Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Dartmouth

The heartache continued last year in Hanover, and it was another repetitive chapter in a book that seems like it will never get to the happily ever after. Dartmouth was, however, able to add another repetitive chapter in RPI's own book of woe by coming alive at the right time, late in the season, and laying the groundwork for what could finally be the breakout season, especially with a team that will be chock full of seniors that doesn't look altogether dissimilar from Quinnipiac a couple of years ago.


Nickname: Big Green
Location: Hanover, NH
Founded: 1769
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 1980
Last Frozen Four: 1980
Coach: Bob Gaudet (18th season)
2012-13 Record: 10-20-4 (7-13-2 ECAC, 10th place)
Series: RPI leads, 45-34-5
First Game: January 17, 1908 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: March 7, 2014 (Troy, NY)
Last DC win: March 9, 2014 (Troy, NY)

2014-15 games: November 8, 2014 (Troy, NY); January 30, 2015 (Hanover, NH)

Key players: F Jesse Beamish, sr.; F Brandon McNally, sr.; F Charlie Mosey, sr.; F Eric Neiley, sr.; D Rick Pinkston, sr.; F Eric Robinson, sr.; F Tyler Sikura, sr.; D Andy Simpson, sr.; F Nick Bligh, jr.; D Geoff Ferguson, jr.; G Charles Grant, jr.; F Tim O'Brien, jr.; F Brad Schierhorn, jr.; D Josh Hartley, so.; D Brandon Kirk, so.; F Grant Opperman, so.; F Carl Hesler, fr.; D River Rymsha, fr.

Key losses: D Taylor Boldt

Previous KYE installments:
There's always that one team that finishes in the bottom four of the conference that no one wants to face in the first round. This year, it was pretty obvious as the calendar wound down that the Big Green were going to be that team. An absolutely putrid campaign suddenly turned torrid in February, as a 3-15-3 team that lost its first eight games of the season (giving up five or more goals five times in those eight games) suddenly went on a run. In the home stretch of the ECAC year, Dartmouth went 5-2-1 with a vastly improved offensive and defensive outlook.

RPI drew the short straw at the end of the last day (thanks to the final result of the Harvard-Cornell game, when all was said and done), and Dartmouth found a way to advance to the ECAC Quarterfinals. Despite being outscored 10-9 in the three game set, the Big Green's gutsy one-goal victories in Games 2 and 3 with their backs against the wall (and with both game winners coming in the 3rd period) helped to turn what had been a trying season into one with some serious optimism at the end, not unlike RPI's 2008-09 campaign, of which Dartmouth had flipped the playoff script.

Now, with an experienced squad bearing eight seniors, the impetus is on Dartmouth to prove that the team that came out to play in February last season was the real McCoy, not the one that had positively limped through the schedule prior to that point. Much of the credit for that went to Grant, who became one of the hottest goaltenders in the nation down the stretch, but the Big Green offense also became a bit more potent during the final month of the regular season.

For the season as a whole, the Dartmouth defense was among the worst in the nation last year, but even if it doesn't operate at the high level it achieved late last year, don't expect that to be something that's going to repeat. The same really does go for the Big Green's low numbers on offense, on the power play, and on the penalty kill, as all were far better in the final weeks of the season. A rising tide lifts all ships, apparently. It also kind of highlights just how bad the team was before February.

The comparison to Quinnipiac, specifically, the 2012-13 Bobcats, comes in the high volume of seniors and juniors on this coming year's team, guys that have been through the campaigns in the past and are experienced enough to know the ins and outs of a college hockey season's grind. Like that team, there's not a lot that makes any one portion of Dartmouth's game outstanding, but when combined - and again, this hinges on the Big Green playing as they did at the end of the year - it makes for a formidable foe. The return of Robinson on offense from injury last season should be a boost, and solid seasons from McNally and Sikura along with top level play from Grant would make this a difficult team to do battle with.

If RPI has a benefit in the game in Troy, it's that Dartmouth's not going to have had enough game experience to have established whether they're playing like last February or last December by the time they get to town (they'll also have been coming off a game at Union, which doesn't figure to be easy). But as with any early ECAC game against an Ivy League opponent, they're also likely to be in better shape healthwise, as the Engineers will already be a month deep in their schedule. The game in Hanover should be a better indicator of the strengths of these teams, coming right at the start of crunch time.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Harvard

For the last few campaigns, Harvard has arguably been one of the biggest enigmas in the ECAC. They've continued to bring in notable talent while struggling on the ice, and they've had to deal with the effects of the 2012 cheating scandal which rocked the school. Fortunately for them, those effects are beginning to dissipate with the return of some of the players forced to take a year off, and the core of the Crimson's talent are starting to become veterans.


Nickname: Crimson
Location: Cambridge, MA
Founded: 1636
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 1 (1989)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2006
Last Frozen Four: 1994
Coach: Ted Donato (11th season)
2013-14 Record: 10-17-4 (6-12-4 ECAC, 10th place)
Series: Harvard leads, 48-36-6
First Game: December 27, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 1, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last HU win: November 1, 2013 (Boston, MA)

2014-15 games: November 7, 2014 (Troy, NY); December 30, 2014 (Boston, MA)

Key players: D Max Everson, sr.; D Patrick McNally, sr.; G Steve Michalek, sr.; D Desmond Bergin, jr.; F Colin Blackwell, jr.; F Kyle Criscuolo, jr.; F Greg Gozzo, jr.; F Brian Hart, jr.; F Petr Placek, jr.; F Jimmy Vesey, jr.; F Luke Esposito, so.; D Kevin Guiltinan, so.; F Alexander Kerfoot, so.; F Sean Malone, so.; D Victor Newell, so.; F Devin Tringale, so.; F Eddie Ellis, fr.; F Seb Lloyd, fr.; D Wiley Sherman, fr.

