Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Maine

It is time once again for a tradition that is starting to reach into the realm of "time-honored" here at Without a Peer - our annual Know Your Enemy series. Over the years, we've profiled 42 of college hockey's 60 programs, and this year we add two more to that total as part of our 20-part set this season, including this week's entry.

RPI kicks off their regular season in this coming campaign with their first full-on trip to the middle of the Pine Tree State in nearly 23 years - for the first time since the Engineers' triumph in the 1993 Dexter Shoe Classic (incidentally, RPI's only in-season tournament championship outside of the Capital District).

Maine is one of the biggest strangers to the Engineers in all of Hockey East, trailing only Notre Dame and UConn in terms of fewest all-time games with RPI. Unlike the majority of Hockey East teams, Maine was not a long-time member of the ECAC before the creation of the conference, which has limited the exposure between the schools. With the exception of tournament meetings in 1993 (in Orono) and 1994 (in Troy), the only meeting between RPI and Maine since the split came in 2008 in a "neutral site" game in Portland. This year, the schools meet twice in one season for the first time.

Maine
Nickname: Black Bears
Location: Orono, ME
Founded: 1865
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 2 (1993, 1999)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2012
Last Frozen Four: 2007
Coach: Red Gendron (4th season)
2015-16 Record: 8-24-6 (5-15-2 Hockey East, 11th place)
Series: RPI leads, 5-4-0
First Game: February 3, 1979 (Orono, ME)
Last RPI win: November 27, 1993 (Orono, ME)
Last UM win: January 6, 2008 (Portland, ME)

2016-17 games: October 7-8, 2016 (Orono, ME)

Key players: F Cam Brown, sr.; F Blaine Byron, sr.; F Brian Morgan, sr.; D Eric Schurhamer, sr.; D Mark Hamilton, jr.; F Cédric Lecroix, jr.; F Nolan Vesey, jr.; D Sam Becker, so.; F Dane Gibson, so.; G Rob McGovern, so.; D Rob Michel, so.; F Daniel Perez, so.;  F Brendan Robbins, so.; D Patrick Holway, fr.; F Jake Pappalardo, fr.; F Chase Pearson, fr.; F Patrick Shea, fr.

Looking at the entire history of Hockey East, there's no question that Maine has played a significant role practically throughout its existence. The Black Bears are a part of that "Big Four" that has so often been bandied about with regards to the conference, along side their mortal enemies from New Hampshire and the other super-charged rivalry of Hockey East, Boston College and Boston University. They are, after all, one of only three schools in the conference that has won multiple national championships since its founding, and were the first of those three to be able to make that claim.

But that status overlooks humble beginnings and some difficult recent struggles.

Hockey at Maine has a far more recent beginning than basically any current program that has ever been considered a "powerhouse." With the exception of a handful of games played mostly against other teams from the state in the 1920s, varsity hockey's true start in Orono was in 1977, coinciding with the opening of Alfond Arena, the facility that houses the school's basketball program and where its hockey program still skates.

The Black Bears' first coach was Jack Semler, a Vermont grad who guided the team through its early years. Starting out in the ECAC's soon-to-disband Division II conference in the 1977-78 season, Semler got his charges to a competitive level fairly quickly, as Maine experienced its first 20-win season in just its second year with a 25-8-1 record that included a 5-4 win over the Engineers, Maine's first victory over a Division I program in its new incarnation. The Black Bears also recorded wins over Northeastern and Vermont that year.

Maine joined the ECAC as the league's 17th member in 1979, a move that split the previously unified conference into three divisions - East (the teams that would later become Hockey East), West (the other non-Ivies who stayed) and Ivy (nuff said). Within the ECAC East Division, the Black Bears were fairly competitive in their first two Division I seasons, holding their own among the long-time ECAC powers they were competing with, but their last three seasons were mostly disappointments, including a 1982-83 campaign that still ranks as the school's worst ever showing at 5-24-0. That year was bookended by two other 20-loss seasons,

When the Hockey East split came along, Maine really didn't have much of a choice but to depart for the new conference. Geographically distant from the ECAC's western contingent and academically similar to many of the new conference's members, they were simply an instant fit in Hockey East, even if that didn't pan out immediately. At about the same time, Semler departed the program in order to spend more time with his family, knowing that the new conference was going to bring with it a longer schedule and a larger commitment in order to put a quality product on the ice.

