Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Top 10 Greatest RPI Games of the 2010s

Ten years ago, during WaP's inaugural season, we demarcated the Top 10 RPI games of the 2000s decade. At the end of a decade we largely covered as a fan blog, it seems appropriate to do the same, even though we're now more or less defunct. Please enjoy this as decade-ending gift from a fan's heart.

The 2010s are destined to go down as a lost decade for the RPI hockey program, comparable perhaps to the 1960s in the annals of Engineers history. In some ways it was worse - in the 1960s, the Engineers at least enjoyed seven seasons at .500 or better, and went to two Frozen Fours. The pits of the 1960s were in 1966 and 1967, the first time in the modern era that the program had gone back-to-back seasons without reaching 10 wins. That phenomenon happened again in 2017 and 2018.

The decade was defined more by what the team did not achieve than by what they accomplished. The team's March woes became far more defined. Still without any appearances in the ECAC semifinals since 2002, every other team in the conference made that weekend at least twice with the exception of Princeton, who was there (and won) in 2018. All 11 other programs in the conference have been to the ECAC semifinals since 2013 and all but RPI, St. Lawrence, and Dartmouth played in an ECAC Championship Game at least once in the 2010s.

Futility at home in the playoffs was a running problem, losing the first four home playoff series of the decade, including the one and only quarterfinal home series in the past 17 years before finally breaking through in 2016 - which was also the last home playoff appearance. All told, it's hard to find a single season in the 2010s that didn't leave a bitter taste, either because of the way the season unfolded or the way the season ended. There was always either a sense of "this could have been amazing, if only..." or "glad that season's finally over."

But there were obviously bright spots to be found throughout the morass. 27 games from the past 10 years were considered for this Top 10 list. Perhaps underscoring the difficulty of the decade, two of those games were not even games the Engineers ultimately won (both of which earned honorable mentions). Another was the very first game of the decade, a 4-1 win against Quinnipiac in Hamden... which was also the last time RPI won in Hamden.

The 27 games shared some commonality to any team's top games. They represented achievements both individual and team, upsets (fully half of the Top 10 are wins against the #1 or #2 team in the country, another was against #3), comebacks, special events, and memorable moments.

Without further ado, the top 10 RPI games of 2010-2019, starting with #10.

#10 - January 13, 2017
RPI 4, Harvard 0
Houston Field House - Troy, NY
Box - Recap

Sometimes, there just comes a result that comes out of nowhere that makes you scratch your head at the same time that you're absolutely beaming as you leave. There's no rationale that makes perfect sense. You can glorify your own team to the extent that they deserve the glory - and there were certainly some Engineers who were worthy of that praise in this game. But even when you execute well, there are just some things that are destined to go unexplained.

As will be the case on other entries on this list, RPI was just absolutely wretched coming into this game. From the beginning of the ECAC season in late October, the Engineers had a record of 2-16-0 and were 3-19-1 overall. They'd lost seven straight and had allowed four or more goals in each of those losses. The two wins were against lowly Brown and second-year Arizona State, whom they'd shut out in the desert a night after a 5-3 loss. That one victory over the Sun Devils came after another seven game losing streak. Losing 20 games before February is an embarrassment in and of itself, and with five games left to play in January, it looked like an embarrassment they would never be able to shake. (Spoiler alert: they didn't shake it.)

Meanwhile, Harvard had won six straight games (which included a 5-1 win at home against RPI). They'd scored at least five goals in each of their previous four outings and at 11-2-1 were deservedly ranked #2 in the country. Their power play was lights-out, their penalty kill practically incomparable. Both were tops in the nation. This was a team destined for April.

That's enough of a buildup to cut right to the blunt finality. RPI won this game 4-0. I will not pretend to know why this happened. No one who was in the building that night could quite explain it. Harvard wasn't missing any of their top players - every one of their 13 players who would end the season with 10 or more points was in the lineup. Merrick Madsen, who had been backstopping the Crimson all year long, was in net up until he was pulled following RPI's fourth goal. They even uncorked 41 shots, six more than their season average.

How did this happen? Why? Were Harvard looking ahead to Saturday night in Schenectady against first-place Union? It didn't feel like it looking at the stats. They played physical hockey. They shot the puck on the power play - 11 times. What else exactly were they supposed to do? Harvard coach Ted Donato blamed poor decisions, but that's an easy explanation for any failure to achieve in hockey.

To focus on Harvard is a bit of a copout, though. It's easy to take a look at an upset and ask what the favorite did wrong, but there's usually not as much soul searching on what the underdogs got right. In this case, RPI was getting right a lot of what they had been getting wrong for quite sometime.

Sophomore Chase Perry deserved a lot of the credit - a whole lot of credit. The Colorado College transfer stopped all 41 shots that he faced to earn his second win as an Engineer and his first (and ultimately, only) collegiate shutout. To the extent that Harvard was doing nothing wrong, what he was doing right blunted an awful lot of what had been providing the Crimson with goals and wins. Harvard brought the noise in the 2nd period, unleashing 17 shots despite having only one power play opportunity. Perry turned all of them away.

Sophomore forward Evan Tironese deserves a chunk of credit as well, setting up goals at the end of both the first and the second period, shorthanded to sophomore Brady Wiffen with one second left in the first and on the power play to junior Jared Wilson with two seconds left in the second. Both goals were the kind that make your eyes pop out in terms of beating the clock, and both were goals that certainly make the other team do an awful lot of thinking in the locker room during the intermission.

I will break my unbiased look to give my own reason: the November before this game, I became a father for the first time, and this was my infant daughter's very first RPI hockey experience. There were an awful lot of believers in Section 17 that this was the proximate cause.

Hey, it's as good of a reason as any. Ultimately, it's the best example of those games that RPI fans just had to savor amidst the long losing or winless streaks that dotted the decade, which were sadly more frequent than the long winning or unbeaten streaks. It happened. We enjoyed it. We didn't have to know why it happened, because we were just thankful for a little ray of sunshine in an otherwise dreary year - one in which the team ultimately set a new school record for losses in a season with 28 and saw the program's 12th head coach dismissed at the end of the year.

The Engineers lost to Dartmouth the next night, and then dropped the Mayor's Cup game and a game at St. Lawrence to make the Harvard win the outlier with 10 losses in 11 games. Harvard, meanwhile, continued on to an astounding three-game losing streak - fully half of their losses on the entire season when all was said and done. Those three games were played in a five-day stretch. The RPI loss was a headscratcher, but a 2-1 loss the next night in Schenectady wasn't as surprising. The 8-4 loss at Dartmouth the following Tuesday was a bit odd. It had taken Harvard four games to give up 8 goals ahead of their game in Troy.

But from there, the Crimson were simply unbeatable. Harvard went unbeaten in 18 straight games (17-0-1) in a run reminiscent of 2014 Union, straight to the Frozen Four, picking up their first Beanpot in 24 years and the ECAC regular season and tournament titles on the way. They scored in bunches, notching 4 goals per game for 12 in a row during that stretch ending with the ECAC Championship Game. Even though Harvard fell to Minnesota-Duluth in the national semifinal in Chicago with a last-minute game winner, that ray of sunshine was still shining through for an RPI team that had been done for a month. We beat those guys.

#9 - March 4, 2012
RPI 4, Clarkson 1
Cheel Arena - Potsdam, NY (Game 3 of the ECAC First Round)
Box - Recap

Despite all of the history between the two engineering universities that have shared a rivalry since before the ECAC even existed, the Engineers had actually never been to Potsdam for an ECAC Tournament game, let alone series, before 2012. The only prior tournament meeting between the two programs outside of a neutral site was in Troy, where the Golden Knights ended the reigning national champions' season in 1986 in two games.

So despite the disappointment of a 10th place finish to the regular season, the playoffs actually provided something for RPI fans to look forward to in a first ever visit to Potsdam for the ECACs.

Game 1 featured an Engineer power play that broke the game open in the first period, scoring three in a row in response to an early 1-0 deficit to lead 4-1 by the end of the opening 20 minutes and eventually cruising to a 5-1 win.

Game 2 then had the promise of being able to bring the weekend to a quick end, getting home and getting prepared for a likely Route 7 showdown the following week. RPI snagged three different one-goal leads in the game, only to have Clarkson claw back to tie, reaching 3-3 with five minutes left in regulation. A major penalty called against the Golden Knights with 30 seconds left before overtime opened an outstanding opportunity to finish the series off, but Clarkson escaped early in the first extra frame unscathed. RPI outshot the Knights 25-19 across three overtime periods, but it was Clarkson who picked up the game winner for their first lead of the evening at 11:30pm, four and a half hours after the opening faceoff and after 113:48 of gameplay.

Tired, on the road, and frustrated after a difficult season and myriad missed opportunities to clinch the series in Game 2, it certainly felt like Game 3 would be a herculean task. Junior C.J. Lee getting slapped with a boarding penalty just 18 seconds into the game certainly made things look very quickly like this was not going to be the Engineers' night. But the RPI penalty kill got them through that initial gut check. The Engineers got a power play of their own in the first period, which was very even as both teams were looking for their second wind.

Things picked up in the second period - as time went by, the first goal would naturally become more and more important to picking a winner, and it was the home team that made the breakthrough on the power play eight minutes with a goal from freshman Sam Labrecque. The Engineers refused to fold, and five minutes later they got a tally from their own freshman, off the stick of forward Ryan Haggerty deflecting a one-timed blast by junior Nick Bailen.

The game's turning point surely came at the very end of the second period. Senior defenseman Mike Bergin, who near the end of Game 1 had picked up a game misconduct for a crushing hit on Will Frederick that left the Clarkson sophomore out of the remainder of the series, was himself the victim of a brutal hit at the hands of Clarkson's Allan McPherson. If McPherson's hit was intended as a bit of revenge against a guy who was certainly playing his last ever game against the Golden Knights, the timing could not have been worse. He was assessed a major penalty and a game misconduct, depriving the home team of their third-best goal scorer and giving the visitors a five-minute power play on fresh ice.

For much of that power play, the Clarkson penalty kill looked more than up to the task, depriving the Engineers of decent opportunities, and it began to look as though the Golden Knights were on the brink of a momentum shift in their direction, the kind that can come with a big penalty kill at just the right moment. Instead it was Bergin, Potsdam's biggest villain, who stepped into the top of the slot and rifled home a pass from sophomore Brock Higgs to give RPI the first lead of the night and bring the Engineers 16 minutes away from victory with their fourth one-goal lead in the past two games.

