as the Harvard senior was broken away before reaching the center red line. The Crimson would add a power play goal three minutes later and an 8th tally a minute after that to put a serious seal on things and send a message to the remainder of the league - they will be a force to be reckoned with in Lake Placid.

That Hackett stayed in the game throughout the onslaught pretty much confirmed that an injury had sidelined Kasdorf. With no hope remaining in the final minute, Seth Appert did at least pull him from the cage to allow senior Sam Goodman to log some official Division I playing time. The third-string netminder for the last three seasons, Goodman played the final 46 seconds and did not face any shots as RPI held the puck in the attacking zone late, still probing the Harvard net in search of a futile but still desired goal - a microcosm of a season for a team that never gave up.

Lake Placid waits another season for a team that, had they been blessed with this level of dedication in some previous years, could have broken its drought already. Ultimately, the story was the injury to Kasdorf combined with a road series against a very, very strong Harvard team that simply could not be denied. The lesson is simple - sometimes, the other team is just better, and RPI ran into a better team. But hope lives on that in the near future, RPI will be that better team.

ECAC Semifinals
#7 Dartmouth vs #1 Quinnipiac
#4 St. Lawrence vs #3 Harvard

RPI at #12 Harvard
ECAC Quarterfinals Game 1 - Bright-Landry Hockey Center (Boston, MA)
3/11/16 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Harvard 5, RPI 2

RECORD: 18-14-7

RPI at #12 Harvard
ECAC Quarterfinals Game 2 - Bright-Landry Hockey Center (Boston, MA)
3/12/16 - 7:00pm

RESULT:  Harvard 8, RPI 2

RECORD: 18-15-7

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Thank You

There's only one thing left to say at this time of the year.

Thank you.

#1 Sara Till - Jericho, VT - Biology
#10 Lauren Wash - Belle Mead, NJ - Communications
#11 Alexa Gruschow - Mechanicsburg, PA - Biology
#12 Jenn Godin - New London, NH - Environmental Science & Communications
#16 Mari Mankey - Hopkins, MN - Business and Management
#24 Brandi Banks - Burlington, ON - Biomedical Engineering

--

#6 Phil Hampton - Oakville, ON - Aeronautical Engineering
#7 Zach Schroeder - Prior Lake, MN - Business and Management/Psychology (undergrad)/Finance (grad)
#17 Milos Bubela - Banska Bystrica, Slovakia - Business and Management
#18 Travis Fulton - Oakville, ON - Business and Management
#24 Chris Bradley - Williamsville, NY - Business and Management
#26 Mark Miller - Massena, NY - Mechanical Engineering
#33 Jason Kasdorf - Winnipeg, MB - Business and Management
#35 Sam Goodman - Weston, MA - Electrical Engineering

Remaining Semifinal Outcomes

With only one series still outstanding before Lake Placid begins, only two possibilities remain for how the semis look next weekend.


Friday, March 11, 2016

A Dream of Spring

How about looking at things this way: it may be a blessing in disguise that the Engineers were at home last weekend instead of this weekend.

Seriously.

Spin it any way you like, the home drought was real and it weighed on everyone's mind - even those who had never experienced it. And unlike in 2013, when RPI had a bye to the quarterfinals at home, the ECAC is deep this year - very deep.

Let's say the Engineers had been the ones to score first against St. Lawrence on Freakout! Eve. RPI finishes with 25 points, St. Lawrence with 23, the Engineers get the bye. They're playing at home this weekend, but it's against probably Clarkson. And the monkey is still there on the back.

Still think that's better than playing Brown and getting over that first hill?

Let's be brutally honest. The quarterfinals were going to be a bear no matter how you sliced it - being at home wasn't going to be some magic potion. So in that light, beating Brown last weekend, as difficult as that proved to be, might have been a bit of a boost heading into the quarterfinals.

Look, Harvard won't be easy. No one has pegged RPI as the favorites to finally hit Lake Placid and that's rightfully the case. The Crimson are very good, they're at home, they're rested, and they unleashed 50 shots the last time they played the Engineers.

But this is a team that is already farther than they were supposed to go when the season started. And they've got a difference maker in net.

Why not push this as far as we can?

It's been said over and over again. Lake Placid's eluded RPI longer than any other team in the league.

Go for broke. And return with your shield, or on it. Good luck, gentlemen. Blow our minds. And let all the children boogie.

(Yup, sticking with the power of Bowie.)