Key losses: G Raphael Girard, D Dan Ford

Previous KYE installments:
Playing your opponent twice in just a few days for your only matchups of the season is a hit or miss proposition, it turns out. If you are catching them at the wrong time, it can make what might have been winnable points at a different point of the season more difficult to attain. RPI certainly got Harvard at the wrong time last season, and the difference may have cost the Engineers a shot at a higher seed. Girard managed to pitch shutouts in his first two games of the season, against Bentley and then at home against RPI, looking very good in the process. Coupled with the collapse of the Engineers' 3-0 lead three nights prior in Troy, RPI took just one point from Harvard in a season where the Crimson managed to snag only 16 all year.

Harvard's top eight scorers last year were freshmen or sophomores, which underscores just how young the team was overall last season. They're still a fairly young team, but the core is starting to mature and it's still loaded with talent. 11 NHL draftees will grace the Crimson roster this season, led by Michalek (and incoming freshman Merrick Madsen) in net, McNally and Everson on the blue line, and Vesey, Malone, Hart, and Kerfoot up front.

But as much talent as Harvard has among its forwards, they aren't going anywhere unless that talent translates into goals. Again, the Crimson were very young last year, but it's going to be absolutely imperative that the team improve on its 2.23 goals per game showing, which was just 52nd out of 59 nationally. The power play hit at just 15.4% last season, pointing to a need for offensive boosting all around.

It seems almost assured that one of Harvard's top forwards will be primed for a breakout season. Vesey has already led the team in goals twice. It may be time for Hart, who has long been touted as a blue-chip resource for the Crimson, to bust loose. He has scored just 11 goals in 61 games over his first two seasons.

Michalek and Madsen should provide an outstanding defensive front in net for Harvard, who should be OK defensively this season as they weren't that bad in that metric last year. The Crimson has been down for the last couple of seasons, but as long as they can get an offensive bounce - and they should - they'll likely be back in the thick of things this year.

Once again, the Engineers get to host Harvard practically right out of the gate, but fortunately this year the second game - which will be Beanpot-adjusted as it was last year - will be in the odd no-man's land time period of the week between Christmas and New Year's, which is usually devoid of ECAC play. The first game being in Troy is important, but it also means RPI's untested offense will be providing one of the initial tests of Harvard's defense. If that game because a track meet, it'll favor the home team.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Union

Do not adjust your screen. You did not die and go to hell. That actually happened. A team that most observers thought would be pretty good, perhaps among the best in the ECAC but no more than an outside shot at doing anything on a higher level played some of the best team hockey you'll ever see, proving that what was once thought impossible was only merely improbable, and the improbable happened. When everything comes together perfectly at exactly the right time, anything is possible - and given the way the last game between RPI and Union ended, it's only an element that's going to throw additional fuel on what has become (as of this very localized point in history, at least) the most heated rivalry in college hockey.

Nickname: Dutchmen
Location: Schenectady, NY
Founded: 1795
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 1 (2014)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2014
Last Frozen Four: 2014
Coach: Rick Bennett (4th season)
2013-14 Record: 32-6-4 (18-3-1 ECAC, 1st place)
Series: RPI leads, 46-33-10
First Game: February 26, 1904 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: January 25, 2014 (Albany, NY)
Last UC win: November 16, 2013 (Troy, NY)

2014-15 games: October 31, 2014 (Troy, NY); November 1, 2014 (Schenectady, NY); January 24, 2015 (Albany, NY)

Key players: F Daniel Ciampini, sr.; F Sam Coatta, sr.; F Max Novak, sr.; G Colin Stevens, sr.; D Charlie Vasaturo, sr.; F Nick Cruice, jr.; D Sebastian Gingras, jr.; F Matt Wilkins, jr.; D Noah Henry, so.; F Eli Lichtenwald, so.; F Michael Pontarelli, so.;  D Jeff Taylor, so.; F Mike Vecchione, so.; F Roman Ammirato, fr.; F Spencer Foo, fr.; F Ryan Scarfo, fr.; F Kevin Shier, fr.

Key losses: D Shayne Gostisbehere, D Mat Bodie, F Daniel Carr, F Matt Hatch, F Kevin Sullivan

Previous KYE installments:
If there was any love lost whatsoever between RPI and Union before last year's Mayor's Cup game, it ceased to exist after it. The antics that followed the Engineers' first win over the Dutchmen in some three years catapulted the rivalry to the forefront of the Capital District's attention and gained notice throughout the college world. The game itself had been remarkably free of the cheap shots, unwarranted physical play, and the usual other indicators of a game between two bitter rivals, especially considering how out of hand the game in Troy had been, but the powder keg exploded at the very end and made this year's RPI-Union games must see TV.

After their Mayor's Cup setback, Union then lost to St. Lawrence in the North Country without some key players as a result of the suspensions handed out in the melee - and then promptly never lost again. A team that most coming into the season thought would be decent but probably not the very best in the ECAC turned out to be the very best in the nation when all was said and done. To illustrate how much of a finely oiled machine Union became, look no further than Shayne Gostisbehere. In a game in which the Dutchmen scored seven goals, he was +7. In the national championship game. That's an all-time great performance no matter how you slice it, and it came in the biggest game of the year.

Without question, the "guts" of Union's run through March and April are gone, but several key elements remain. The tag team sniper duo of Gostisbehere and Bodie was a major source of power for the Dutchmen during the stretch run, one or the other was practically always on the ice, providing not only offensive juice from long range but also the ability to distribute the puck to forwards down low who could get open a little easier as defenses accounted the threat from the outside. Carr was certainly a proven offensive power in his own right, completing his career not only with a ring but with 50 points on the season.