The next goal was so obviously crucial - and unlike in Game 2, RPI was able to add the buffer they needed with the help of the momentum from the Bergin goal. A minute and a half after taking the lead, senior Joel Malchuk stepped up and delivered the much needed insurance tally.

The Engineers were almost there - and yet, their own lack of discipline had the potential to bring it crashing down. With nine minutes to play, Higgs was called for tripping, and just over a minute later, sophomore Guy Leboeuf went for cross-checking. RPI survived that two-man disadvantage, but would shortly be saddled with another one as Bergin took a tripping penalty just 42 seconds into a Johnny Rogic penalty. With 3:24 left and down by two, Clarkson had two-man advantage of over a minute to play with, which they bolstered by pulling netminder Paul Karpowich to create a 6-on-3.

That lopsided pressure for such a long stretch could have been devastating, but the Engineers were bailed out after 34 seconds with a slashing call against Game 2's hero, Clarkson sophomore Ben Sexton. Junior Marty O'Grady's empty-netter with about 90 seconds left sealed things up, technically at 4-on-4 even strength.

The man in the RPI net that night was junior Bryce Merriam. Two years an understudy to one of the league's best in Allen York, he stepped into the spotlight that season after York left with a year of eligibility remaining. His resume did not approach that of his predecessor, nor that of his successor, Jason Kasdorf, who would usurp Merriam as the starter early in the next season. And honestly, his numbers against Clarkson during this series were not staggering, thanks in large part to the paltry number of shots the Golden Knights attempted in their two losses (17 in Game 1, 24 in Game 3, including just five in the third period despite the deficit and the two-man advantages).

But there's one thing that he earned that night that cannot be taken away. Even though RPI would go to Potsdam for the playoffs again in 2015 (and again, prevailed) and 2017 (where they were swept), the Engineers went up to take on their ancient rival in their barn for the first time in 2012 and they emerged victorious. Seth Appert gave Merriam, a loyal and dedicated teammate willing to answer the call no matter his role across four seasons, a wonderful honor at the senior banquet in 2013, introducing him as "the first goaltender in RPI history to win a playoff series against Clarkson."

#8 - October 31, 2014
RPI 6, Union 1
Houston Field House - Troy, NY (Black Friday)
Box - Recap

This was a game that was supposed to be an utter embarrassment. A season after massive disappointment was tied off with watching the hated local rivals win the national championship was followed by two tough road weekends giving RPI a 1-3-0 record heading home for the first time, where waited perennial Atlantic Hockey also-rans Bentley for what surely would be a confidence builder heading into the crucial beginning of the ECAC season.

Instead, the Engineers had been absolutely humiliated against the Falcons not once, but twice, and in decisive fashion, losing 5-2 and 4-0 on home ice to a program that had notched just two seasons above .500 in 15 years of playing in Division I's weakest conference. That was the experience leading into the beginning of the ECAC season... where those hated local rivals awaited.

Union had lost the previous outing against the Engineers in memorable fashion (but more on that later), and had dropped the next game against St. Lawrence, but then rattled off 22 straight unbeaten between the seasons (21-0-1), which included the national championship. That streak had been ended the weekend before at home against St. Cloud State, but surely a team that had just been manhandled by Bentley wouldn't have a chance against the reigning national champions that were on such a tear, especially considering how much the #2 ranked Dutchmen were surely looking for a bit of revenge for the Mayor's Cup in the previous season.

There's only so much a rivalry can do to make what should be a lopsided result closer, right? Especially considering that this was a first opportunity for Union to rub their greatest success right in their rivals face in their own barn. But if RPI was supposed to show some kind of fealty to the newly-crowned kings of college hockey, they managed to come out and show as much disrespect as they could as the game opened.

The widely anticipated gap in offensive output was apparent in the game's first 20 minutes, but it was completely flipped from expectations. Against all odds, the Engineers managed an 11-2 whitewash in shots on goal during the first period, and RPI also managed the first goal of the game for the first time in seven tries on the season when sophomore Riley Bourbonnais simply powered the puck past Union's Colin Stevens on the short side for the 1-0 edge. After a trying freshman year that had seen paltry ice-time, it was his first collegiate goal.

Later in the period, it was time for the freshmen, getting their first taste of the Route 7 Rivalry, to wonder what all the fuss was about. Defenseman Jared Wilson scored his first collegiate goal in bizarre fashion off a feed from classmate Drew Melanson, popping the puck off Stevens' stick, then up and over his shoulder and into the back of the net - the kind of odd, "that's impossible, what a fluke" goal that RPI fans were used to seeing come from the other direction in this rivalry. Finally, one broke for the Engineers to produce a wholly unlikely 2-0 edge heading into the first intermission.

If junior Jason Kasdorf had been bored during the first period, he made up for it with a statement of a second period, with that statement being loud and clear for the rest of the ECAC: "I'm back." Struggling out of the gate after returning from a season-long injury that destroyed nearly all of his sophomore campaign (and RPI's title dreams with it), he responded Union's rejuvenated attack in the middle stanza, showing flashes of the Jason Kasdorf that haunted offenses around the league two years earlier with a steadfast denial of all 15 shots Union was able to manage in the middle 20 to make up for their bland first.

Meanwhile, the RPI offense continued to pull away. Bourbonnais may have taken over a year to finally pick up his first collegiate goal, but his second took him less than 20 minutes after his first. Given far too much space along the boards, he approached the net and used a screen by senior Matt Neal to beat Stevens a second time. 25 minutes in against the reigning national champs and despised arch-rivals, and RPI had bewildered and delighted the home fans with a 3-0 edge. Then, again, it was time for the freshmen to have their input. Shortly after the beginning of the Engineers' first power play of the game, Viktor Liljegren struck with a one-timer off a pass from classmate Lou Nanne, creating a 4-0 scoreline that again, many might have expected, only inverted.

Union broke up the shutout early in the third period with a power play goal from sophomore Mike Vecchione, one of the best returning players from the Dutchmen's national championship team. But the Engineers attacked immediately after the ensuing faceoff. Bourbonnais, as he had on goals, brought the puck up the boards and sent it to the slot. Misplayed by senior Union captain Charlie Vasaturo, it ended up evading his own goaltender (sophomore Alex Sakellaropoulos, on in relief), and just seven seconds after the Dutchmen had cut the lead to three, RPI had a 5-1 edge. Bourbonnais, as the last Engineer to touch the puck, had a hat trick in the same game in which he'd scored his first collegiate goal as a sophomore.

To complete the symmetry of Bourbonnais scoring RPI's first goal of each period, so too did the freshmen score the second. The newly created line of wingers Melanson and Nanne, centered by junior Mark Miller, had already been one of the more intriguing offensive options for the Engineers on the season, and they displayed their speed (which would later lead WaP to deem the line "Poetry in Motion") three minutes after the Bourbonnais hat trick to hammer the final nail into the coffin. Melanson sped past his defenders and whipped a cross-ice pass to Nanne, who one-timed it to the back of the cage for a beautiful capper on the evening's offense.

Both teams had power play opportunities late, but at that point the game had already been decided, and a jovial mood in the Field House crowd reigned through to the final whistle.

Humiliation had been the expectation for everyone but the Engineers themselves - and they wrote a satisfying second chapter the next night in Schenectady, completing an sweep that seemed improbable even after the Friday night drubbing with a 2-1 overtime victory on a goal by freshman Liljegren.

Kicking off the league season with four ECAC points and a first-place status that would persist well into November was perhaps just the icing on the cake. It wasn't a full on salve for the Engineers' problems, and injuries ravaged the team on an epidemic level, leading the five game losing streak they'd entered the Union weekend with to eventually become just the third-longest of the season once it was over.

The night was also a clear coming-out party for Bourbonnais, who some were beginning to suggest was a bust after a miserable freshman year and a lack of scoring in October as a sophomore. His struggles weren't quite over - he'd notch just two more goals as a sophomore - but he was growing into his expected role gradually, and as an upperclassman, he'd go on to lead the Engineers in scoring for his final two years, scoring 32 goals in his final two seasons - no RPI player since him has had that kind of two-year output.

Union were the reigning national champions and had just dropped a game to RPI for the first time in 11 outings ahead of that honor. The Engineers finished the weekend having won three straight games against the Dutchmen, propelled by an unthinkable throttling on home ice.

#7 - February 3, 2018
RPI 2, Cornell 1
Lynah Rink - Ithaca, NY
Box - Recap

There's a serious gap between RPI and Cornell when it comes to a vision of the last 20 years, especially during the 2000s. That's not to say that the Big Red haven't had their share of down times, but by comparison, even their rough patches are worth envy for a great many programs in the ECAC, not just the Engineers. The 2010s, especially the middle years, might qualify as a tough stretch for Cornell. They won just one league title during the decade (2010) and went an unusual four straight seasons without an NCAA appearance from 2013 to 2016. They even had a couple of losing seasons during that stretch. Your heart breaks for their troubles, of course.

This was a game that, on paper, was going to be won by the home team, lock, stock, and barrel. The Big Red entered on a six-game winning streak and an 11-game unbeaten streak, unbeaten in 13 of the last 14 games. They hadn't lost in over two months. They hadn't even trailed in a game in nearly a month. Cornell was #1 in the polls and #2 in the Pairwise. RPI had just four wins all season, had lost five in a row, and were winless in 12 of their last 13 games. They were ranked next-to-last in the Pairwise. You couldn't find two teams moving faster in opposite directions, and Cornell was at home to boot.

And yet, games are not played on paper. It takes games like this to remind yourself of that truth, on a weekend where Cornell played as the #1 team in the nation for just the second time since the institution of the USCHO.com poll in 1997.

First year coach Dave Smith hadn't yet produced anything that might be considered a signature win. RPI had beaten Quinnipiac for the first time since 2010 earlier in the season, but this was certainly not the same Bobcats that had been tearing up the league all decade. They'd trounced RIT early in the year, but it was a non-conference game between two schools that, while similar, play each other too infrequently to be a rivalry. Given the aforementioned losing streak, the Engineers seemed destined to sputter to an end that had the potential to be even worse than the previous year's record low that had cost Seth Appert his job.

