Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Penrose Pugilist

Let's say an award existed for "Father of the Year," and one of the finalists has three children that he sent off to Ivy League institutions, all of which are now graduating magna cum laude and are landing high-paying jobs after graduation. All of them say their father did a tremendous job encouraging them throughout school and into college, and by most accounts, people say he's a nice guy and a good father. Sounds like a good candidate, right? Now, let's say that it comes to light during the vetting process that, some years ago, he was convicted on domestic abuse charges for striking his wife and was sentenced to several years of probation. Is he still really a good choice for "Father of the Year?"

It seems that, when it comes to the American Hockey Coaches Association, the answer is... sure.

The AHCA (not the ACHA as several outlets have reported, that's a club hockey organization) announced today that Union coach Rick Bennett will be honored in May with the Spencer Penrose Award as the national coach of the year. To be nominated, a coach must have either won his conference's coach of the year award, or have coached his team to the Frozen Four. Bennett was nominated in the latter fashion.

There's little question that when it comes to pure coaching, Rick Bennett is placing himself among the top names in the nation. He's taken Union - that's UNION COLLEGE - to two Frozen Fours in three years. That was so unfathomable in the recent past that to some of us it's still fairly unfathomable. He's done a tremendous job putting the pieces in place and operating his team to be successful, there's no one that can doubt that.

As good as Union has been in the last several seasons, there were few people back in October picking the Dutchmen as the top team in the ECAC - which they were in the regular season and then in the tournament - let alone a Frozen Four team. The team has reached 30 wins on the season for the first time ever, and this is even despite a relatively meager start in October. Looking solely at the on-ice product, one would have to conclude that Bennett is a solid choice here.

But when we take a look at the whole season, there's a serious black mark, and one which really needs to be considered when we're talking about who the best coach in the country was this season - his involvement in the brawl at the Times Union Center in January. The facts are the facts. He went after a fellow coach, throwing punches in the process. One of these punches connected on the helmet of an opposing student-athlete.

The Penrose voters had to have heard about this - for a week, it was the talk of the college hockey world. There was news when it first happened. It came up again before the weekend was out when Union suspended him for a game. It popped up again when the ECAC at first declined to punish him further, stirring up discussion on how inappropriate that was. It was news a fourth time when the league finally came down with what should have been a minimal penalty for such an action - a four game suspension. We wrote at the time that he was lucky to not have been suspended for the rest of the season (as did others), and that's still a belief we hold.

What he did at the TU Center was a very serious transgression for a coach. Apt comparisons were made at the time to Woody Hayes and Bob Knight, among others.

We all make mistakes in life. How we learn from those mistakes is an important part of how we grow as human beings, no matter what your calling is. Bennett was immediately apologetic for his actions. He had to be - but he should have been thinking about the potential ramifications while he was taking swings in front of a crowd of 7,100 witnesses.

There's little doubt that his actions that night cost him the ECAC's Coach of the Year nod, which went instead to an equally deserving Don Vaughan of Colgate, who had managed to guide his team to a much-higher-than-predicted finish without channeling Rocky Balboa in the process.

That was a good, solid signal that the coaches of the ECAC consider character and actions to be an important part of what makes a coach laudable. Along similar lines, the Hobey Baker Award very distinctly talks about the character of candidates as an important distinguishing factor. In fact, if you go to the part of their website that discusses the award, the first thing it says is "CHARACTER MATTERS."

Apparently, the AHCA as a whole doesn't hold its own members to the same standard when it is choosing the best of its own ranks. The standard for determining the best student-athlete in the nation is demonstrably higher than the standard for choosing the best coach. Weren't we supposed to be holding coaches and administrators to a higher standard than their charges?

Our friends at Where Angels Fear to Tread, a Cornell blog (well worth your read), put it perfectly on Twitter this morning:
When coaches and administrators refuse to hold their peers and employees to high standards, winning becomes the only criterion of success and all means of achieving that end legitimated. People can conjure up the specters of other scandals and try to distinguish, but a common thread lingers: emphasis on winning over the self-aggrandizing and self-important principles of collegiate athletics.
What happened in Albany was an embarrassment for Union College, for RPI, for the ECAC (which became an even bigger embarrassment thanks to their own actions), and for college hockey in general. It's something that, over time, will rightly fade from prominence when we talk about Rick Bennett's resume and legacy. It will be more of a footnote than a point of focus.