That brought into the picture the man whose name is linked more than any other to Black Bears hockey - Shawn Walsh. At just age 29, Walsh brought with him a fearless, can't fail drive that would propel Maine to the very top of the college hockey world, but not without becoming a polarizing figure whose legacy would ultimately become permanently ingrained into the program.

As the team transitioned to Hockey East under Walsh, their rough stretch extended to five consecutive 20-loss seasons as the Black Bears began their new conference existence more or less as doormats (23-57-2 in the first two years), with little indication of the powerhouse status they would gain in very short order.

That status got underway in the 1986-87 season, as Walsh in his third year guided the Black Bears to a 24-16-2 record and the team's first NCAA bid. For a team that had lost over 120 games in five seasons prior, it didn't seem like the beginning of a stretch of 20 out of 21 straight seasons with 20 wins or more, but that's exactly what it was.

Walsh's fourth year saw another stride - the team's first Hockey East regular season crown and a 34-win season, beating the previous school record by nine. This was the beginning of the apex of Maine hockey, wherein the Black Bears would win 30 or more games on the ice in 7 of the next 8 seasons. In their second NCAA appearance, Maine advanced to the Frozen Four for the first time, falling 6-3 to the eventual national champions, Lake Superior State. 1989 saw Maine's first Hockey East championship and another Frozen Four berth, this time ending with a 7-4 loss to Minnesota.

Following a 5-4 loss to Northern Michigan in the 1991 Frozen Four, the Black Bears looked like a national champion in waiting. They'd finished first or second in the Hockey East standings in four straight seasons and played in three of the previous four Frozen Fours. Returning most of its 1991 team, the Black Bears looked unstoppable. They swept the 1992 regular season and tournament championships in Hockey East, becoming only the third team to accomplish the feat after the 1987 and 1990 Boston College squads. Maine won 32 games, powered by Scott Pellerin, Jim Montgomery, Jean-Yves Roy, Brian Downey, Garth Snow, and Mike Dunham - all names that are now either well known in the annals of college hockey, as NHL alumni, or both. Pellerin won Maine's first Hobey Baker Award, but the Black Bears were upset in the East Regional in Providence, falling to Michigan State 3-2.

The expectations for the 1992-93 Maine squad were lower entering the season. They had a talented freshman class coming in, but losing Pellerin to graduation and Roy and Downey to the NHL, they were losing a good chunk of their scoring from the previous year. But that talented freshman class included Paul Kariya and the Ferraro twins, Peter and Chris. It was known that these guys were good, but no one could predict just how good they'd be. Along with Montgomery (the future RPI assistant and Denver coach), Snow (the future Islanders GM) and Dunham, they formed the heart of one of the most dominant teams in college hockey history.

Led by Kariya's incredible 100-point freshman season - which garnered him the first Hobey Baker Award for a freshman - and a 46-goal effort by Cal Ingraham, the Black Bears went 30-0-2 to start the season, losing their bid for an undefeated year in a 7-6 home overtime loss to Boston University on February 19, 1993. It would prove to be the team's only loss of the year, as the team went on to win its final 12 games, claiming the Hockey East regular season title with four games left in the season, winning their third Hockey East championship, and knocking off Minnesota, Michigan, and Lake Superior State (with Montgomery scoring a natural hat trick in the third period to erase a 4-2 deficit) to claim their first national championship, and college hockey's highest single-season win total ever at 42 (besting North Dakota's 40-win year in 1987).

There was something of a come-down at the beginning of the following season from the ultimate high ever recorded in NCAA history. That September, the school discovered that Ingraham had been incorrectly certified as eligible for the 1991-92 season. A month later, the team was forced to forfeit 14 wins from that year. That certainly left a scar on what had been an outstanding year that had been followed up by the ultimate glory, but it only scratched the surface on what was to come.

The 1994 Black Bears were ultimately decimated. Montgomery and Snow had graduated, while Kariya left early in the season to compete for the 1994 Canadian Olympic team, with the Ferraro brothers and Dunham departing to compete for Team USA. None of the four would ultimately ever return to Orono. Despite all this, the team started off with an 8-3-0 record. In December, however, it was found that Walsh had allowed a freshman defenseman, Jeff Tory, to appear in three games despite knowledge that he was ineligible. The team was immediately forced to forfeit those games and Walsh was suspended without pay for five games. With all the turmoil on and off the ice, the team struggled down the stretch and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in eight years.