Sophomore Jacob Hayhurst, who paced the Engineers in goals and points and was, as he had been as a freshman, a strong producer on a relatively weak team, provided an early wakeup call to suggest that things were not about to go exactly as the paper would have predicted. Taking an opportunistic shot after winning a race to a loose puck behind the Cornell net, his puck caromed off a defender's stick and past Cornell freshman Matthew Galajda to put the visitors up 1-0 just 20 seconds into the game.

It was the kind of goal that was fast enough and odd enough to not get good teams stuck - after all, the #1 team in the country had 59:40 left to get things square again. The feeling certainly was that it was going to happen sooner or later, so even though the Engineers were able to escape the first period with the 1-0 lead thanks to 11 saves from freshman goalie Linden Marshall, the Lynah Faithful were surely not terribly concerned.

Cornell picked up their first power play opportunity five and a half minutes into the second period, and that seemed like the perfect opportunity for the Big Red to reassert their control, but lax play in their own end resulted in an even bigger deficit for the home team, as junior Evan Tironese, the lone forechecker, got his stick on a cross-ice pass. He maneuvered it over to classmate Brady Wiffen, who beat Galajda on the stick side for a short-handed goal and a 2-0 RPI lead.

Looking for more, the Engineers managed an impressive 15 shots in the second period, and Marshall went into the final frame with 18 saves on as many shots to keep the upset dream alive. It hadn't been a whitewash of any kind, but it did feel like Cornell would only need one opportunity to jumpstart themselves into eventually skating off with the win.

That chance seemed to arrive 95 seconds after the opening faceoff of the third, as senior forward Jared Fiegl stole the puck in the RPI end and worked it behind Marshall's net, eventually wrapping it around and putting it in off a stick for the first Big Red goal of the game. With 18:25 left in regulation, the Engineers seemed like they were going to have a very tall task indeed to salvage the game. Surely, as good as Cornell was, and as rough as RPI was, this was the beginning of the comeback.

The sleeping giant had indeed arisen from its nap, and Cornell went to work just about immediately looking to tie the game. Throughout the final period, it seemed like that second goal would come sooner or later as the Big Red actively dominated affairs and probed constantly for another breakthrough. It was methodical, but Linden Marshall had other plans for the evening. He maintained his front as both teams failed to score on their only power play opportunities of the period. His 11 saves in the final period gave him 29 on 30 shots as the freshman picked up the biggest win of his young collegiate career, and giving Dave Smith his first signature win as RPI head coach, eventually biggest of the first two and a half years of his tenure.

The feeling of the tying goal coming at some point never truly diminished until perhaps the final minute of the game, but even then it felt like it would surely come. When the final horn sounded, credit was due to Marshall and his defense for playing their game without panicking, and simply doing what they could to limit an attack that could have overwhelmed them at any time if they'd lacked discipline.

The victory was in some ways emblematic of the unusually good decade that the Engineers had against Cornell. Even in many of the seasons where the Big Red were not struggling, RPI was able to pick up a few unexpected points and, in fact, they won the decade-long series 7-6-6 - meaning they took points from Cornell on 13 out of 19 opportunities in total.

The game changed very little in the grand scheme of things, just like the Harvard win the previous year. Cornell still won the ECAC regular season and made their way to the NCAAs for a second straight season. If there's any doubt that the Big Red's mid-2010s "trouble" is behind them, they seem a lock even this early to advance to their fourth NCAA tournament in a row for the first time since Ned Harkness was behind the bench. RPI, meanwhile, completed their regular season with five more losses and won only six games all year, failing to reach 10 wins for the second straight campaign.

But on that one night, the minnow was stronger than the whale.

#6 - March 5, 2016
RPI 4, Brown 3
Houston Field House - Troy, NY (Game 2 of the ECAC First Round)
Box - Recap

12 years is a long time to wait for something as simple as watching your team win a playoff series on its home ice. Since their last home triumph in 2004 against Princeton, the record had been of repeated failure - on the infrequent occasions that the Engineers had finished in the Top 8 and earned a home series at all.
  • 2006: swept by Quinnipiac in Dan Fridgen's last games behind the bench. 
  • 2010: fell to Brown in 3 games. 
  • 2011: beaten in double overtime in Game 3 by last-place Colgate. 
  • 2013: fell again to Brown in 3 games, this time in the quarterfinals.
  • 2014: lost Game 3 to Dartmouth after taking a two-goal lead into the third period. 
Especially considering the four-consecutive three-game series losses, it was starting to become flinch-worthy for RPI fans whenever something turned sour in a home series. And of course, it had to be Brown. Again.

Game 1 had been straightforward. It hadn't been a runaway, not by a long shot as Brown largely carried play for two of the three periods, but the Engineers also never trailed throughout and ultimately secured a 3-2 victory to go up 1-0 in the series. They needed just one more win to advance... which was just where they had been the last two times against the Bears. Winning one game in a home series under Seth Appert had not been the problem in the home opportunities in four of the past six campaigns. It was that second one.

So when Brown pounced on RPI for three goals in the first period of Game 2, the groans in the gallery were audible and the collective psyche was dire: Here we go again. But this time was different. This time, two seniors - who had been through this twice before and had seen Brown snuff out the first-round bye advantage - put a fragile program and its suffering supporters on their backs and forged a way forward: goaltender Jason Kasdorf and center Milos Bubela.

The first period had been uncharacteristic in a lot of ways. Not only was it odd in Kasdorf giving up three in a single period - something he had not done since the unfortunate Freakout! collapse against Clarkson in the third period a month earlier -  the Engineers had arguably been the better of the two teams everywhere but on the scoreboard. That fact that could have simply heightened the demoralization, especially with the lateness of the third Brown goal, which came on the power play with 30 seconds left in the period, just at the right time to let the home side stew about it in the locker room during the first intermission. Had the Bears been able to keep pouring it on, they could have mentally won this series by the second intermission.

But it was Bubela who refused to let the 2016 script play out as in years past. After an early save by Kasdorf, the Slovakian senior brought the puck out of the RPI end, worked it through the neutral zone, and made his way into the attacking zone one-on-one. He picked his spot, and sniped a shot past Brown's Tim Ernst to get RPI on the board, and Bubela implored his team and its supporters to get up and start making some noise. (Kasdorf's save, incidentally, went down as the secondary assist, giving him his only collegiate point and the first point by an RPI goaltender since 2008.)

Bubela continued powering the comeback seven and a half minutes later in much the same fashion, powering the puck through the neutral zone and entering the zone along the boards. This time, he cut to the net and beat Ernst with a wrister to cut the Brown lead to just one.

Meanwhile, Brown got more than just a few licks off of their own in the second period as they looked to blunt the comeback, re-establish dominance, and force Game 3. Kasdorf needed to be the Kasdorf that was RPI's rock throughout his collegiate career, an impenetrable fortress when you needed him the most. And he came through with flying colors, denying 17 shorts from the Bears to keep them off the board in the second period.

But when the horn sounded to begin the second intermission, Brown still held a 3-2 lead, and visions of 2013 started to return. In Game 3 that year, the Bears had also jumped out to a 3-0 lead, and RPI had taken two back by the end of the second period. In the ensuing third period, there had been dominance from the Engineers and a feeling that the tying goal was coming. It would come eventually. Of course it was going to come. It had to come. And when the clock read 0:00, there was just an empty feeling. Why hadn't it come? For those who remembered, the doubt was ready to trickle back in. There was always Game 3 as a fallback, but Game 3 at home had meant only one thing of late.

So as time ticked by in the third period, that doubt began to fill back into the psyche. A power play opportunity five minutes in went by the wayside, and it began to get stronger. Another one came with 11 minutes to play and the feeling was that yes, the Engineers absolutely had to score on this one.

Enter junior Riley Bourbonnais. His breakout season had propelled RPI to having this opportunity to end the struggles at home and had nearly helped bring about a first-round bye. He delivered early on the power play chance, shoveling home a rebound from a shot by Bubela to tie the score.

Even this was not enough to end the doubt - not with what tied games late had meant in the playoffs recently: St. Lawrence scoring the year prior in the final minute to break a 0-0 deadlock in Game 1. Dartmouth winning Game 3 in 2014 with just over two minutes left. Brown in Game 1 in 2013 breaking a 1-1 tie with under two minutes to play. Clarkson's triple-overtime win in Potsdam in 2012's Game 2. Colgate's double-overtime win in Game 3 the year before that. When it came to tied playoff games late, there had only been an awful lot of heartache in recent memory. Five straight seasons losing a tied playoff game in the last three minutes or in overtime. And there was going to be a fourth goal from someone, at some point.

And of course, as time went by, it was increasingly unlikely that the next goal would be anything other than the game winner. It had to be the Engineers. It just had to. The only alternative was more doubt, more despair.

The clock moved under two minutes, and the dread mixed with hope in the Field House stands - and with 1:42 left in regulation, the net was dented... and it was a laser of a shot that had come from the stick of sophomore defenseman Jared Wilson, the same man who had netter what turned out to be the game winner the previous night.

It was not over, of course. Their season on the line, Brown threw everything they had at the Engineers to get the score level once again, but Kasdorf remained strong, finishing the third period with 10 saves, and the drought was over. The despair had ended. A home playoff series win. It was as if the home fans breathed a collective sigh of relief, especially after the drama of the final minute and the barrage RPI faced with an empty Brown cage.

Interestingly enough, it was not the first time on the season that the Engineers had come from a 3-0 deficit to win in regulation. They'd also done it a little over a month prior, in Providence, against the very same Brown Bears.

The dream continued. Could they shake that other March bugaboo, and return to the promised land in Lake Placid? A harsh reality awaited them in Boston, as the high-powered Harvard offense snuffed out the Engineers' season with 13 goals in two games. A tough end for what turned out to be Kasdorf's final two games in an RPI sweater.

This was the kind of game that should not have been in a Top 10 list. Taking out the next-to-last place team on your home ice is something that's supposed to happen naturally. That it was a series sweep would normally make it all the less interesting. But without the history, without the heartache, Game 2 could have never been quite the roller-coaster ride it was, nor the glorious ending it became.