Union is likely to drop off a little bit from last season, but mostly in the sense that it's extremely difficult to repeat as champions in the first place, and it's even harder when you're losing your top players in the aftermath. But it's definitely not a situation where the cupboard is bare, or even wanting in many places. Stevens' numbers may not be as strong as Jason Kasdorf's were from two years ago, but they're the best among returning goaltenders in the ECAC from last season. Say all you want about the Dutchmen and their defensive scheme, the reigning Dryden Award winner still does a more than competent job of keeping the puck out of the net when he's the last line of defense. That he returns for his senior season is a boost for Union, who have lost their last two starters to early departures.

Meanwhile, Ciampini returns off a 23-goal season, making him the top returning goal scorer in the ECAC. Part of that output, no doubt, stems from the exceptional transition and distribution from the blue line, but like Carr, he's proven himself a capable scorer. Novak, Vecchione, Pontarelli, and Lichtenwald all return with at least nine goals scored last season as well, giving Union plenty of offensive options. It's easier for a team to lose four of its top six scorers when it had 11 different players notching 20 points last season.

Especially if Union can find a way to make up for the loss of its blueline heroes - and Taylor may well be the next in line for the job - the Dutchmen are still going to be tough to tangle with this season. For years, even weaker Union squads have been up for the challenge against RPI, but the current condition of the rivalry may be an opening to just throw out what you know about both teams and just expect the unexpected. From a purely hockey standpoint, Union does appear the stronger of the two sides on paper, especially when it comes to offense, but these teams have just played far too many close games over the years to make any predictions about what we'll see. There are certainly some who will be looking to settle old scores, and it's going to make for an insane Halloween weekend.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Miami

There was one thing that people were saying during the formation of two new "super conferences" in the west during the recent reconfiguration of the college hockey landscape: someone's got to be last place in these leagues. In the Big Ten, Penn State was expected to take that role as the new program on the block, and they did just that. In the NCHC, there was no "new program," and it was certain that some team that had been fairly successful in recent years was going to find themselves in the basement. It ended up being Miami.

Nickname: RedHawks
Location: Oxford, OH
Founded: 1809
Conference: NCHC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2013
Last Frozen Four: 2010
Coach: Enrico Blasi (16th season)
2013-14 Record: 15-20-3 (6-17-1-1 NCHC, 8th place)
Series: Miami leads, 5-1-0
First Game: December 28, 1984 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: December 28, 1984 (Troy, NY)
Last MU win: December 14, 2008 (Oxford, OH)

2014-15 games: January 2-3, 2015 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Blake Coleman, sr.; F Austin Czarnik, sr.; F Jimmy Mullin, sr.; F Cody Murphy, sr.;  D Ben Paulides, sr.; F Alex Wideman, sr.; F Riley Barber, jr.; D Matthew Caito, jr.; F Sean Kuraly, jr.; G Ryan McKay, jr.; F Kevin Morris, jr.; F Justin Greenberg, so.; D Chris Joyaux, so.; D Matt Joyaux, so.; F Anthony Louis, so.; D Louis Belpedio, fr.

When compared to most of the strongest teams in the nation, Miami is a relative newcomer to the world of college hockey. Their varsity program came into being in 1978, when the club team that had been in existence for 14 years made the move to the big time as a Division I independent.

Under the tutelage of head coach Steve Cady, the Redskins played a largely club-based schedule for their first two years in Division I and did fairly well in that endeavor, kicking off their varsity era with a pair of 20-win seasons as independents before joining the then-fledgling CCHA in 1980, just a year before the conference became a heavy-hitter with the addition of Michigan and Michigan State.

The Redskins didn't fare nearly as well with a steady diet of established Division I teams. Cady's 1983 team managed a winning season, but Miami would end up enduring 10 losing years in their first 11 in the CCHA, eight of which saw the Redskins finishing last or next-to-last in the conference. Cady departed in 1985, his replacement, Bill Davidge, managed just 39 wins in four seasons against 111 losses.

The man who took over in 1989 had an equally inauspicious start, racking up a record of 17-53-7 in his first two seasons in Oxford, which included an especially dreadful 1991 campaign in which the Redskins amassed only 9 points in CCHA play, finishing 11 points behind next-to-last Illinois-Chicago. But that's where the terrible seasons ended for Miami and their soon to be well-known coach: George Gwozdecky.

The turnaround got underway the following season, as the Redskins finished with their first winning season in nine years at 18-16-6, accompanied by a fifth-place showing, the team's best ever finish in the CCHA to that point. In 1993, just two years removed from a below-the-basement finish, the Redskins had completed the worst-to-first turnaround, putting together an amazing 27-9-5 record, clinching the school's first ever CCHA regular season championship, and earning the school's first ever NCAA tournament bid. Miami fell to Wisconsin, their coach's alma mater, 3-1, but the program was certainly on the rise at that point.

After a second straight 20-win season in 1994, Gwozdecky left Miami to become the head coach at Denver. To replace him, the Redskins selected Mark Mazzoleni, who had led Wisconsin-Stevens Point to a Division III dynasty in the late 1980s with three consecutive national championships. Unfortunately, Mazzoleni was unable to translate his D-III success or the strong seasons Gwozdecky had built at Miami into continued success. 1995 was a step back for the Redskins, and 1996 saw the team picking up just 10 wins.

Mazzoleni's best season at Miami was certainly in 1997, when the team bounced back up into the top reaches of the CCHA with a second-place finish and a second-ever NCAA bid, but once again national glory was elusive as the Redskins - in their final game with the moniker - lost to Cornell, 4-2. The school adopted its present day RedHawks name for the 1997-98 season.

Another middling season in 1998 was followed by another dismal year in 1999 as Miami again fell off the CCHA radar. Following that year, Mazzoleni left Miami to take over the head coaching job at Harvard in late July, leaving the RedHawks scrambling to find a replacement in time for the upcoming season. They found former team captain Enrico Blasi, who'd played under Gwozdecky as a part of the 1993 NCAA team and captained the 1994 squad. At the time, he was the youngest head coach in the nation, and he was about to become the most successful at the school.