Led in part by Tory's return the next season, Maine rebounded to a 32-6-6 season and a second national championship appearance in three years in 1995, but the Black Bears fell to their Hockey East rivals BU, 6-2. But the off-ice scandals continued to grow at the same time. Word came out that Walsh had received extra income from boosters, and that boosters had provided illicit benefits to some players as well. After self-reporting 40 NCAA violations that had taken place within the program between the early 1980s through 1995 - with most taking place in the early 1990s - the school suspended Walsh for calendar year 1996.

The NCAA then unleashed its own punishments. When all was said and done, the program was barred from television and NCAA tournament participation in 1996 and 1997, a further 11 games from the 1993-94 season were forfeited, and scholarship reductions were put into place that kept Maine from offering the full contingent of 18 scholarships until the 1999-2000 season. While there was talk that Maine's 1993 championship was in jeopardy thanks to potential issues with eligibility for Ingraham and Dunham, their post-season glories from the early 1990s, including the national championship, were allowed to stand.

Missing Walsh for the end of the 1996 season and the beginning of the 1996-97 season, and hamstrung by sanctions for 1998, the Black Bears naturally struggled a bit. They continued to put up winning seasons, but they were a far cry from the monster they had been in the early 1990s. The 1999 team was markedly better, yet were flying under the radar after earning an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. They had finished second in Hockey East to one of the best New Hampshire teams in their archrival's history, and had fallen to Boston College in the Hockey East semis. But two wins over Ohio State and Clarkson later, they were back in the Frozen Four. Still relatively unfancied with BC and UNH there as well, the Black Bears gained revenge on both of their league rivals, taking down the Eagles 2-1 in overtime before breaking the hearts of the Granite State in overtime, 3-2 on a goal by Marcus Gustafsson to secure the school's second national championship.

In some ways, the mojo was most certainly back. The title win set off a run of nine straight NCAA appearances. Walsh returned the team to the Frozen Four in 2000, but two months later, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Just over a year later, he succumbed to the illness at the age of 46.

Replacing Walsh behind the bench was former assistant Tim Whitehead, who had been the head coach at UMass-Lowell the previous five seasons before coming back to Orono as Walsh's top lieutenant - partially on the understanding that Walsh's time was limited. Early on under Whitehead, Maine continued to have success, inspirationally reaching the national championship game just seven months after Walsh's passing, but falling in overtime to Minnesota after coming less than a minute away from their third national championship.

Through 2007, Maine continued to reach the NCAA tournament and were still fairly regular Frozen Four participants. In 2004, the Black Bears won their fifth Hockey East title and reached the national championship game for the fifth time, but lost to Denver 1-0. Back to back Frozen Four appearances in 2006 and 2007 signaled the end of the nine-year NCAA stretch. These Maine teams had been decent, but were not near the powerful squads of the 1990s, and Maine boosters began calling for Whitehead's ouster even despite six straight 20-win seasons to start his tenure, in part because his placid demeanor differed greatly from that of Walsh, who displayed passion behind the bench. This was frequently interpreted by the fans as a cool, uncaring attitude.

Those calls became louder in subsequent years, starting in 2008 when the Black Bears failed to finish the season above .500 (on the ice, not counting the forfeits of 1994) for the first time since 1986. The Black Bears endured a very unusual stretch of four consecutive years between 2008 and 2011 where they failed to crack 20 wins, making the Class of 2011 on the third in school history to never achieve that mark. The team bounced back slightly in 2012 with a 23-win campaign and the team's first NCAA appearance since 2007, but that appearance ended swiftly with a 5-2 loss to Minnesota-Duluth. Maine has not won any Hockey East honors since 2004.

Whitehead was dismissed in 2013 after a dismal 11-19-8 season that saw the team very nearly miss the Hockey East playoffs entirely. He was replaced by another former Shawn Walsh assistant - Red Gendron, who had coached with both Walsh and Whitehead on the 1991 Frozen Four team and had been present for the glorious 1993 campaign. In three seasons under Gendron, Maine has continued to struggle. While they eked out a winning record in 2014, the last two seasons have been especially difficult, culminating in a dismal 8-win year this past season, easily the worst in Orono since the team's first year of Division I play. Attendance at Alfond Arena has dipped below 4,000 per game for the first time.

The best analogy to use when describing Maine right now would probably be the RPI teams of the middle of last decade (and some would argue continues today) - the name is one that people who know college hockey should know and respect absolutely, but the on-ice results for a while are far from anything that would instill fear in opponents.

The Black Bears had one of the worst scoring margins in the country last season - 54th out of 60 - meaning they had a hard time both scoring goals and keeping the puck out of the net, as they averaged a 1.39 goal per game deficit last year and were in the bottom 10 in both offense and defense.