#5 - November 13, 2010
RPI 4, Union 3 (OT)
Houston Field House - Troy, NY (Black Saturday)
Box - Recap

The comeback win always provides fond memories sometimes even beyond that of the big upset. That's probably due in large part to the fun house of expectations that a fan experiences during the contest in the lead-up to the game's conclusion. Last decade's #1 game was a perfect example of this - the Freakout! win over Clarkson in 2002 would not have been nearly as memorable if not for a number of things coming together all at once, not the least of which was a 3-0 hole that the Engineers had to claw back from.

Twice in 2019 the Engineers snatched victory from defeat at the very end of regulation and then won in overtime - in January against Army (Senior Brady Wiffen with 21 seconds left, then junior Jake Marrello 1:16 into OT) and in the decade's penultimate game in December against Brown (Senior Mike Gornall with two seconds left, then freshman Tristan Ashbrook 36 seconds into OT - interestingly, Gornall set up both game winners). But neither of those really can hold a candle to what the Engineers accomplished nine years prior, at the beginning of the decade, in scope, in magnitude, and in bleeding-edge timing.

A rival, two nationally ranked teams, a controversial ending the previous night, a packed house, a special night, two separate late comebacks, and a wild ending made all the difference.

The Union home-and-home weekend is one that both teams have been circling during the preseason on a year-in, year-out basis, and especially given that the two league contests were played on different weekends a year prior, the anticipation was heightened for the 2010-11 weekend, the first to be played in the first half of the season since 2004-05. A 3-3 non-conference draw in Lake Placid two weeks prior, in which Union freshman Mat Bodie notched the game tying goal with 30 seconds left truly set the tone for what would turn out to be one of the most controversial RPI-Union weekends in the history of the rivalry. Both teams entered the weekend nationally ranked (#12 Union, #18 RPI) as they had in Lake Placid (#16 Union, #20 RPI).

Friday night in Schenectady, the Dutchmen had broken a 1-1 deadlock with a power play goal by sophomore Jeremy Welsh with a little over 12 minutes to play. RPI had gone all out to stay in the game, with senior captain John Kennedy sustaining a hand injury that would keep him out for a month while blocking a pair of shots during a 4-on-3 penalty kill. With 7.6 seconds left and junior Allen York pulled for the extra attacker, junior Mike Bergin appeared to tie the game by redirecting a Nick Bailen shot past Union's Keith Kinkaid. The goal was waved off by referee Bryan Hicks, who had declared that sophomore C.J. Lee's screen on Kinkaid had, in fact, been interference.

The teams had more or less come to blows on the ensuing faceoff, and an angry Seth Appert interrupted a post-game press-conference by Bailen and Kennedy to show a replay of the disallowed goal on his laptop. He said nothing and let the video speak for itself - there hadn't been interference on the goal at all (and Hicks hadn't had the option of replay).

It made for a testy end to a fevered rivalry game that left both teams ready to rumble the next night in Troy. With Kennedy standing on the bench with the coaches, the Engineers went back to war at home looking for immediate payback. They came out loaded for bear, dominating the opening period by outshooting Union 14-3, but the hostility to the officials that RPI fans entered the evening with following the Friday night farce ratcheted up to new heights when an apparent first goal during the first period by Engineer senior Scott Halpern was disallowed for having been kicked in off a skate. RPI insisted - and replays later showed - that the goal had actually gone in off a Union skate.

The frustration continued to mount as a productive early second period power play resulted in plenty of opportunities but no goals, and was shortly followed by Union, not RPI making the first breakthrough. Late in the second period, a goal by Union freshman Matt Hatch made it 2-0 Dutchmen, and the mood in the Field House began to practically grow violent through a combination of an RPI power play that just could not score (0-for-10 through the first five periods of the weekend) and the two waved off goals.

The Engineers finally got on the board thanks to a tripping call against Union freshman Daniel Carr late in the second period. With the man advantage on fresh ice to start the third, junior Patrick Cullen scored to cut the Union lead in half, and with Bergin serving a penalty midway through the period, a short-handed goal by senior Joel Malchuk tied the game with just under 10 minutes to play. The mood had turned decidedly more electric.

The ultimate villain could have been the man RPI fans wanted least to be the one - Union freshman Josh Jooris, who scored a power play goal four minutes later for what could have been the game winner in his first game in the building where his father had become an RPI legend. At that point, the mood soured significantly, and Union went into lockdown mode, largely successfully for most of the remainder of the period.

With just under two minutes to play, the Engineers were granted a golden opportunity when Union freshman Mike Ingoldsby slammed C.J. Lee into the boards near the penalty boxes and was assessed a five-minute major for checking from behind. Allen York was removed from his crease, and so began a wild 6-on-4 chance for the Engineers to grab the tying goal. With no icing in effect, the Dutchmen were able to take potshots at the open cage, doing so three times during the kill without hitting the clincher. That gave the Engineers the life they needed to strike.

Kinkaid stood on his head to keep RPI out of the net, but with time about to expire, a rebound from a shot by Chase Polacek bounced to sophomore Marty O'Grady, who buried the puck just before the horn sounded, sending the Field House into an all-out frenzy. The referees met to determine if the puck had been in before the buzzer, again without the benefit of replay. Had the goal been disallowed, surely there would have been an absolute meltdown. The video later showed that the referees did ultimately get the call right: O'Grady had put the puck in the net with 0.2 seconds left, tying the game.

With the major penalty still on the board for just over three minutes of overtime, RPI was set up perfectly to swipe a victory that would taste oh-so-sweet away from what could have been a crushing defeat that would have been blamed for a second night on a terrible call. That opportunity became even juicier following a dangerous cross-check in the corner by Union junior Nolan Julseth-White that was enough to warrant the rare penalty called in overtime. Coming with well over a minute remaining on the major, that provided the Engineers with the ultra-rare overtime five-on-three, and time ticked down on the major, a blasted shot by sophomore Nick Bailen was the one that evaded Kinkaid and gave the Engineers a 4-3 victory, producing elation among the Houston Field House faithful that likely had not been seen since the aforementioned 2002 Freakout! victory. (Early in WaP's existence, we hosted a weekly podcast that included Kurt Stutt's jubilant call of Bailen's goal in the intro.)

Lost in all of the craziness was the win pushing RPI's all-time record on Black Friday (Saturday for the first time), the smaller, fall semester version of the Big Red Freakout! promoted alongside the first home ECAC contest of the season since 2003, to 7-0-1 all-time (the unbeaten record would fall the next season to Yale). Meanwhile, the ECAC ended up suspending Appert for RPI's next game for the mortal sin of showing video evidence that its officials had gotten a call wrong on Friday. He hadn't said a word despite his angry demeanor - he'd simply showed the video.

This is a sequence that almost certainly would not have happened today. The clear evidence on both of RPI's overturned goals on the weekend likely would have driven both games to different endings had they been checked and overturned on replay. But as things were, it was a result that gave both teams reason to be continually upset with each other, and ratcheted up an already simmering rivalry to the point that would lead to a total boiling over in a few years' time.

#4 - October 11, 2015
RPI 2, Boston College 1
Houston Field House - Troy, NY
Box - Recap

If there's a team that would best reflect Cornell's relative dominance of the ECAC over the last 20 years on the national level, it's probably Boston College. Their four national championships since the turn of the millennium (all won between 2001 and 2012) tops Denver and Minnesota-Duluth, who have collected three each. And while they've been on a relative title drought since then (by their standards), they managed to win one or both Hockey East titles and/or an NCAA appearance in every season this decade with the exception of 2019, which was their first losing season since 1997.

Unlike the Big Red, the Eagles are ranked #1 in the country somewhat frequently. Only North Dakota and Minnesota have been ranked #1 in the USCHO.com poll than BC since that poll's inception. If BC fans are thinking about RPI at any given time, there's a pretty decent chance they're considering the element of the Pairwise instead of the school or its hockey program. Since the Hockey East split, the teams have played each other sparingly.

BC was indeed ranked #1 when the Eagles made their first visit to Troy in 20 years early in the 2015-16 season, and while it was a function of being on top of a preseason poll (in which no fewer than 10 different teams earned first-place votes), it certainly wasn't out of sorts for Boston College to come into a season with expectations of playing for a national championship - especially in a season where the Frozen Four would be right in Boston.

Playing on a Sunday afternoon at home after having been in eastern Massachusetts the previous Friday for an uninspired 3-0 season-opening loss to UMass-Lowell, the Engineers welcomed a BC team that had easily dispatched Army 5-1 down at West Point that same Friday night. While senior Jason Kasdorf had well established himself as one of the nation's most capable netminders over the course of his RPI career, so too had BC sophomore Thatcher Demko established himself among the most elite goalies in the country. BC's edge was in their equally elite attack.

Nevertheless, the first period was a back-and-forth affair that tested both goaltenders equally, and they were both up to the task, neither allowing a goal despite facing 13 shots apiece. It was the second period that the ice seemed to tilt down to the RPI end, exactly as one would expect given the disparities between the two sides. The Eagles were aided midway through the period by penalties taken by senior Milos Bubela and freshman Evan Tironese (who was making his long awaited collegiate debut), but Kasdorf continued to stay strong despite the heavy BC presence in his end. Late in the period, the visitors absolutely peppered the home side with shots doing everything but scoring as the RPI netminder picked up big blocks from his blueliners, especially sophomore Mike Prapavessis and senior Chris Bradley to keep the Eagles off the scoresheet.

Against the flow of play, in the final minute of the second period, it was junior Riley Bourbonnais who made the breakthrough, beating Demko through a screen at the top of the faceoff circle to put the Engineers ahead 1-0 heading into the second intermission. Then, on the power play early in the third period, Bourbonnais struck again to give the Engineers some much needed cushion against the high-flying Eagles, scoring on a give-and-go with Tironese to make it a 2-0 game.

But BC had plenty of time to pull themselves back into things, and the 2-0 lead never felt strong. Five an a half minutes later, on the power play, the Eagles finally cracked Kasdorf with a goal by sophomore Zach Sanford, a goal that had the feeling of the giant finally waking up and ready to step on the overachieving ants. And that is certainly how the rest of the game did seem to play out. But as he had done time and time again in his career, Jason Kasdorf made another lead hold up.