Blasi certainly did the best he could with what he had early in his coaching career. After two losing campaigns in his first three seasons, Blasi started the RedHawks off on a path to heights of college hockey, although the road was certainly rocky early on. 2003 saw Miami earning 21 victories, and the following year Blasi's charges finished 2nd in the CCHA, just a point behind ever-dominant Michigan. It was enough for a third-ever NCAA bid, but this one ended the same as the first two, this time with Miami losing to Gwozdecky and Denver, 3-2.

The 2004 appearance, however, was the first in what would become regular NCAA appearances as Miami established itself as one of the leading programs in the nation under Blasi. The RedHawks had an unsatisfying losing year immediately following the loss to Denver, but a 1st place finish in the CCHA in 2006, their first since 1993, touched off eight consecutive seasons of NCAA bids.

2006 ended with a 5-0 loss to Boston College, but in 2007, on their fifth try, Miami finally broke through with a 2-1 win over New Hampshire - in Manchester, no less. The Frozen Four was not in the offing that year as BC again crushed Miami's hopes with a shutout, 4-0. BC again blocked the Frozen Four in 2008 with a 4-3 overtime victory in the Northeast final in Worcester.

2009 brought another breakthrough, and in a big way that almost sent the RedHawks directly to the top. Finally sent west after three straight appearances in the Northeast regional (where, ironically, Boston College didn't lurk that season), Miami dispatched Gwozdecky and the Pioneers in the first round, then earned their first Frozen Four appearance by defeating Minnesota-Duluth, the regional favorite in Minneapolis, 2-1. At the Frozen Four in Washington, the RedHawks took down a Cinderella Bemidji State team, 4-1, to earn a showdown for the national championship against Boston University.

The moment simultaneously became the proudest and the most heartwrenching moment in Miami's hockey history. As the third period started, the teams were tied 1-1. Miami took the lead with 7:29 left, and gave themselves an insurance tally with just 4:08 left on the clock, making it 3-1. It looked as though the RedHawks were about to be crowned champions for the very first time. But BU wasn't finished. With the goaltender pulled, the Terriers got a goal back with 59.5 seconds left, and then equalized with the extra attacker as Miami was 17.4 seconds away from celebrating the title. The crushing collapse was eventually completed just under 12 minutes into overtime as BU scored again to win the national championship, 4-3.

Arguably, Miami's 2010 campaign was even stronger than the one that saw them get so tantalizingly close to winning it all. They absolutely stomped the competition in the CCHA, winning the regular season crown by 20 points with a 21-2-5 overall record in the conference. While the ever-elusive CCHA championship after a semifinal loss to Michigan, the RedHawks still looked primed to do some damage in the NCAA tournament. Avenging their CCHA loss with a double overtime victory over the Wolverines, Miami reached the Frozen Four for the second straight year, but found their NCAA nemesis, Boston College, waiting for them there, and the script remained the same. The Eagles pummeled the RedHawks 7-1.

In 2011, Miami finally picked up two very important pieces of hardware: their very first tournament success in claiming the CCHA championship after so many years of coming up just short. The RedHawks bumped off Western Michigan 5-2, but fell in the NCAAs to New Hampshire (again, in Manchester). That second bit of hardware was an individual nod, as Andy Miele won Miami's very first Hobey Baker Award.

With the CCHA about to take a big hit in prestige as the Big Ten schools departed, Miami was part of a core group of programs that set up the new NCHC - but they still had noise to make in the CCHA. 2013 saw Miami pick up the final regular-season championship, their fourth, but it came with a semifinal loss to Michigan in their last shot at the CCHA title. Their eighth straight NCAA appearance ended just shy of the Frozen Four after falling to St. Cloud State, 4-1.

Last year, the first in the NCHC's existence, Miami didn't look like they were going to be one of the struggling teams early on. They kicked off their season with 6-2 and 6-3 thrashings of former conference-mate Ohio State, then went 5-3-1 in their next nine outings. But once the thick of the NCHC schedule got started, defense became much harder to come by.

It was almost like flipping a switch. After a 2-0 shutout of Wisconsin made the RedHawks 7-3-1 on the season, the next night's 3-2 loss was the first six consecutive outings in which Miami gave up three or more goals. After the New Year, 11 of their next 13 games, all in-conference, featured the same defensive showing. At the same time, the offense dried up. Only four of those games saw the RedHawks lighting the lamp three or more times.

But even after a last place finish, the RedHawks managed to complete the season on a high-note. They won their last game of the regular season at Denver, then shocked the conference by sweeping first-place St. Cloud State in the quarterfinals, and then taking down second-place North Dakota 3-0 in the semifinals to earn a highly improbable shot at extending their NCAA streak to nine seasons. It was not to be as equally surprising Denver (who'd finished seventh out of nine) managed a 4-3 victory, but Miami definitely went down fighting as they nearly pulled the same trick BU had laid on them in 2009 in the national championship game, scoring an extra attacker goal late to pull within one, but they simply couldn't find the second.

There was one element that was not shocking at all about Miami's struggles - they were very young last year, with only one senior dressing all season. The RedHawks return five players from last season that notched 12 or more goals last season, four of which will be juniors and seniors - Czarnik, Barber, Kuraly, and Coleman. Meanwhile, a blue line contingent that had only one player last year who wasn't a freshman or sophomore last season (Paulides) will be a year older and a year wiser. They add to that a solid freshman in Belpedio, a third-round draft selection of the Minnesota Wild who faced the Engineers last season with the US Under-18 team.