But this year, the stain is still there. It is still fresh, and it was an important happenstance in his season. Without holding ill will against the man, it's clear to say that this was not the year to honor him as the best bench boss in the nation. Vince Lombardi once said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." In college athletics, this has never been the mantra, and it shouldn't be now.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Five Year Plan

Wow. It's honestly hard to believe that it's been five full seasons that we've been at this here at WaP. Congratulations to all you Archies who were freshmen when this whole thing got underway on your impending graduation, and we forgive you for never having had the time to read us in the first place.

A few years ago, about this time, whether the Engineers were still alive or not - and it was only one season in four that they were - we'd be running down the NCAA Tournament and making our selections and providing some additional coverage beyond our core RPI hockey mission. Of course, back in those days, it was a lot easier for us to spend time writing for free. We've already gone over all the life changes that Gary and I have been through in the last five years, but we've always tried to stay true to the core mission, if nothing else.

WaP isn't as wacky as it once was. Founded in the vein of Yankees blog, to which nothing is sacred, everyone's skewerable, and which tries to offer an alternative viewpoint while still puffing out its chest as much as possible (whether it's warranted or not), we've gone a couple of seasons without any really regular photoshop jobs during the season - our only output this year was to slap Mike Schafer's head on a turkey's body while wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving.

Through promotions at work, marriages (present and future, as it is), new homes, and other things that get in the way of delivering as much content as we have in the past, we've still pushed forward to at the very least bring you breaking news on Twitter, feature pieces that you've come to know and love, weekly updates, and analysis without discretion or favor. (There's frequently even less discretion on Twitter, where we've only got 140 characters to make a point.)

But we press on nonetheless. Neither of us know exactly how long we're going to stay in the game, but we're not done yet.

Barring something worth commenting on from the NCAA tournament which starts tomorrow, we'll go ahead and enter our yearly hibernation now, at least as far as the blog is concerned. We'll drop schedules when they're released, and we'll be back in late May or early June with the start of the annual Know Your Enemy feature. We're also cooking up a special treat that we're hoping to unleash upon an unsuspecting world this summer, so stay tuned for that as well. In the meantime, make sure you're following us on Twitter so you're the first to know when something stupid pops into one of our heads.

We can't thank our readers enough. Without you, we're just opinionated dopes talking to ourselves. Some would argue that's exactly what we are anyway, but we are thankful for every single person who reads what we have to say about everything from the power play to pop culture references. WaP was, is, and will always be free to read. If you want to hit our tip jar over on the right hand side of the site, 100% of the donations go toward defraying what costs we have that are associated with running the site. Don't feel that you have to give a dime, though. We appreciate you just as much if you're just a casual reader.

So until we meet again, friends... have a great couple of months.

Here's to old Rensselaer. She stands today without a peer.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Seat Warms

I intentionally waited until some of the clamor over the way RPI went out of the playoffs to die down a little bit to offer my insight on the whole situation.

Let's get one thing straight from the start. Seth Appert is not going anywhere. To argue for his immediate termination is simply a waste of time and breath for a couple of reasons. First of all, he's on the books at RPI through the end of the decade. That's an investment that was made less than a year ago - they aren't going to throw it away this quickly, it just doesn't make sense. Second, you may have forgotten through the understandable disappointment of two consecutive home playoff losses, but the Engineers did have their highest finish in the ECAC in 20 years in 2013, just a season ago.

Yes, this season was disappointing. Expectations were high and those expectations simply were not met. The team did not reach any of the goals that we laid out at the beginning of the season.