Picking up where they'd left off late in the second period, BC worked the puck in the attacking zone and unleashed shot after shot, while Kasdorf and his defensemen did everything they could to get in front of shots - and they did. With Demko out of the net for an extra attacker in the final 1:20, the Eagles practically held the zone throughout the ensuing 6-on-5. Gassed RPI defenders were suddenly sprung back to life as the final horn sounded. They'd produced a national shocker in just their second game of the season.

RPI picked up their first win against the Eagles since their previous visit to Troy in 1995 - BC's last win at Houston Field House was in an ECAC regular season game in 1981 (0-4 since).

If one could pick out a single season in the 2010s and deem it relatively disappointment free, the 2015-16 campaign might be the best example. Picked to underperform once again, RPI did drop their next three in a row (two in Alaska and at home against another national power in Michigan) to make the BC victory look like a fluke at 1-4-0. But once the league games began, the Engineers went on a tear, going unbeaten in nine straight and starting off the ECAC season with a 4-1-3 record by New Year's that became 6-1-6 by late January. A rough February left RPI slightly adrift and out of the running for the first-round bye they'd been a strong contender for, but the aforementioned home playoff series win over Brown was the silver lining to that rough patch. The win over BC had even made the Engineers somewhat of a bubble team for the NCAA, though never in serious contention as they had in years prior.

This was a game that set an early pace for an RPI team that largely defied expectations and which seemed to make steps in the right direction, and additionally made the nation stand up and have a second look at a team they were prepared to already write off in October. Those gains proved to be short-lived, especially after the departure of Kasdorf at the end of the year (the academic senior had a redshirt season remaining if he'd chosen to use it), but beating the #1 team in the country when no one expects you to have a prayer, even at home, is always a big deal, and in this case it set the table for an unexpectedly strong year.

#3 - December 7, 2012
RPI 6, Yale 1
Ingalls Rink - New Haven, CT
Box - Recap

Some games are impressive from the final whistle. Others gain appreciation after the passage of time. Others manage both, and that's what happened with RPI's first league win of the 2012-13 season. It was impressive because of the scale of the win on the road. The appreciation comes from the launchpad it became for the rest of the season, and the retrospective the end of the season brought.

The Engineers were in transition. Allen York's departure after his junior year in 2011 seemed to blunt the progress that was being made despite the shock twin departures of freshman superstars Jerry D'Amigo and Brandon Pirri in 2010. Knowing that all three could have been playing in 2012 if the stars had aligned made that difficult season even harder. The 2012-13 year had started off with a record of 0-5-1 in the ECAC, and the first four losses had not been particularly close.

Touted as the goaltender of the future upon his arrival on campus, freshman Jason Kasdorf largely watched as senior Bryce Merriam, the incumbent starter, and sophomore Scott Diebold struggled to establish themselves early in the season. Kasdorf's call finally came in mid-November, and while his introduction seemed to stabilize the defense somewhat, the offense still largely struggled heading into the month of December.

That changed in a big way when the Engineers visited Yale to open the third month of the season. The Bulldogs hadn't been lighting the world on fire since their dominating ECAC championship run in 2011, but they had a strong enough team that had been producing some decent early returns at 6-2-1 overall coming into the weekend. At home against an RPI team dead last in the conference with just one point in six games, this was two points Yale needed to keep building momentum.

Although both teams got more or less three distinct, full power plays to work with in the first period (with a small amount of overlap), the only goal in the opening 20 came at even strength, on a turnover in the RPI zone as sophomore Luke Curadi's clearance attempt was intercepted at the point by Tommy Fallen, who unleashed a perfect shot to beat Kasdorf and put the Bulldogs up 1-0.

That was the only goal Yale would muster all night, as Kasdorf introduced himself to the ECAC with a command performance in just his fourth collegiate start. He made 36 saves on 37 shots, including saves on all 16 shots he faced in the second period, a middle frame in which the Engineers firmly took charge of the game.

A tic-tac-toe in transition between freshmen Mike Zalewski and Milos Bubela tied things up eight minutes in with Zalewski firing the shot, and Bubela put RPI ahead just over a minute later on the power play. Sophomore Jacob Laliberté made it 3-1 later in the period, and the Engineers continued to pour it on in the third, chasing Yale netminder Jeff Malcolm from the net after two goals in 41 seconds from freshman Mark Miller and junior Johnny Rogic, the latter of which Rogic managed to score from his back. Sophomore Ryan Haggerty added a sixth from six different players with about 13 minutes left to put things well out of reach.

Even then, Kasdorf was not done showing off his talent. Two successive penalties to Curadi and junior Bo Dolan gave Yale a late five-on-three to finish the game, and Kasdorf continued to keep the hosts out of the cage until the final whistle. RPI finally had a league win, and while it came on a night when Yale wasn't looking their best on either side of the puck, it was a crucial breakthrough for a team that was in need of some good news.

It was Kasdorf's introduction and the strong victory that seemed to be a catalyst for the Engineers. Despite the putrid 0-5-1 start in the league, they would go on to finish the league schedule on a 12-2-2 run which included victories in 11 straight league games to end the year. That impressive run saw RPI rise from dead last all the way to second place, their highest finish in league play in 20 years. Along the way, they tied Quinnipiac to end the perfect start to their league season (10-0-0) that the Engineers would later eclipse with their stretch run, but the Bobcats were too far ahead to be caught, winning the regular season by 10 points.

The big win at Yale turned a season from disappointment to wonder, but disappointment returned in yet another home playoff series loss. The team that hadn't lost a league game in 11 straight managed to drop two of three on the cusp of the ECAC semis. Still on the bubble for the NCAA tournament despite the abrupt end, that bubble rapidly burst with a number of league tournament upsets the following week.

Yale, meanwhile, was able to overcome the harrowing loss - their worst of the regular season - to finish third in the ECAC. They were pounded on successive nights by Union (5-0) and Quinnipiac (3-0, their third loss of the season to the Bobcats) in Atlantic City, but they still managed to creep into the NCAAs with the final at-large bid in much the same fashion RPI had done two years prior. The Bulldogs, however, flipped the script. Never dominant until the final game, Yale personified "survive and advance" in squeaking by college hockey royalty in Minnesota (OT) and North Dakota (trailed into the 3rd) to reach the Frozen Four, and beat UMass-Lowell in overtime to reach the national championship game where they faced... Quinnipiac. 23 years after the league had its last national championship appearance (Colgate in 1990), both competitors were from the ECAC, and it was a rematch of the ECAC Consolation Game to boot. On their fourth try, Yale won the game Quinnipiac would have given up the other three wins to have won.

In the end, it gave RPI an even bigger reason to look back on that night in December in Connecticut that they took the eventual national champions behind the woodshed to kick start an amazing run that was ended too soon. And by the time Yale was hoisting the national championship trophy in Pittsburgh the following April... the Engineers boasted a three-game winning streak against them.

#2 - January 25, 2014
RPI 2, Union 1
Times Union Center - Albany, NY (Mayor's Cup)
Box - Recap

One of the building frustrations for RPI fans over the last 20 years has not only been the struggles they've watched their team tumble through - it has been having to endure those struggles while having to watch their cross-town rivals enjoy a period of sustained success in the process. In 2013-14, the knife twisted even more cruelly: chosen in preseason polls to top the ECAC, an early season-ending injury to sophomore goaltender Jason Kasdorf devastated the team, which instead limped to just under .500 by mid-January in a season where Union's recent success was reaching even higher levels.

The Engineers had been losing to Union. A lot. The advent of the Mayor's Cup game in 2013 had continued an existing trend of the teams playing a third non-conference game, which of late had just been giving RPI another opportunity to lose to the Dutchmen. Coming into the 2014 Mayor's Cup, they'd lost 10 straight to Union, held a 3-20-4 record against them during the Seth Appert era, and with the Dutch riding high on a 10-2 league record and 16-4-3 overall (and ranked #3 in the country), there wasn't much expectation that the losing streak would be coming to an end that night.

In the first period, that did seem to be playing out to script. Wunderkind junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere scored a wraparound goal on the penalty kill to put Union up 1-0, a deflating result for an RPI team that had been looking ready to pounce on the power play before a total defensive breakdown after a turnover. That the Engineers had been playing well and still ended up going down seemed another common story when Union was the opponent, so one could certainly be forgiven for seeing that as another bad omen.

But RPI junior goaltender Scott Diebold played an exceptional game. That was the only goal that he'd give up all night long and it was hardly his fault (except, perhaps, for his unwillingness to come out and play the puck, but he'd been let down by his defense first). Finishing the game with 28 saves on 29 shots, he was certainly one of the heroes of the evening for the Engineers. Equally heroic was sophomore Milos Bubela, whose early second-period goal tied things up after Union came out flat following the first intermission.

The Engineers survived successive penalty kills in the second period, including a tense 39-second two-man advantage for the Dutchmen. RPI didn't even register a single shot in the second half of the period. Once the third period began, the casual observer probably would have seen a second goal for Union as more likely than a second one for RPI. The Dutchmen outshot the Engineers 11-4 in the final frame.

With 3:38 left in regulation and against the flow of play, sophomore Mike Zalewski buried his own rebound past a sprawling Colin Stevens to edge RPI in front for the first time all night and only the fourth time during the long losing streak against Union. A minute later, the Union net was empty and Diebold had one last onslaught to defend with the extra attacker on. He held up just enough to get the Engineers over the line and finally take down the hated arch-nemeses for the first time in what seemed like forever.

And if that was all that happened, it still would have been a banner night, a signature win, one to remember. But it was what happened next, and over the next two-plus months, that entered this one firmly into the land of lore.

Immediately as the final horn sounded, Union's Mat Bodie cross-checked RPI senior Brock Higgs in the neck, and all hell broke loose as both benches cleared and an all-out fracas began on the ice which included several individual brawls, some bodyslams, and plenty of gear thrown everywhere. That would have been noteworthy by itself, in all likelihood, but the national gaze came upon the game once Union coach Rick Bennett, redfaced and out of control, jumped off the bench and tried to get at RPI coach Seth Appert. Both coaches ended up shouting at each other as referees and players tried their best to keep them apart. We even did an entire breakdown of the action. The "FU at the TU," as we called it, went viral. Deadspin did a story, as did USA Today and even the Huffington Post. To the extent that college hockey fans around the nation were unaware of just how heated the RPI-Union rivalry was, they were disabused of any semblance of it being a minor local affair.