McKay was part of a freshman troika in 2012-13 that were not just the best freshman goaltenders in the nation, they were three of the best goaltenders period - the other two being UMass-Lowell's Connor Hellebuyck and RPI's Jason Kasdorf. Unfortunately, of that group, only Hellebuyck was able to repeat his sensational numbers last year. Kasdorf, of course, missed basically the entire season due to shoulder surgery, and McKay saw a significant statistical drop-off, giving up almost a goal and a half per game more last year than in his freshman year, and seeing his save percentage drop from nearly 95% to about 91%.

The numbers would indicate that although Miami's team defense was not as strong last year as it was in 2013, McKay also was not as strong as he was as a freshman. Still, it does take a serious amount of talent to put up a 1.39 GAA across a whole season of work - he split time with classmate Jay Williams as a freshman and had about half-a-goal per game less in GAA.

Miami's most recent two-year series with RPI came in 2007-08 and 2008-09, with all four games won by the RedHawks by multiple goals, outscoring the Engineers 22-6 in those games. The gap between the programs at the time was pretty wide, though. Miami isn't quite on the level they were back then, and RPI is an improved team from the ones that struggled through the late 2000s. The key matchup this year is going to be between Miami's outstanding offensive ability and RPI's decent defensive front. If McKay and Kasdorf can put on the show that they would have commanded as freshmen, it should be an exciting pair of games in Troy this season, and it'll put some pressure on the Engineer offense to perform.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Boston University

So far, so good for the mostly-annual "rivalry" game between RPI and BU since the retirement of Jack Parker. Undoubtedly aided a little bit by the expansion of Hockey East's non-conference schedule (the in-conference schedule shrank with the addition of new teams), the Engineers and Terriers will meet for the second straight year in the David Quinn era on Commonwealth Avenue.

Boston University
Nickname: Terriers
Location: Boston, MA
Founded: 1839
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 5 (1971, 1972, 1978, 1995, 2009)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2012
Last Frozen Four: 2009
Coach: David Quinn (2nd season)
2013-14 Record: 10-21-4 (5-12-3 Hockey East, 9th place)
Series: BU leads, 34-30-3
First Game: March 14, 1953 (Colorado Springs, CO)
Last RPI win: October 18, 2013 (Boston, MA)
Last BU win: January 4, 2013 (Boston, MA)

2014-15 game: December 13, 2014 (Troy, NY)

Key players: F Cason Hohmann, sr.; F Evan Rodrigues, sr.; D Matt Grzelcyk, jr.; F Matt Lane, jr.; D Ahti Oksanen, jr.; G Matt O'Connor, jr.; F Danny O'Regan, jr.; F Robbie Baillargeon, so.; F Nick Roberto, so.;  F Brendan Collier, so.; F Kevin Duane, so.; D Doyle Somerby, so.; F Liam Coughlin, fr.; F Jack Eichel, fr.; D Brandon Hickey, fr.; D John MacLeod, fr.; F Chase Phelps, fr.; F J.J. Piccinich, fr.

Previous KYE installments:
It was a tough year for BU, but at least there's an understandable difficulty in transitioning to a new head coach for the first time in 40 years. That's not something that you just easily move on from. The Terriers didn't pick up their 10th win of the season until March 1st, the back-end of a home-and-home sweep of Northeastern that constituted only their 2nd and 3rd wins since November.

That's just something you don't ever see from BU. In fact, 10 wins is the lowest total for the Terriers since 1964, the year before Jack Parker came to BU as a student a half-century ago. It was BU's first losing season since 2004, first 20-loss season since 2001, and worst winning percentage since 1963. The 1962-63 season was the second in the history of the ECAC, and the first under coach Jack Kelley. Within a decade he'd led the Terriers to back-to-back national championships, their first ever, so all is not lost simply because a new coach struggles in his first year.

As one would imagine for a team that managed just one win in 18 games in the middle of the season, offense and defense were both pretty rough. During that 18 game stretch, the Terriers scored 3 or more goals six times, but gave up three or more on 13 occasions, including five in which they gave up 6 or more goals.

More bad news came just this week as it was announced that goaltender Sean Maguire, who has been in a platoon with O'Connor for the last two years, will miss the entire upcoming season, putting the #1 spot solely in O'Connor's hands. He did have a roughly 3:2 edge in minutes last year, but BU will undoubtedly be leaning much more heavily on him this season.

But help is certainly on the way as several talented skaters join the fray for the Terriers. Eichel is a future star who is considered a shoo-in for a first-round selection in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft (his birthdate was about a month late to be eligible for the 2014 draft, where he would have also been a high selection). MacLeod went late in the second round of this year's draft, and Hickey went early in the third, both should add strength to a still-young defensive corps. Coughlin and Piccinich were drafted as well, giving BU nine NHL draftees on their active roster for the coming season.

Eichel especially should add a boost to an offense that was led last year by Baillargeon and O'Regan. With Rodrigues and Hohmann the only two seniors on the roster, this is still a very young team, but there's no doubt it's going to be full of talented players. Much will hinge on Quinn's ability to get them to play together as a team.

As we've said in the past, RPI-BU games have tended to be on the fun side in the recent past, and one might have to give a slight nod in this contest to the Engineers based mostly on home-ice advantage, but RPI will also hopefully provide a solid defensive challenge for a young BU offense. Scott Diebold last year gave BU fits similar to the ones Bryce Merriam previously provided. Having missed Jason Kasdorf in the last two seasons due to injuries in both games, we'll (hopefully) see how well they can stack up against the redshirt sophomore. Meanwhile, the RPI offense, especially the power play, will need to push the pace of the game in order to keep pressure on what could be a shaky defensive front.

Assuming no early jumps to the pros, BU will have at least 11 NHL draftees on their roster in 2015-16 after Eichel is drafted and Maguire returns. So the loss of Jack Parker hasn't exactly stemmed the tide of blue chippers choosing BU for college, and the Terriers' status as one of the big dog programs of college hockey doesn't appear to be in long-term danger.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Draft Roulette

Michael Prapavessis is a rarity.