This is a team that should have three must-hit earmarks for this season to be considered successful. First, another first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs, something they achieved last year. That is very basic. Second, at least a trip to Lake Placid, a round that has eluded the team for over a decade, and a goal that would represent growth from last season. Finally, an NCAA bid, which should be a fait accompli if the first two can be accomplished, so let's up the ante - at least a goal in the NCAAs for the first time since George Servinis.
If you'd told us that Jason Kasdorf was going to be lost for the season after the first weekend, a lot of this would have been downgraded for sure. A lot of the high expectations that were placed on this team revolved around having the best goaltender in the league between the pipes, including the expectations by the media and coaches in the preseason polls, which tabbed the team to finish 1st and 2nd in the standings respectively. We'll never know just what this team could have achieved had that freak injury not happened.

That said, there was a lot more that this team could have accomplished than it did. Time and time again this season, especially in league play, the Engineers settled for fewer points than they could have earned thanks to blown leads. 14 times in ECAC games, RPI did not take both points. They had leads in fully half of those games. Some turned into ties, others became losses. Each team that finished ahead of RPI except for Colgate was an opponent in one of those contests - which underlines just how much better the Engineers could have placed had they been able to hold some of those leads.

The home playoff losses are certainly becoming a concern, too. To be fair, the Engineers under Seth Appert have repeatedly drawn teams at home for the playoffs that were hitting their stride at the right time. Brown in 2010, Colgate in 2011, and Brown in 2013 all went on from their 2-1 series wins in Troy to knock the #1 team in the ECAC out of the tournament (Yale in 2010, Union in 2011, and Quinnipiac in 2013). While Dartmouth didn't go on to do the same this season, they were easily the least desired of the four teams that hit the road for the first round given the way their late season went.

Despite this, RPI was very much a part of all four of those series. All four series went to a third game. Why can't they win that third game? There's absolutely a trend now, and it is becoming more and more of a concern. You can point to the tough draws all you want, eventually, good teams overcome difficult opponents.

It has been 12 years since the Engineers played in the ECAC semifinals. Every other team in the league has been there at least once since 2007. If Clarkson had scored the OT winner in Game 3 instead of Cornell, it would have been every team having had an appearance since 2009. It's getting kind of tiresome to be done by this time every single year (2011 being the exception, but even then it was two weeks off before getting throttled by UND).

Next season, the expectations are unlikely to still be there with the early departures of Ryan Haggerty and Mike Zalewski for bigger and better things in the professional ranks. It is what it is. But the ECAC being the ECAC, every team, every season should be able to set at least a home playoff series as an attainable goal.

Given the circumstances, there isn't a hot seat in Troy, not yet at least. But if next year's team can't win a home playoff series, that seat that's already warming is going to get a little bit toastier, and you can bet the farm that Seth Appert's already well aware of that.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Men's Hockey - ECAC First Round vs. Dartmouth (7/8/9 Mar)

All season long, one of the biggest issues with the Engineers has been a lack of killer instinct. Throughout the year, that lack of ability to finish games turned wins into ties and losses with some frequency. Last weekend, that trend returned in full force, showing itself over the course of RPI's first round home playoff series against Dartmouth in two ways that ended the Engineers' season. First, after a solid 4-1 victory in Game 1, that lack of killer instinct allowed the Big Green to get back into the series with a 3-2 win in Game 2, then appeared in the 3rd period of Game 3 as RPI blew a 4-2 lead with 20 minutes remaining to lose 5-4.

Game 1



Mike Zalewski and Travis Fulton made their returns to the RPI lineup in time for the playoffs, replacing Jake Wood and Jimmy DeVito. None of the Engineers' five freshmen would ultimately see any ice time during the series against Dartmouth, and the RPI lineup did not change in any of the games.

RPI jumped on Dartmouth early in the first period of game one, collecting a pair of goals by Ryan Haggerty to go up 2-0 ten minutes into the game. Haggerty's first goal came moments after the Engineers' first power play of the game got underway, and the second one came on a backhanded shot off an intercepted pass in the Dartmouth zone.

The RPI penalty kill then got active, killing off a holding call to Guy Lebeouf before being pressed into hard service late in the period as back to back penalties to Mike Zalewski and Mark McGowan put RPI on a long 5x3 kill that straddled the first and second periods. They got through both penalties unscathed, and then just over a minute after returning to full strength went up 3-0 as Jacob Laliberte scored on a rebound in front of the net.