Several players from both teams were suspended, as was Appert. Interestingly, it fell to Union to suspend Bennett, which they did for the following two games, a light suspension considering many calls that he should have been banned for the remainder of the season for his actions.

As with most of these stories, the high came with an unsatisfying epilogue. A highly undermanned Union team did lose their next outing at St. Lawrence, but that would be their final loss of the season. The Dutchmen went on to go unbeaten in 17 straight games (16-0-1) to win the ECAC regular season (by eight points) and tournament (outscoring opponents 17-6 in four games), followed by their first national championship (scoring seven goals in the final game, still the most since LSSU's nine in 1994). One would be hard pressed to say that the circumstance of their Mayor's Cup loss wasn't a propelling element.

RPI continued to play .500 hockey for the rest of the season, earning yet another home playoff series that they were unable to win, falling to Dartmouth in three games after heading into the final period of Game 3 with a 4-2 lead. But even without the brawl that came to define the night, the game itself was a huge result for an RPI team that was in desperate need of a big win over Union. Doing that in front of 7,100 people was an important step, and it largely ended the lopsided results in the rivalry. And for the second year in a row, the Engineers could boast that the last time they'd met them, they'd beaten the team that went on to win it all.

#1 - January 29, 2011
RPI 5, Yale 2
Houston Field House - Troy, NY (Big Red Freakout!)
Box - Recap

This game not only served as a high water mark of sorts for RPI Hockey in the 2010s, it also illustrated some of the program's wider trends of the decade.

Freakout! during the 1990s and 2000s was frequently a win for the Engineers and never a loss. From 1991 to 2007, RPI went 12-0-5 in the winter showcase game. But coming into the 2011 edition, the Class of 2011 was staring at the possibility of becoming the first class to ever go 0-4 at Freakout! after having witnessed the end of the unbeaten streak during their freshman year and having been outscored 15-1 in their three Freakout! opportunities, including a 7-0 implosion at the hands of Princeton the previous year that doubled as the world's worst Senior Night experience after the entire crowd had departed prior to senior honors after the game.

But this year had an immediately different feel about it from the get-go. Not only were the Engineers the #10 team in the country, they were taking on the #1 team in the nation in the Yale Bulldogs. And they were a team on a terrific roll. Following a 4-2 defeat in New Haven on December 3, the Engineers had whipped off a record of 9-2-0 and were riding a four-game winning streak. Yale had entered the weekend with only one loss on the season (a head-scratcher against a weak Brown team) and was coming into the game coming off their second, a one-goal loss to Union. They didn't feel like the kind of team that was going to lose twice in one weekend.

Many things combined to make this game the most unique of the decade. The Engineers were not an overpowering offensive force, but they made their opportunities count. They managed five goals on only 18 shots. Yale was exactly the kind of offensive power that one would expect from the country's #1 team, but RPI junior Allen York was an absolute beast in net, stopping 38 of 40 shots the Bulldogs uncorked, including every single shot he faced at even-strength as both of Yale's goals came on the power play.

In big games, the big names step up, and the Engineers got that from both York and their reigning ECAC Player of the Year Chase Polacek, who paced RPI with three points. Polacek's dagger of a power-play goal in the third period, just 39 seconds removed from a goal by freshman Brock Higgs (who'd returned a week earlier from a horrifying neck injury that could have cost him his life) was his 150th point as an Engineer and chased Yale goaltender Ryan Rondeau from the net with a devastating .667 save percentage for the evening.

This wasn't a huge upset, as wins over the #1 team in the nation can be, certainly not nearly as big of an upset as the other two times in the 2010s that the Engineers pulled off the feat. This was, instead, a sort of Roman triumph, an affirmation that RPI was deserving of being called one of the best. There's no doubt at all, even almost nine years later, that this was absolutely the case at that moment in time.

The atmosphere in the Field House was electric following the game. The Freakout! magic was back. The sky was the limit. They'd just won a fifth straight league game for the first time since 2002. A second straight season with a home playoff series for the first time since 1999 and 2000 was a lock. Sitting in fourth, a first ever first-round bye looked very real. A first visit to the ECAC semifinals since 2002 seemed beyond possible, perhaps even likely. Sitting 6th in the Pairwise Rankings heading into February, a first NCAA appearance since 1995 seemed like more than just a dream. And those "Ho-bey Ba-ker!" chants that filled the Field House for Polacek after his goal weren't just flights of fancy.

The Engineers, a week later, picked up three points at Quinnipiac and Princeton, including a big win over the Tigers, a serious challenger for the top four, moving them up to 3rd in the ECAC and rising to #8 in the nation in the polls. Unbeaten in seven straight and 15 of 18 in a row, the dreams looked closer. But a home weekend featuring back-to-back overtime losses to bottom-feeders Colgate and contenders Cornell with York sidelined with an injury picked up against the Bobcats was devastating. York would return, but never seemed to regain his previous form. A 1-4-1 finish to the regular season was enough for a 3-way tie for 4th, but not for the bye. A second overtime Game 3 loss to last-place Colgate at home snuffed out the semifinal dream.

After a two-week wait, RPI did back into the NCAAs as the last at-large team selected, an honor they owed to their Freakout! success as much as anything. (Technically, thanks to the complexity of the PWR at the time, their sweep at Alabama-Huntsville made the ultimate difference on the margins, but common sense says beating the #1 team in the country was a better resume builder.) But that regrettable 6-0 drubbing to North Dakota - now their only NCAA appearance in 25 years - now looks much sadder in retrospect.

And as for that Freakout! magic, the Class of 2014 had their first Freakout! experience that night, and went on to win two more. The Engineers haven't won a Freakout! without the Class of 2014 taking part since 2006.

Again, the sad epilogue was a running theme in the 2010s. But for one night, the struggles of the past were over, the present was fun again, and a glorious future seemed to be painted in front. The Engineers had beaten the best in the biggest home game of the year before a sold-out crowd, and that magic feeling when Polacek chased Rondeau from the cage was a moment RPI fans could only wish would have lasted much longer.

Honorable mentions:

Nov. 27, 2010: RPI 3, Bowling Green 2 (OT) - Houston Field House, Troy, NY (Rensselaer Holiday Tournament Championship)
- Bowling Green's extra-attacker goal with 10 seconds left forced overtime, but senior Bryan Brutlag potted the game-winner just 20 seconds in to give RPI the title in the 60th and final RPI Holiday Tournament

Jan. 15, 2011: RPI 2, Colgate 1 (OT) - Starr Rink, Hamilton, NY
- Sophomore C.J. Lee was called for a major penalty in OT, but after senior Chase Polacek was hauled down on a shorthanded breakaway, he scored on a penalty shot to win it

Oct. 10, 2014: RPI 3, Notre Dame 2 - Compton Family Ice Arena, South Bend, IN (IceBreaker Invitational)
- The Engineers shocked the Fighting Irish on national television to start the season as junior Mark Miller notched the game winner

Mar. 13, 2015: St. Lawrence 1, RPI 0 - Appleton Arena, Canton, NY (Game 1 of the ECAC Quarterfinals)
- An epic playoff goaltender's duel between RPI junior Jason Kasdorf (33 saves) and SLU freshman Kyle Hayton (27 saves) ended with a SLU goal in the final minute of regulation in knife-edge game that started to feel like the the "deciding" game that would propel the winner to a series victory as it went along (and it did as SLU finished the sweep the next night fairly easily)

Dec. 5, 2015: RPI 0, Harvard 0 (OT) - Houston Field House, Troy, NY
- 43 saves for senior Kasdorf, 32 shots for RPI in tense, back-and-forth scoreless draw that set a strong benchmark for the ability of scoreless draws to be exciting and interesting and left the fans wanting more

Friday, June 22, 2018

Pushed Too Far

Let's not bury the lead: I will not be offering my services to men's hockey as a radio commentator in the coming school year. I will not participate in the annual golf outing. I will not be renewing my season tickets.

This has relatively little to do with the team itself (although not zero), and almost everything to do with the school. With apologies to Howard Beale, I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore.

There's a lot on my mind - so just click here if you just want to skip to the meat and potatoes.

During my first year at RPI, I was encouraged to run for class representative for the fall freshman elections by some friends of mine who knew my extended history with the Institute that went far beyond that of most of my classmates. I didn't really have a whole lot of interest in student government at the time, but I decided to go ahead and put my name forward to help my friends fill out a complete slate of candidates.

If I was going to run, I was going to try and win, so the challenge was to find a platform to run on - and I didn't have a whole lot to offer in terms of actual policy positions. It was OK, I was assured. Most freshmen didn't have much in the way of policy concerns, so a more generalized campaign could work.

I'm a "legacy" at RPI. My grandfather graduated in 1951, and my father graduated in 1979. My great uncle even got his master's at the Institute. To some extent, I grew up with RPI as part of my heritage. I went to hockey games. I tagged along at alumni occasions, and I even participated in youth-oriented seminars and events. When I chose RPI, it was as much because I was proud of my family's association with the school as it was for any of the other myriad reasons that the school rose to the top of my list. It was easy for that to translate into pride in my school.

That was what my friends and I decided on. "Proud to be RPI" was the slogan. It ended up on campaign posters and flyers. I emphasized it when I talked to classmates.

I lost in a landslide.

The loss slid off my shoulders fairly easily - I hadn't had any real interest in the position in the first place - but what really intrigued me afterwards was that, anecdotally, the campaign emphasizing school pride not only did not help me win, it probably actively helped me lose. "Nobody's proud of this school," I was told. "Half of us are still pissed that we didn't get into MIT." I got it, sort of. I didn't get into MIT, either.

That was my introduction to the idea that school pride at RPI wasn't anywhere near what it was at your average institute of higher learning. The alumni giving figures bore that out as well - even when I arrived on campus in 2000, the rate at which former students gave back to their alma mater was lower than the national average.

I didn't care. I was still proud to be there, and still proud of my school. That pride persisted for years after I graduated.

I was even long proud of the way the school operated. During my time at RPI and in the first few years as an alumnus, I had no complaints, and in fact thought things were being managed quite well. In the last couple of years, however, I have seen my pride battered and abused by an administration that has become hellbent on getting what it wants, when it wants, and has no time for dissension.