Oh, he may well end up being a very outstanding addition to the Engineers this coming fall. From all indications, he almost certainly will be an excellent defensive add, and a real quarterback for the RPI power play. But when I say "rarity," I'm not talking about his talent.

As a draft pick of the Dallas Stars, he's very much an oddity in the college hockey world. Why? Because Dallas just doesn't draft a lot of college-bound players. There were only two players last season who saw the ice in all of college hockey whose rights were owned by Dallas: Michigan's Alex Guptill (who signed with the Stars following the year, foregoing his senior season) and Maine's Devin Shore (who led the Black Bears in scoring last year by a country mile).

Every other team in the NHL, with the exception of Detroit (three), had at least twice the number of prospects playing in Division I last season, and most had six or more - Florida and Chicago led the way with a whopping 14 players each.

What does that mean for Prapavessis? To answer, we should first take a look at what the draft means.

The NHL draft is unique among professional sports drafts in North America in that a drafted player does not give up his amateur status in order to either be drafted or have their rights maintained. The two most followed drafts, put on by the NFL and NBA, require potential draftees with remaining collegiate eligibility to relinquish that eligibility before the draft even takes place. In baseball, drafted players may choose to sign with their team, relinquishing amateur status, or they can choose not to, in which case the drafting team loses rights to the player.

Hockey is different. As outlined very well by SB Nation last week, few pay attention to the NHL Entry Draft in part because most of the names called are years out from appearing even in the minor leagues. Teams can draft players and then allow them to continue their development in college or in major junior leagues until making a decision on signing them. When it comes to college players, they have 30 days after the player leaves school (past two years out from the draft) to sign them before losing their rights. That can, in some instances, give teams as many as five or six years to monitor a prospect's development before making a decision to offer a contract.

When it comes to draftee development, NHL teams certainly don't mind leaving a player in college or major junior for a few years. That's development that doesn't cost them a nickel. Frequently, they only come calling when they feel a player is ready for the pros, or that their development will be accelerated or enhanced in the minors.

From a college program's perspective, the NHL Draft has a number of edges. One benefit of having players drafted comes in simple prestige, but the draft, by its nature, limits a player's options. That's also potentially beneficial.

RPI fans can see this benefit illustrated in the early departures of Ryan Haggerty and Mike Zalewski. Neither player was drafted, and both players had solid seasons last year as free agents that impressed scouts enough to draw contract offers. With free agents, NHL teams have to jockey with each other in order to sign the ones they want to develop. Zalewski could have potentially had many offers on the table, or it's possible Vancouver was the first one, seeking to get in ahead of other teams to gain his services for the future.

In a world where Zalewski had been drafted, however, that dynamic doesn't exist. The only question becomes the needs and plans of the team holding his rights. If Columbus, for instance, held his rights, Vancouver wouldn't have been showing up with a contract, and the only concern is whether Columbus wants him to keep developing for free in college.

This is also well illustrated by the only drafted player on the RPI roster last season - Jason Kasdorf. There was more than a little speculation among RPI fans following Kasdorf's injury that Winnipeg could potentially sign him away, but in the bigger picture, this made little sense. Goaltending needs especially being easier to establish, one only had to look at the fact that Winnipeg had another goaltender in college hockey - UMass-Lowell's Connor Hellebuyck - who was putting up fantastic numbers.

If you were going to choose between signing a player with two outstanding seasons under his belt, including one in which he led his team to the Frozen Four (and was drafted in an earlier round), and signing one that had one outstanding season and then suffered a season-ending injury that snuffed out his second and is untested since the injury, which would you sign? You'd probably sign the same one Winnipeg signed, as Hellebuyck has left Lowell after two years, and you'd leave the other in college to see how he bounces back from his injury.

So in some ways, it's good to have NHL draft picks on your roster. It's honestly not a matter of simply having more talent and having a better team - yes, being drafted by the NHL means a player probably has more overall talent, but hockey's still a team sport. This year's national championship was won by a team with a total of one NHL draftee on their roster (beating a team with 14). A year earlier, it was a team with just four. Having few draftees isn't necessarily a hindrance, just as having many isn't a panacea.

But there are certainly drawbacks as well. The biggest of them have to do with team needs. If an NHL team is lacking at a position where your team has one of their draftees, they might be leaving sooner rather than later. More concerning can often be the preferences of front offices when it comes to development. There are some that are more likely than others to tell a prospect that they'd prefer to see them playing in major junior rather than staying in (or going to) school. Non-draftees don't have a team hovering over them giving their opinions.

That brings us back to Prapavessis. Why does Dallas have so few prospects playing college hockey? Are they shuffling players away from the NCAA?

Prapavessis is Dallas' first college-linked draft selection since 2012, when they drafted Shore in the 2nd round and Lowell defenseman Dmitry Sinitsyn in the seventh round. Shore is still with Maine after two years, Sinitsyn left Lowell after one season and played last year in the WHL.

In 2011, Dallas drafted defenseman Jamie Oleksiak of Northeastern in the first round, and he never played another game in college as he was off to the OHL the following season. In 2010, their one and only collegiate selection was Guptill, who just left Michigan after three years. They also drafted goaltender Jack Campbell in the first round, who had de-committed from Michigan the previous November and chose to play in the OHL instead.

Seeing a pattern?

(As a complete aside to the main topic of this article, Prapavessis' OHL rights are held by London, which has a reputation for being the most ruthless team in major junior when it comes to pursuing college players.)

So what about Los Angeles, you say? They drafted Alec Dillon, slated to be on campus in 2015. We've outlined here that he's a target for Edmonton in the WHL, considering that they traded for his rights. The good news is that the Kings just won their second Stanley Cup in three years with the same goaltender who came up through college (Jonathan Quick, who spent two years at UMass).