A Bo Dolan penalty six minute later got Dartmouth on the board as a shot from the point came weakly into the slot due to a broken stick, but the off-powered motion forced the defense into a bad position, and the loose puck was scooped up and put in the back of the net to make it 3-1.

Zach Schroeder picked up an insurance goal - his second of the season - 66 seconds into the third to make it 4-1, and as time ticked away Dartmouth appeared willing to head to Game 2 down one game to none. Scott Diebold made 29 saves on 30 shots to pick up the victory for the Engineers.

Game 2



Dartmouth came out of the gate a different team that had limped to a three-goal loss the previous night, setting the pace early. A goal by Eric Neiley was waved off due to goaltender interference, but Neiley would start the scoring off nonetheless on the power play seven minutes in to make it 1-0 Dartmouth. That RPI was not down by more than that after one period was a testament to the solid play of Scott Diebold, who made 18 saves on 19 shots in the first 20 minutes to keep RPI in the game.

Jacob Laliberte scored his second goal in as many nights 8:43 into the second period to even the score at one, and for a brief moment it looked as though momentum may have swung into the Engineers' favor. Just over a minute later, however, that momentum was blunted by poor play in the defensive zone as Dartmouth's Jesse Beamish got to a loose puck in the RPI zone and put it home to put the Big Green up 2-1.

The Engineers did not waste time tying the score again, however, as a power play opportunity produced a goal by Ryan Haggerty, his 27th of the season, only two minutes later to make it 2-2 as RPI outplayed Dartmouth in the latter half of the second period, and despite a very shoddy first period, looked to be in position to move on with a solid showing in the third period.

The third, however, more closely resembled the first period than the end of the second. Dartmouth came out firing, and Diebold did everything he could to keep RPI in the game until Neiley hit the twine for the third time on the evening, but only counting for the second time, putting Dartmouth up 3-2 with 6:14 left in the game.

The Engineers did get some extended opportunities at the end of the game to hit the tying goal for the third time, as Neiley took a cross-checking call in the Dartmouth end with 1:19 left while Diebold was out of the net. That set RPI up with a 6-on-4 advantage through the end of the game, but they were unable to put one past Charles Grant, and the deadlocked series went on to a Game 3 on Sunday night.

Game 3



It was a familiar face getting the Engineers off on the right foot on Sunday as Ryan Haggerty scored his fourth goal of the weekend to put RPI up 1-0 just 3:39 into the deciding Game 3, setting the tone right. Things started looking very good for the Engineers as a Dartmouth penalty two minutes later put RPI, who had scored on the power play in each of the first two games, on the man advantage. However, the Engineers' feast-or-famine strategy of having five forwards out on the power play would come back to haunt them. 

When Haggerty was unable to control a pass at the blue line, it was immediately pounced on by Dartmouth's Tim O'Brien, who went the length with it on the breakaway. Scott Diebold made the initial save, but the rebound went right to O'Brien who was moving to Diebold's left, and he put home that rebound for a shorthanded goal that made the score 1-1.

Mike Zalewski would score 10 minutes later to make it 2-1, but the circumstances that led to O'Brien's goal still seemed to overshadow the Engineers' lead. 

RPI maintained that one-goal edge for most of the 2nd period. They were unable to extend the lead on a 5x3 opportunity midway through the period even despite calling timeout before the 30 second opportunity - in fact, they did not even record a single shot on the two-man advantage.

The worries over the failure to score seemed to evaporate about five minutes later, as Chris Bradley scored his 3rd goal of the season in a bit of a role reversal goal. Mark McGowan took the shot from the point, and Bradley redirected the shot into the net to put RPI up 3-1.

A Dartmouth goal with 1:55 left in the 2nd period threatened to sap RPI's momentum heading into the deciding 20 minutes, but McGowan would respond less than a minute later by jamming home a puck that was stuck in a scrum in front of the Dartmouth net to make it 4-2 RPI.

Taking a two-goal lead into the final period is usually a superior place to be, but Dartmouth responded as one would expect a team to respond with their backs against the wall, and much as with the first period of Game 2, RPI put forward a passive response to that desperation. A goal by Eric Neiley, his third of the weekend, cut the Engineers' lead in half just 2:10 into the period.