In February of 2016, control of the school athletics budget was unilaterally taken away from the Student Union. As chairman of the Union's Athletic Board for my junior and senior years - the subcommittee of the Executive Board that scrutinized each team's budget and ultimately submitted it for approval - I can honestly say that the move probably eliminated potential headaches down the road for athletics in general, whether from the NCAA or in limitations that the larger Institute would not have. But the Union had control of this aspect of student life for 124 years... and it was yanked without so much as a discussion, let alone input from elected student leaders. Complaints were summarily dismissed.

It was a blueprint for more daring usurpations to come.

From there came a more unfettered move to seize control of the Student Union in general, stopped after pushback in 2016 but only for a short time - a tactical retreat from the administration turned into a more forceful move to take over in 2017. That campaign featured aggressive measures meant to silence students, including the systematic removal of posters, a walling off of a sizable chunk of campus, and intimidation tactics used against protest leaders, adding to an already considerable culture of fear that has been nurtured in the last decade.

Alums took notice, and unbridled by that atmosphere, registered their own complaints at an inopportune time for the administration - right at the beginning of a capital campaign meant to raise $1 billion. The administration's response to this growing alumni dissatisfaction with news story after news story from Troy was to send out to all alums an internal letter from Professor Chris Bystroff laden with such slavish devotion to the administration that it bordered on the absurd, while at the same time lashing out at unhappy alums with brazen ad hominem attacks.

I took zero umbrage at Prof. Bystroff calling me and those like me a racist, a sexist, and... heightist, if that's a thing. Whether someone is a racist or not is objectively true or untrue, and I know I'm none of those things. I know most if not all of those who have been critical of the administration are similarly none of those things. His assertion to the contrary, as a matter of demonstrable fiction, simply made me laugh. (Unfortunately for Prof. Bystroff, whether or not someone's an asshole is completely subjective, and I have some bad news for him. But congrats on your grant, sir. Hope you can use it to change the world.)

That the Institute thought attacking their alumni would be a useful way to get them back in line and re-open the wallets is a testament to just how out of touch its administration has become. They may have cowed faculty, staff, and many students through intimidation, but alumni do not have their futures controlled by the school and are far less susceptible to such tactics.

Now, this administration has proposed a collective punishment for the Greek system that threatens to lay waste a crucial element of the school's social environment, and doing so during summer recess, a time during which pushback from students can be blunted until plans are advanced ahead of their return in August.

College is about more than just going to classes and receiving grades. It's about personal growth on many planes, not simply on the intellectual level. My fraternity played an integral and positive role in shaping the man that I became during my experience at the Institute - more important than any one class, professor, or advisor.

I'm not pollyannaish enough to claim that the Greek system is without flaws. I'm certain there are things that could be done to improve every single house on campus, including my own, and I've seen some of the truly awful things that have gone on around the nation. There are probably some houses on campus that require very serious structural changes. But not all of them. In all honesty, not most or even half of them.

It does not require essentially banning Greek life for the fall semester, as has been proposed. The ban on recruitment is especially odious. It could be a virtual death knell for some of the smaller houses on campus. All houses depend on certain expected recruitment levels in order to keep their books balanced, especially for those who have mortgage payments to make. Dropping this bomb without warning - and indeed, in a manner clearly meant to minimize student outrage - makes one believe that the idea of houses closing is a feature and not a bug in terms of the end result of this "Greek Life Task Force" in the eyes of the Institute.

It's another underhanded move by an administration that has engaged in far too many of them over the last few years. It's another move that has outraged stakeholders across the board, and the early reaction to that outrage is becoming familiar: the administration simply does not care. They know what they want to achieve and the anger is easily dismissable.

(TL;DR - I've long been proud of my school, but enough is enough.)

I first considered doing something along these lines a couple of years ago, when it first became apparent that the RPI administration was seeking to usurp student control of the Union. Feeling relatively helpless about the unfolding situation, I thought perhaps the school losing one of its more dedicated contributors for one of its more visible media elements might be a wake-up call.

I let it go at the time. Truth be told, I enjoyed it too much to let go of it and I felt a sense of obligation - many times, if I was unavailable for a broadcast, there might not have even been a broadcast, and I frequently took it personally if there was no broadcast, even if it was because of something more important, like my family. No broadcast means plenty of fans, alums, and parents who would need to seek an alternative option to listen to the game. (I settled on thanking the "independent, student run Rensselaer Union" before the start of periods as a quiet pushback.)

Loyalty was the touchstone.

But as outrage began to pile upon outrage, it has finally pushed me to the point where I would be utterly unable to reconcile a deep and growing concern with the actions of this administration and my own sense of right and wrong. The problems have mounted to a level that precludes my honest continued association.

This administration has actively attempted to undermine student-self governance at the Rensselaer Union, without cause.

This administration has presided over falling rankings in the engineering programs that made this school prominent, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

This administration has presided over a continuing decline in alumni giving - levels of which were well below the national average when I was a freshman, but also represented a high that has never again been reached 18 years later.

This administration has presided over a massive increase in institutional debt, a decline in the value of the endowment, and a decline in overall net asset value.

This administration has presided over declining metrics in general with relation to peer institutions.

This administration has presided over a decline in the Institute's bond rating to a position hovering just above junk status.

This administration has for years ignored serious concerns about adherence to nationally accepted standards for academic governance.

This administration has watched talented members of the school's faculty and staff depart in disgust for years, and it is extremely doubtful that this exodus is ending any time soon.

This administration has surrounded itself with a bloated bureaucracy that seems forbidden to offer courses of action that have not been pre-approved from above, and which refuses to engage in self-criticism.

Now, this administration has moved to decimate a vibrant Greek system that has long been a model for Greek life nationwide.

This administration, over the last three years, has done something remarkable. They've taken a person who had an uncanny and certainly unusual amount of pride in a school that rarely seems to engender such pride in its students and alums, and turned him into someone who is quite ashamed.

My nephew, who is about to graduate from high school, showed some interest in RPI during his junior year. I gave him a personal tour of campus, topped off with an evening at the Field House where we watched the Engineers play Dartmouth. The experience seemed to pique his interest.

But several months later, as he began his senior year and began preparing to apply to colleges, I had to tell him my true feelings. In the aftermath of the crackdown against student protesters at the capital campaign kickoff in October, I had to tell my nephew - with a lump in my throat - that I could not recommend my beloved alma mater, not given the way they were treating their students. He did not apply. He will be attending SUNY Geneseo in the fall.

I've shown my loyalty. This season, it was turning out to the Field House on a Saturday night, sick as a dog and unable to hold anything down, because no one else was available to call a home game against Princeton (be glad you couldn't see me on the radio or on RPITV). It was driving three hours through total white-out conditions and partially along roads that were closed in order to make sure there was a broadcast for Game 1 of the playoffs against Colgate - not because I had anything to gain, because expense reimbursement and free entry are the only perks. It was because I have been loyal to a fault despite having to endure watching four losses for every win in the last two seasons.

I know this decision comes at a time when walking away is "easier." If the Engineers had been on some kind of tear recently, or if this coming season were one filled with expectation and big dreams, I'm certain that it would have been more difficult for me to reach this conclusion.

This is not an indictment of those tough times, although I'd be lying if I said I didn't think the administration was playing an outsized role in creating them. Their blasé reaction to concerns lodged by prominent hockey alums in 2017 during the coaching change - including some of the most legendary names in a proud history - was shocking. The outright dismissal of criticism registered by Adam Oates in particular was enough to make one's jaw drop. But then again, when you compare it to everything else going on at the Institute at the present time, the downturn in results and the tin ear toward criticism fits right in with all of it.

After watching the administration's thuggish tactics against student dissent, it was easy to resolve not to participate in the Institute's capital campaign. You will imagine my shock, then, to receive a letter late last year thanking me for my $40 donation to that campaign. It was my wife who ultimately called to ask about the donation - I was far too angry to be able to make a rational inquiry. It was, she learned, the donation I had made to attend the end-of-season banquet in 2017, well before the capital campaign was even announced.

Enough is enough. I have been pushed too far. If a donation to the hockey program is now considered a gift to a campaign I have no intention of supporting for an administration that is completely out of control, I must consider what other contributions are in danger of bolstering this insanity. It is therefore with great reluctance that I must decline to enjoy the annual golf outing that has long been a highlight of my summer, and must relinquish my season tickets in Section 17. To the extent that this blog and its associated Twitter account was still active, that activity will now cease.

I know this screed has been long (even for those who skipped a bit), but I don't want anyone to feel as though this is some kind of exercise in self-indulgence. I don't harbor any delusions that I hold any sway whatsoever over anything at all, or that this action will be that kind of magic wake-up call I considered last year that will change anything at any level. This is about not feeling helpless, and it is a sincere apology for those who have come to enjoy my contributions. I do not want to do this, but I don't feel like I have any other choice.

I will continue to follow this team, and my heart still pumps the Cherry and White through my veins. I'm sure I'll drop in for a game or two. I wish Coach Smith and his charges nothing but success that I fervently hope that they achieve.

Let's go Red.

Jackson out.

Tom Reale '04

Monday, March 19, 2018


I was asked at the last home game this season whether RPI was "in danger of becoming irrelevant," with Lake Superior State and Dartmouth offered as examples of "irrelevant."

Sorry in advance to any Laker or Big Green fans who may have stumbled upon this. It wasn't my example - but I did have a hard time arguing the logic.

Lake State had a dynasty in the 1990s with three national championships among nine straight NCAA appearances with four CCHA titles in that stretch. They haven't won a lick of hardware since 1996 and have had just five winning seasons since then. Dartmouth had a couple of moments of national prominence, in the late 1940s and the late 1970s. Otherwise - not a whole lot. The Big Green were awful in the 1980s and 1990s, and while they've been much better under Bob Gaudet since the turn of the millennium, there's still not a whole lot of "there" there. A shared ECAC regular season title in 2006 and a shared Ivy League title in 2007, and that's about it. No ECAC title games, no NCAA tournament appearances despite coming close on both fronts a number of times.

So that got me thinking. What makes a team "relevant?" Winning is really what it comes down to, and there are several great benchmarks to tell you if a team is winning. Let's explore. (TL;DR - If you want to skip the nitty-gritty, just scroll down to the final bold line near the bottom.)