However, one of the Kings' scouts is already indicating that their "development guys" are going to be the ultimate arbiters of whether he ends up in Troy or Edmonton. We'll probably know the answer relatively soon, as he'll probably be in Edmonton for the 2014-15 season if that's the route he's going to take.

The NHL draft, as it pertains to college hockey, is a definite crap shoot on many levels. We'll have to see if this year's results ultimately carry positives or negatives for the Engineers.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Michigan

This week's Know Your Enemy features a program that has been one of the monsters of college hockey pretty much since the beginning of college hockey. One of the more polarizing teams in the western reaches of the sport due in part to their "big school" status, Michigan has traditionally been one of the strongest teams in the nation regardless of how often they've won it all - which, to be honest, hasn't been a whole lot recently compared to some other top programs. While they've claimed more national championships than any other school, many of them are from an era when they were by far the biggest fish in a rather small pond. But make no mistake about it: the Wolverines are still college hockey royalty.

Nickname: Wolverines
Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Founded: 1817
Conference: Big Ten
National Championships: 9 (1948, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1956, 1964, 1996, 1998)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2012
Last Frozen Four: 2011
Coach: Red Berenson (31st season)
2013-14 Record: 18-13-4 (10-8-2-1 Big Ten, 3rd place)
Series: RPI leads, 7-3-1
First Game: March 12, 1954 (Colorado Springs, CO)
Last RPI win: December 29, 2009 (Detroit, MI)
Last Michigan win: January 18, 1986 (Ann Arbor, MI)

2014-15 games: November 28-29, 2014 (Ann Arbor, MI)

Key players: F Zach Hyman, sr.; D Brennan Serville, sr.; F Andrew Copp, jr.; F Cristoval Nieves, jr.; F J.T. Compher, so.; D Nolan De Jong, so.; D Michael Downing, so.; F Alex Kile, so.; F Tyler Motte, so.; G Zach Nagelvoort, so.; F Tony Calderone, fr.; F Dylan Larkin, fr.; D Sam Piazza, fr.; D Zach Werenski, fr.

This season marks the first of a three-year deal for games between Michigan and the teams from the Capital District. RPI makes its first visit to one of the hallowed halls of college hockey, Yost Ice Arena, since the 1985-86 season. That series was a wild affair, which was split while the teams managed to combine for a mind-blowing 34 goals in two games (defense, anyone?). The Engineers earned a 7-6 victory on the first night, followed by an 11-10 overtime win for the Wolverines the next night - the only time in school history (probably in most schools' histories) that RPI scored double digits in goals and lost.

RPI and Michigan don't dance too frequently, but the Engineers seem to have had the Wolverines' number when they do - RPI joins only Cornell, Denver, Minnesota, Penn State, and UMass-Lowell as current teams with a winning all-time record against Michigan. In fact, the first time RPI and Michigan met, it was in a game that would alter the course of college hockey history.

The University of Michigan has had a hockey program continuously since 1923, when they played their first four games in a home-and-home Friday-Saturday set against familiar rivals Wisconsin, winning first three of those four games. Unlike many schools, which saw hockey fall to the wayside during the Great Depression and World War II, Michigan kept its program active during the 1930s and 1940s. In fact, it was during the 1930s that the Wolverines first developed their reputation as a strong hockey program, producing nine winning seasons during the decade while regularly playing games against Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The team's fortunes dipped in the early part of the 1940s during World War II, but this was more a function of who was playing and who they were playing against. Most able bodied men of college age were off fighting the war, and those that weren't had few schools still playing the sport to compete against. Therefore, the Wolverines played most of its games against Army teams and sides put together by local factories, most of which had older and bigger men than the varsity squad could manage.

In 1945, as the war reached its conclusion, Michigan and NHL alum Vic Heyliger became the squad's third head coach, replacing the man who had helmed the program since 1928, Ed Lowrey. Heyliger was in the right place at the right time with the war ending, and his hockey acumen combined with an influx of returning veterans that burgeoned schools around the country to create the first powerhouse of the NCAA era.

Heyliger began matching his team up with junior teams from Canada in December of 1945, and his Wolverine teams immediately began finding great success not only against those squads but against American colleges as well. Following the conclusion of the war, Heyliger's teams never finished a season with a winning percentage below .600, a stretch of 12 consecutive years. In fact, once the NCAA championship was established in 1948, Michigan went five straight campaigns without a winning percentage below .800.

During the years that the NCAA Tournament was held exclusively in Colorado Springs, there was one other constant: Michigan. From 1948 through 1957, the four-team tournament stayed in one place, and the Wolverines were there every single season. Back then, there was a certain hierarchy in college hockey. Western teams, it was thought, were generally better than eastern teams, and among western teams, few could approach the strength and power of Michigan. They won the very first NCAA championship in 1948 with an 8-4 win over Dartmouth. They were kept from the national title game the next year by the Big Green, but eventually won their second, third, and fourth titles in 1951 (over Brown), 1952 (over Colorado College) and 1953 (over Minnesota), giving Michgan four championships in the first six years of the tournament.

1954 was supposed to be more of the same. After a season which rarely saw Michigan even challenged by the best American teams in the west, the Wolverines headed to Colorado Springs to do battle with an upstart little engineering school from the weaker east, ready to roll into an expected showdown with their rivals from Minnesota in what would have been the first ever NCAA championship rematch game. Things didn't go to script that year, as the unknown RPI Engineers produced one of the biggest upsets in college hockey history to that time by dethroning the three-time champions, 6-4. Michigan would come back the next night to pound Boston College 7-2, but their reign was over.