Byron returns as the team's leading scorer (8-16--24), but he and Brown (8-12--20) are the only two of the top five scorers who are back. Byron and Vesey (yes, that's Jimmy's younger brother) were the only two NHL draft picks on Maine's roster last year, but they will be joined this year by Holway, Pearson, and Shea - however, all five picks came in rounds five or later.

McGovern actually didn't get the lion's share of the time in net for Maine last season - that was senior-to-be Matt Morris - but he is supposed to be Gendron's goaltender of the future. With two games to the series and the fact that it's starting the season, we probably shouldn't be shocked to see both netminders play (as well as seeing both Cam Hackett and Chase Perry for RPI). But unless team defense in general improves markedly (and quickly) from last season, this should be a defense that a team that has struggled to score goals for as along as the Engineers have struggled will be happy to see in front of them.

All in all, Maine coming out of last season is reminiscent of RPI teams of the last few years, just without the defensive chops that have been anchoring the Engineers' hopes for a while. Both RPI and Maine have a lot of untapped potential offensively, the question for both sides heading into next year is going to be whether they can tap into it effectively. Perhaps give the Engineers a slight nod with two strong netminders coming in and a solid amount of a decent defense coming back as well, but that may well even up with the home ice advantage for the Black Bears.

On momentum alone, however, RPI last year was generally trending upwards, while Maine was a team trying to find the bottom. If they've found it, that's a good sign for their near-term and long-term future. If not, this could be a pretty good place for the Engineers to start turning some heads, especially if their younger offensive talent starts finding the back of the net right from the get-go.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Your 2016-17 RPI Engineers

Over the weekend, the Troy Record's Ed Weaver had a story on the Class of 2020, the incoming freshmen for next season. As with his story a few weeks ago that included the particulars of the schedule, this is out in advance of the official release, but as it includes quotes from Seth Appert regarding the incoming players, we may as well take it to the bank on its reliability.

The incoming class is about what we expected following the most recent recruiting news from last week, in which defenseman T.J. Samec, who turned 21 three weeks ago, announced his commitment. That meant he had to be part of this year's class, and it created a few questions as to what that commitment meant for the expected roster - and basically everything we guessed on Twitter came true.

So without further ado, here's what we're looking at for the upcoming season.

Forwards
Gone: Milos Bubela, Travis Fulton, Mark Miller, Zach Schroeder.
Returning: Riley Bourbonnais, Lonnie Clary, Jimmy DeVito, Kenny Gillespie, Viktor Liljegren, Drew Melanson, Lou Nanne, Jesper Öhrvall, Alex Rodriguez, Evan Tironese, Jake Wood.
Arriving: Todd Burgess, Jacob Hayhurst, Patrick Polino, Brady Wiffen.

Among the guaranteed starters are Bourbonnais, DeVito, Liljegren, Melanson, Nanne, Öhrvall, Tironese, and Wood. When available, expect them in the lineup without fail, because that's pretty much what the case was for these eight forwards last season. Based on their play late last season, it's likely that Gillespie and Rodriguez have a higher likelihood of joining that group as well.

Wiffen we're listing as "arriving" even though he's been in Troy and training with the team (and going to class) over the past season. He is quite obviously an addition to the team since he has yet to officially skate even in an exhibition, and will be a sophomore next season. His designation as co-most improved on the team from last year (alongside Parker Reno) is impressive considering that he never got the opportunity to suit up in an official game, which heightens the likelihood that we'll see him more often than not on the ice.

Among the other new faces, it's hard not to see Burgess getting plenty of opportunities early in his collegiate career. As the NAHL's leading scorer - by a lot - who has earned glowing reviews for his play and could possibly hear his named called in the NHL Draft next month at the age of 20 (a rare occurrence), he seems more likely than not to have the capacity to step in and start contributing immediately.

There has been less banter in the last year on Hayhurst in part because he managed just 9 goals this year in 57 games for Cedar Rapids in the USHL, but it's worth bearing in mind that he only just turned 19 in January. There's still an upside to his game that we'll probably see as he continues to develop, and we'll probably see a good amount of him early in the Cherry and White.

It's hard to keep 12 players healthy for an entire season (as we've seen recently), so players that end up 13th and 14th on the depth chart are probably going to see a fair amount of ice time as well - good news for guys like Polino and Clary. The former may well see plenty of spot duty in the Fulton role of the undersized energy guy. The latter last season got a few looks at the ice in 11 games but will probably have to step things up to regularly crack the lineup this year.