National championships. It's an elite club - only 21 out of 60 programs have even won one, and RPI can count itself among just 14 of those with more than one to their name. So there's a historical aspect here of which the program can be rightly proud.

So when I say that RPI's title drought (now the longest in school history, as 1985 is farther from 2018 than it is from 1954) is the fifth longest in the country among schools with a title, that's really nothing. There are almost 40 schools out there, including some historically heavy hitters like Clarkson and New Hampshire, who don't even have one. This one's not something that should weigh heavily on our minds.

Frozen Fours. I'll skip the honor of even reaching the national championship game, even though we've now had to watch half of the ECAC reach that level (including three champions) since RPI's last one in 1985. Let's just cut to the entire last weekend of the season. The creme de la creme. The top dogs. A party that unites the college hockey world. If you've ever been to a Frozen Four, you know you can see practically every sweater in the country in the stands (and checking them off is a fun pastime there).

21 schools have never been, so again, this isn't a whole lot to quibble over. But since the Engineers were last there, 33 different programs have had this honor. That's more than half of all teams in the country. 22 different schools have been to the Frozen Four just in the last decade.

Since RPI's last turn in 1985, we've watched Clarkson (1991), Colgate (1990), Cornell (2003), Harvard (1989, 1994, 2017), Quinnipiac (2013, 2016), St. Lawrence (1988, 2000), Union (shoot me), Vermont (1996), and Yale (2013) reach the promised land. That's 9 out of 14 ECAC schools, 14 times. The balance? Army, Brown, Dartmouth, Princeton... and RPI.

The Engineers just haven't been close ever since hoisting that national championship in 1985. Not even a single NCAA tournament win since then. Not even a goal, but let's explore that further.

The NCAA tournament. Just making it into the tournament field in any sport is a great achievement. Watching those last few days of the conference tournament tick down, keeping an eye on the Pairwise, it's all great fun. We've done it occasionally here at WaP, and the Engineers even snuck into the tournament once during this blog's tenure, backing in for the 2011 edition, where RPI were thoroughly destroyed by North Dakota. That was RPI's first NCAA appearance in 16 years, and it's now been a further 7 years without a bid.

Division I hockey actually has a fairly large tournament for its size - 16 teams out of 60 makes for over a quarter of programs in any given year playing a tournament in which four wins makes you a national champion. Consider that in that other sport that gets all the attention in March for some reason, 68 teams make the tournament out of 351 - 19.3% as opposed to college hockey's 26.7%.

So it's not terribly surprising that since 2012, 38 different programs have earned NCAA bids - nearly two-thirds of the nation has been dancing since RPI last had the opportunity. Only St. Lawrence (2007), Brown (1993), and Dartmouth (1980) have gone longer in the ECAC without a bid (to be very fair, Princeton and Clarkson in 2018 are both on their first bids since RPI's last turn).

The Engineers didn't score an NCAA tournament goal in 2011 (6-0 losers against the Fighting Sioux). Nor did they score in their 1995 appearance (1-0 to Minnesota). Nor in 1994 (2-0 to New Hampshire). In fact, in a stat that will undoubtedly crop up should the Engineers ever reach the tournament again, RPI has gone over 10 and a half NCAA tournament periods without scoring a goal, reaching back to George Servinis' unassisted, short-handed (and, yes, offsides) goal at 3:49 of the second period in the 1985 title game. That's a stretch of 216:11 of tournament play over the last 36 years without scoring even a goal.

So I went and checked. Literally every program that has played in the NCAA tournament since 1986 has scored at least one goal. That makes Dartmouth (1980) the only school in the country with a longer drought by total years since their last NCAA goal, and only seven teams have never made the NCAA tournament, of which Army is the only one that doesn't have the excuse of not having had a D-I varsity program in 1985.

And when it comes to NCAA wins in general - only Michigan Tech (1981), Dartmouth (1980, or 1949 if you don't count the defunct third-place game), and Brown (1976, or 1951 discounting third-place games) have gone longer since winning their last NCAA game. 14 D-I programs have never won an NCAA tournament game, and of those only Alaska, Army, Princeton, and Western Michigan lack the longevity excuse. (And, of course, Michigan Tech and Princeton have the opportunity to remove their names this year.)

League championships. For most programs, just being the top dog in your own conference can sometimes be bragging rights enough to signal a very successful season - Princeton's title this year certainly qualifies as being plenty for them this go round, with the NCAA tournament very much an opportunity to play with house money.

There are only 18 programs that have not won a league championship since the Engineers last enjoyed one nearly a quarter-century ago. 11 of these have never won one (although, to be fair to Arizona State, they've never had an actual opportunity to compete for one). Four are in Atlantic Hockey, which doesn't have a history as long as RPI's current drought. Two more are Omaha and Penn State, who also doesn't have a history that long.

Taking them out, we're left with Lake Superior (1995, along side RPI), Northern Michigan (1992), Colgate (1990), Alaska and Bowling Green (1998),  Alaska-Anchorage (1987), and Colorado College (1978) among teams that have won league titles in the past, and Brown, Dartmouth, Merrimack, UMass, and Vermont among those who haven't.

That means there are only three other ECAC programs that haven't won it all since the Engineers were last on top in the league: Brown, Colgate, and Dartmouth. Four if you want to include Vermont's 10 chances during that time.

League championship game. Just the opportunity to play for a title is enough to send thrills through the spines of supporters around the country. The Engineers last had this chance in 2000, when they fell 2-0 to St. Lawrence in the ECAC championship game in Lake Placid.

2000 was also the last time Omaha (falling 6-0 to Michigan State) and UConn (beating Iona 6-1) played for a league title - titles which no longer exist with the CCHA and MAAC now being defunct (along with Iona). Lake State last appeared in the CCHA title game in 1996 (losing 4-3 to Michigan), while Dartmouth's last hurrah playing for hardware was way back in 1980, a 5-1 loss to Cornell.

AIC, Arizona State, and the two Alaska schools are the only ones that have never appeared in a conference tournament championship game.

Every other school in the nation has had that thrill of seeing their team 60 minutes away from being crowned kings of their conference since 2000. With the notable exception of St. Lawrence (2001), every other team in the ECAC besides the Engineers, Saints, and Big Green have had that experience in the past eight years.

League semifinals. Now we're really lowering the bar - but even just the opportunity to reach what is frequently a neutral-site celebration of the league in general is a chance for fans to hitch up the wagon and go watch their team play as one of the conference elite with a title within reach. This is, as we've seen, sometimes an easy bar to clear, to the point where failing to reach this level can be seen by itself as a total failure for a season. RPI was more or less at this level of expectations when they last reached the semifinals in 2002, their 7th such visit in 10 years, and 9th in 15 years.

At worst, in 12 team leagues like the ECAC, 1/3 of the conference can be among the final four, which is still a significant chunk. It's even "easier" in places like the Big Ten, where the last four comes out to being more than half of a seven team league.

RPI's long-running drought of failing to reach Albany, then Atlantic City, and now Lake Placid again are well known and painful to what can now be termed RPI's long-suffering fans. 2002 was the last hurrah, marking the beginning of what is now a 16-year drought. Only one team that has ever been to a league semifinal currently has a longer ongoing drought - Omaha, who last appeared in a league semifinal (in the CCHA - two leagues ago) during the 2001 season.

This is where I point out that the Mavericks have been to three NCAA tournaments during that stretch, including a Frozen Four appearance in 2015. I'd trade our experience in the last 17 years with theirs in a heartbeat. (They'd probably ask for our prior 50 in return, so no deal.)

Only two other programs haven't been in that timeframe - Arizona State, who again, doesn't have a league semifinal to reach and have only completed their third Division I season, and American International, who came within a win this year of doing it for the first time.

Regular season titles. These mean absolutely nothing anymore, but they're at least good indicators of a great season over the course of four months of league play.

Let's cut right to the chase. RPI hasn't done this since the national championship in 1985, and every other ECAC team has won at least a share of what they apparently call the Cleary Cup since except for Brown and Princeton (and Army).

12 teams nationally have never won even a share of a regular season title (again, this includes Arizona State, who have never been able to), but of the ones who have, only Providence (1983 in the ECAC) and Ohio State (1972 in the CCHA) have gone longer without accomplishing the feat.

Is RPI irrelevant?

I don't know. I don't have a very good vantage point because the team is relevant to me and it probably always will be.

But there are a whole lot of gaps in the line when it comes to benchmarks of success, benchmarks of relevancy. Some of the same teams of comparison keep popping up when you take a hard look at them, and Lake Superior State and Dartmouth do seem to be frequent cohorts. The other ones that are coming up often are Brown and Army - and I will leave it to other observers to determine whether all that adds up to "irrelevant." I don't personally see Lake State and Dartmouth as being irrelevant - especially considering that the Big Green are the conference opponent that RPI has gone the longest without beating at present - but I can see how others might feel that way.

What I can say is that, more immediately, the program has just endured its worst back-to-back seasons in modern history by winning percentage. This can't be pinned on any one person, especially since there were different head coaches in both seasons and a great deal of turmoil with the roster between seasons in part because of that change. So if you're looking for me to point fingers at Seth Appert or Dave Smith, you'll be waiting for quite a while.

It's not a question of whether I or any other observers think RPI is irrelevant. It's a question of whether players think RPI is irrelevant. According to Chris Heisenberg's master sheet, at least 24 programs (including RPI) have at least one committed recruit who wasn't even born yet the last time the Engineers made it to the ECAC semifinals - and the longer it keeps up, the bigger that number will get until it maxes out at every program. There are only five players slated to be on next year's RPI roster who were alive the last time RPI won the ECAC title.

No college hockey player in over a decade was alive the last time the Engineers scored a goal in the NCAA tournament.

It is the players who will decide whether RPI is irrelevant - and if that's the decision they are starting to make, there is not a whole lot of time left to make some of these droughts referenced above start to disappear.

But there is hope. After all, Union was irrelevant for decades before they finally started breaking through and climbed all the way to the top. Michigan Tech needed a shakeup of conferences to help clear their path back to relevance and the NCAA tournament, but that alone can't account for the fact that the Huskies were ranked #1 in the country for a week in 2014. Even if we've found irrelevancy, anything is possible.

We've been searching for rock bottom for a very long time. Let's hope we've found it.