The loss to RPI kept the Michigan dynasty from establishing a reign that would have been practically unbreakable by today's standards. Though their stretch of three straight crowns from 1951 to 1953 has never been duplicated, the Wolverines ended up tacking on two more in 1955 and 1956, making for five titles in six years and six in the first nine.

Heyliger retired from Michigan in 1957 after the Wolverines fell to Colorado College in the national championship game, failing to repeat the three-peat. Taking his place was a man who had previously played for the Wolverines under Heyliger - his brother-in-law, Al Renfrew. While Renfrew wasn't able to duplicate Heyliger's massive success due in part to growth in college hockey providing more competition, Michigan was hardly a slouch during his 16 years in the driver's seat in Ann Arbor. While the first few seasons under Renfrew were Michigan's first losing years in the NCAA era, the school would quickly be back in the Frozen Four by 1962, and throughout the 1960s, Renfrew was producing top-level performances, winning a national championship in 1964 with a 24-win season, then the most in school history.

Michigan was one of the top teams in the newly-formed WCHA throughout the 1960s, but a rough stretch of three losing seasons to start the 1970s marred Renfrew's final years behind the bench. He retired in 1973 to take over the school's ticket office, just ahead of the opening of Yost Ice Arena. Dan Farrell, a Michigan Tech grad, would lead the Wolverines for the remainder of the decade, leading the team to four 20-win seasons in seven years, as well as the 1977 national championship game, where they fell to Wisconsin.

If ever there could be said to have been seriously difficult times in Michigan's post-World War II history, the early 1980s might qualify. After departing the WCHA for the less well-established CCHA in 1981, the Wolverines suffered the first of five straight 20-loss seasons in 1983, continually finishing near the bottom of the conference. It was during this stretch, however, that the third coach that could legitimately earn the title of "legendary" at Michigan took the reins. Like Heyliger and Renfrew before him, he was a former captain of the Wolverines as a player, and like Heyliger, he had enjoyed a career in the NHL: Gordon "Red" Berenson.

Berenson's first three seasons as head coach in Ann Arbor were the last three of the 20-loss season stretch from 1985 to 1987, but once it ended, the Wolverines embarked upon a streak of dominance rivaled only by its early NCAA dynasty years, topping it in length but falling short of its benchmark for top honors. The 1987-88 season was Michigan's first winning year in the last six, and it started a remarkable streak: it was the first of 25 straight seasons in which the Wolverines won at least 20 games.

The 1990s especially evoked memories of the late 40s and 50s by the numbers. Eight straight 30-win seasons, a practically untouchable streak, were rattled off from 1991 to 1998, a stretch that included four CCHA regular season titles, three CCHA championships, and six Frozen Four appearances, including national championships in 1996 and 1998. Again, the three-peat was interrupted by an upset in the Frozen Four in 1997, this time by Boston University, ending Michigan's title hopes despite a final record of 35-4-4. Brendan Morrison, who a year earlier had scored the overtime goal to deliver Michigan's first national championship in 32 years, earned Michigan's first Hobey Baker Award that season.

1999 brought an end to the 30-win streak, but the success rolled on in Ann Arbor. Six more CCHA crowns, six more CCHA regular season titles, and five more Frozen Four appearances were in the offing over the next 14 seasons. In every year from 1991 to 2012, the Michigan Wolverines were in the NCAA tournament, a record streak broken only in the team's final season in the CCHA - a streak that nearly continued as a struggling Michigan team in 2013 very nearly completed an odd Cinderella run through the CCHA tournament, falling to Notre Dame for the final CCHA championship. The loss to Notre Dame sealed Michigan into its first losing season since 1987 - at 18-19-3.

So, now, perhaps more than at any time in the recent past, Michigan is a team in a bit of flux. Red Berenson's incomparable streaks of success snapped, the Wolverines again missed out on the NCAA tournament last season in the first year of the Big Ten. They got back to the usual ways of a winning season, but missed 20 wins for the second straight time, in part due to the overall strength of their new conference (struggling against the clear minnows of the Big Ten, Penn State, didn't help).

Part of Michigan's uncharacteristically mediocre season last year can be chalked up to the youth of last year's squad as well as the strength of the Big Ten. Compher last year became the first freshman in recent memory to lead Michigan in scoring, and Nagelvoort, despite some pretty solid numbers in net for the Wolverines, was also in just his first collegiate season.

Nieves, after a sparkling freshman campaign, endured a sophomore slump, but Michigan still got 22 points out of him. They return three of seven 20-point scorers from last season, including two of five who notched at least 10 goals and 10 assists with Compher and Copp. It could have been more, as two of Michigan's top scorers left with eligibility remaining. Larkin, coming in off the US Under-18 team and a possible first round selection in the upcoming NHL Draft, is a solid bet to be an important contributor as well.

A number of sources describe Michigan's blue line last year as "a mess" and "disastrous," and they have graduated the best of the bunch, leading to a troubling situation in the back. But there's some serious help on the way in the person of a very young but very talented addition in Werenski. Only making his commitment to the Wolverines this month, Werenski doesn't turn 17 until mid-July, but he accelerated his high school courses and graduated this year, making him eligible for college. He projects to be a first-round selection in the 2015 draft, but chances are good he'll have his freshman year done by then, and despite his youth he should add some stability to a rough defensive situation.

Regardless of the state of the blue line, RPI can expect to be in for a pair of difficult games despite the history of success the Engineers have had against Michigan. Even in a tough year as the Wolverines had last season, they had an overall record of 10-3-3 at Yost, a place that just doesn't see visiting teams finding a great deal of success in practically any year. If you've never been, you owe it to yourself to try and get out to the Great Lake State for this series, as Yost is certainly a bucket list destination for a fan of college hockey. To be successful, RPI will need to take advantage of any defensive disarray and the offense simply has to follow through on opportunities, because in a place like Ann Arbor, you aren't going to win unless you can pounce on windows of opportunity.