As it stands, there are 15 forwards on the roster. This is probably enough, but we know Appert prefers to carry 16 and it's been a struggle to stay there. There was supposed to be 16 last season, but the late word on Wiffen that he was ineligible kept it at 15. Appert is quoted in Weaver's story that they "may add another forward," so we'll keep eyes peeled on that front.

Defensemen
Gone: Chris Bradley, Phil Hampton.
Returning: Bradley Bell, Tommy Grant, Meirs Moore, Mike Prapavessis, Parker Reno, Jared Wilson.
Arriving: Charles Manley, Will Reilly, T.J. Samec.

From the looks of things, five of the six regular spots in a healthy lineup are pretty much sewn-up. Prapavessis, Reno, and Wilson proved completely indispensable last year, Moore missed just one game during his freshman season, and Grant earned pretty much universal praise for his play late in the year in place of an injured Reno - and indeed, was named the team's Rookie of the Year. All five are likely to be regulars in the lineup when healthy.

That leaves a sixth spot open between Bell, Manley, Reilly, and Samec. There's a lot we don't know about all four of these players, but it's likely that we'll see a situation where the sixth spot will go to whoever earns the time in practice on a week-in, week-out basis.

With Bell, the question is on what the reason was for his lack of playing time last season - he appeared in just three games last year, and he was dressed as a forward in one of those games. In his first two years, he's seen the ice in just 22 games total. Manley we've known about for the last five seasons and all we really know for sure about him is that his arrival has been twice delayed - he's been described as a puck-mover but his junior stats haven't made that readily apparent. Reilly and Samec, meanwhile, were very recent additions (with Samec in particular committing only last week). Reilly brings additional offensive potential to the table, while Samec brings size and physical play.

As we've seen in recent years, that sixth defenseman spot is sometimes taken regularly (as it was last year with Hampton, who was arguably well higher than sixth on the depth chart by the end of the year), and sometimes it's a game-to-game concern. A betting man would probably lean closer to the latter for this coming season, but having those top five spots pretty much locked down already is a great place to be.

Goaltenders
Gone: Sam Goodman, Jason Kasdorf.
Returning: Cam Hackett.
Arriving: Chase Perry.

The situation in net will get interesting as the Engineers will have a returning ECAC All-Rookie selection in Hackett and a transfer NHL draft pick in Perry to choose from, both sophomores but both with very strong bonafides. We're likely to see both Hackett and Perry earn a solid amount of ice-time. This will be the first time that the Engineers have had both of its top two netminders in the same class since 2004.

There will be a third goaltender added to the list at some point, however this is mostly function over form in terms of how it will impact the team. The new practice goaltender will replace Goodman, who played the final 46 seconds of the season for his first and only experience in net - this is traditionally the norm among third-string goalies. Once we know who that is, the situation in net is likely to be stable for at least the next two, if not three seasons.

Overall outlook

The bottom line on this team, as it has been the last two seasons, is going to be a need to get some offense. The pundits will probably question the defense because of Kasdorf's graduation, but that shouldn't be an area of major concern, not with what returns on the blue line and the displayed abilities of both Hackett and Perry.

The good news is that there are plenty of avenues for new offense that wasn't there last season, far more than this team has had in recent years. Tironese and Wiffen are in many ways new additions over last season. Tironese will be a redshirt freshman after missing nearly the entire year to an injury picked up in the Union weekend. At the time of his injury, he was leading the team in scoring with 7 points in his first 6 games. Wiffen led the OJHL in scoring in 2015, and Burgess did the same in the NAHL in 2016. Those three additions, especially if they can contribute out of the gate the way Tironese did last year, could be a huge shot in the arm offensively.

Then you have other cases. Melanson had a hard time staying healthy last season after a very promising freshman campaign. Bourbonnais led the team in scoring, but was on a more torrid pace before he got injured and wasn't quite the same when he got back. Liljegren seemed to do everything but score on occasion, as did Öhrvall, his countryman. Nanne became a serious redirect threat and one of the more dangerous scorers in the league in the second half of the season.

That's eight players with the demonstrated potential to do great things on offense. The key will be for them to tap that full potential in the coming season. If they can do that, great things could be in the offing.

The Engineers last averaged 3 goals scored per game in 2002. Perhaps not coincidentally, that is also the last year they made it to Lake Placid. There are only four teams that have gone longer without registering 3.00 GPG in a season - American International, Army, Alaska-Anchorage, and Lake Superior State. Literally every other team in the ECAC has done it. Even Alabama-Huntsville has done it. And since 2002, the Engineers have exceeded the national median GPG only twice - in 2004 (21st out of 58) and 2013 (26th out of 59). Five times since, they've been in the bottom 10 nationally on offense (2003, 2008, 2009, 2012, 2015). It's been far too long since this was a goal-scoring team.