Still, the Dartmouth onslaught came, and still, RPI looked uninterested in meeting the task. About seven minutes after Neiley's goal, Brandon McNally tied the game, and still the Big Green were the aggressors. Both teams got power play opportunities with the score tied, but the game remained deadlocked with with just under 3 minutes to play once the RPI power play expired, the second of the two.

Brad Schierhorn stepped up about 40 seconds after the Big Green finished killing their penalty, rocketing home a perfect pass to complete the Dartmouth comeback, putting the visitors ahead for the first time on the evening with 2:14 left on the game clock.

Suddenly, it looked like the Engineers were interested in playing offense, but the frenzied attempts late with the goaltender pulled were too little, too late. Despite outscoring Dartmouth 10-9, the Engineers lost twice and had their playoff experience end after just three games for the second consecutive season.

Other junk - RPI's last home playoff series victory came in 2004 over Princeton. They have lost five such series since (2006, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014).

Ryan Haggerty, on Wednesday, signed an NHL contract with the New York Rangers, foregoing his senior season.

Brock Higgs is a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award, given to a senior in each sport with committment to "community, classroom, character and competition." The online vote counts for 1/3 of the final vote tally, and you can vote once per day. To support Brock, click here.

Dartmouth at RPI
ECAC First Round, Game 1 - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
3/7/14 - 7:00pm

RESULT: RPI 4, Dartmouth 1



RECORD: 15-14-6 (8-9-5 ECAC, 21 pts)

Dartmouth at RPI
ECAC First Round, Game 2 - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
3/8/14 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Dartmouth 3, RPI 2



RECORD: 15-15-6 (8-9-5 ECAC, 21 pts)

Dartmouth at RPI
ECAC First Round, Game 3 - Houston Field House (Troy, NY)
3/9/14 - 7:00pm

RESULT: Dartmouth 5, RPI 4



RECORD: 15-16-6 (8-9-5 ECAC, 21 pts)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Thank You

There are likely to be many words written about tonight. Some are most assuredly already being written. But on this night, we have only two.

Thank you.

#3 Guy Leboeuf - West Palm Beach, FL - Business and Management
#11 Bo Dolan - St. Paul, MN - Business and Management
#12 Johnny Rogic - Vancouver, BC - Civil Engineering
#23 Brock Higgs - Kingston, ON - Business and Management (undergrad)/Management-Finance (grad)
#28 Matt Tinordi - Severna Park, MD - Business and Management


#6 Madison Marzario - Prior Lake, MN - Business and Management/Communications
#9 Missy Mankey - Hopkins, MN - Chemistry
#14 Toni Sanders - York, PA - Geology
#19 Jordan Smelker - Anchorage, AK - Biomedical Engineering
#23 Nona Letuligasenoa - Fairbanks, AK - Communications

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Mid-Weekend Update

Yale and St. Lawrence finished off Harvard and Brown this evening, while Dartmouth forced game 3 against RPI with a 3-2 victory and Clarkson made Princeton look more like the 12 seed, posting a 4-0 shutout over the Tigers.

Both RPI/Dartmouth and Clarkson/Princeton will play their third games tomorrow night at 7. With two series in the books, we're down to a quarter of the outcomes for second round matchups. Here are the remaining possibilities:

 photo 2014PlayoffsRound1Sat_zps92af29a5.png

Finish This

When you're doing battle against something or someone that wants to kill you, and you put yourself in a position to deliver a death blow, here's a quick tip: don't hesitate. If you've got your heel on the windpipe, you crush it.

There's no hard feelings against Dartmouth at all. It's just us or them, and in any situation where it's us or them, you make sure it's them.

But just as much as it's important to deliver that killing strike, so too can you be sure that any animal, cornered, will fight for its life with every measure it has at its disposal. Winning the second game is going to be much harder than winning the first. Despite victory on Friday, if RPI does not come out of that locker room just as desperate for a Saturday win than the team they're facing, it'll be on to Game 3, and anything goes from there.

Get it done. Tonight. Toll the bells.