Maybe it's time for that to change - and maybe this might be the year that it does.

Taking a quick peek at upcoming classes of recruits...

2017-18
Out: Bourbonnais, DeVito, Wood, Reno
In: Emil Öhrvall, Cory Babichuk (?), Austin Cho.

Certainly the blue line has been firmed up to some extent for 2017. With only Parker Reno graduating, the likelihood is that Cho will be his replacement, with Babichuk ready to come in if Mike Prapavessis signs with the Dallas Stars after this coming season. Cho had initially been set for 2016, but had a tough start to his season in the BCHL. Babichuk might be best moved to 2018 given his own rough 2015-16 campaign, but he should at least have a year of AJHL hockey under his belt by the end of next season.

Meanwhile, it's forwards that are needed to fill out the smaller-than-usual Class of 2021. Öhrvall is a tremendous first entry here, but two more forwards are likely needed at a minimum, depending on whether a 16th forward is added for 2016.

2018-19
Out: Gillespie, Liljegren, Nanne, Melanson, Bell, Prapavessis, Wilson
In: Jon Bendorf, Jacob Modry, Babichuk (?)

If Babichuk is indeed coming in 2018, this class is certainly out of the gate well in terms of assembly. There's still a need for at least three more forwards and probably one more defenseman, but there is certainly time to put those pieces in place. We should learn more about this class in the coming months.

We're also likely to land the first RPI recruit born in the year 2000 sometime in the next year. This is probably the first possible class where we'd see such a recruit playing for the Institute.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

2016-17 Men's Hockey Schedule

The schedule for this coming season was released in this morning's Troy Record. Here it is - much of it, we more or less knew.

What we didn't know: There's an exhibition against McGill on the 2nd of October, a Sunday. The Union home-and-home kicks off the season for the third straight year. UNH is indeed on the schedule, as is UMass-Lowell.

And most surprising of all, a non-conference tilt against Clarkson, in Lake Placid, on the first weekend of 2017. That's not even the most amazing part of it. Apparently, this game was originally supposed to take place in Beijing. As in, China. Yeah. Lake Placid at least a little easier travel-wise, but... wow.

Anyway, here's the full monty. 7pm starts unless otherwise indicated, all times Eastern.

Sunday, 2 October - McGILL, 4pm (Exhibition)
Friday, 7 October - at Maine
Saturday, 8 October - at Maine
Saturday, 15 October - at North Dakota, 8pm (US Hockey Hall of Fame Game)
Friday, 21 October - NIAGARA
Saturday, 22 October - RIT
Friday, 28 October - UNION (Black Friday)
Saturday, 29 October - at Union

Friday, 4 November - BROWN
Saturday, 5 November - YALE
Friday, 11 November - CLARKSON
Saturday, 12 November - ST. LAWRENCE
Friday, 18 November - OHIO STATE
Saturday, 19 November - OHIO STATE
Tuesday, 22 November - at New Hampshire
Friday, 25 November - at Arizona State, 9pm
Saturday, 26 November - at Arizona State, 9pm

Friday, 2 December - at Quinnipiac
Saturday, 3 December - at Princeton
Friday, 9 December - at Yale
Saturday, 10 December - at Brown
Friday, 30 December - at Harvard

Tuesday, 3 January - UMASS-LOWELL
Saturday, 7 January - vs. Clarkson (Lake Placid, NY)
Friday, 13 January - HARVARD
Saturday, 14 January - DARTMOUTH
Thursday, 19 January - vs. Union (Mayor's Cup), 7:30pm
Friday, 27 January - at St. Lawrence
Saturday, 28 January - at Clarkson

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

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

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

Monday, March 28, 2016

Now's Not The Time

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

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

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

From RPI's perspective:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Hockey East perspective, things have changed too.

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

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

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

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

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

Small school: Still a potential tripping point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Moving Parts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Looking to Next Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

--

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

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

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

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

Bradley-Prapavessis
Wilson-Grant
Moore-Hampton

Kasdorf

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bradley-Prapavessis
Wilson-Grant
Moore-Hampton

Hackett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESULT: Harvard 5, RPI 2

RECORD: 18-14-7

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

RESULT:  Harvard 8, RPI 2

RECORD: 18-15-7