Monday, April 13, 2015

Being a Little Forward

Once again, the fluid nature of recruiting and timing for a recruit's freshman year is leading to a bit of ambiguity as to what RPI's incoming class is going to look like. Last year, most of the confusion focused on the defensive situation. This year, it's up front as roster depth, injuries, and the ages of new recruits - including one who just committed last week - comes into play.

The situation on defense is pretty well known. Luke Curadi and Curtis Leonard have graduated, they project to be replaced by Meirs Moore and Charlie Manley. Scott Diebold graduated, he will be replaced by Alec Dillon.

At forward, it's not as clear cut. Seven forwards have been recruited by Seth Appert, Bryan Vines, Nolan Graham, and Marc Cavosie. Certainly, not all will be enrolled at the Institute by August, but just who will be isn't easy to know for sure.

The forward situation was dicey for RPI this season. With only 14 forwards on the roster, the Engineers were exposed to injury problems, and when the injury bug struck, the team had few options. Three different defensemen spent time occasionally playing forward this season because of the lack of depth. Therefore, with three forwards graduating - Jacob Laliberte, Matt Neal, and Mark McGowan - we should expect at least four, and possibly five forwards coming on board this season.

However, all seven forward recruits that are in the pipeline at the present time have been at various times linked with a potential 2016 arrival. So who's in the Cherry and White come October? Here's the analysis.

Sure Things
Brady Wiffen: There's nothing at all that points to Wiffen being anywhere but at the Institute next season. He's out of junior eligibility and he just completed a highly successful season in which he scored almost as many goals as the Engineers did this year. RPI needs at least four forwards, and he's easily one of them.

Jesper Öhrvall: The Swede's commitment to RPI came just a week shy of a full year from the time countryman and former Ice Dog Viktor Liljegren decided that the Institute was where he'd ply his trade. The only real difference is in age - while Liljegren had another year of junior eligibility when he committed, Öhrvall turns 21 in November, so he's got to come in for next season. He had injury problems this season, missing 33 games with a concussion and a neck injury, but he didn't lose his entire year to the maladies, and he picked up well when he got back on the ice. One of those four spaces is definitely his.

The Known Future
Jacob Hayhurst: Last year, Hayhurst was part of the future because he was too young to be on board for this season. This year, he's a high school graduate (or at least will be shortly), but everything has pointed to another year of juniors - specifically, in the USHL - to prepare him to be one of the key elements of the Class of 2020. It's no longer outside the realm of possibility, but the Engineers have too many other options available to rush him into college and start burning eligibility now.

Todd Burgess: With Öhrvall's commitment, we can safely say that his teammate in Fairbanks, Burgess, will be coming in 2016. There had been some possibility that he'd be in for 2015, but given his age and the readiness level of other commits, it's a very easy bet to make that he'll wait another year before college. It'll be interesting to watch where he goes this summer. He's not yet attached to a USHL team, but don't be surprised to see him move there next year.

Unknowns
Evan Tironese: Quite a change from last year at this time, when we had Tironese listed as a sure thing to be on campus in August 2014. Whoops. The highly awaited Tironese was long expected for this past season, but a rough experience in the USHL led him back to the BCHL, where he was on pace for a tremendous year before a shoulder injury sidelined him in November after just 19 games. Now the question is whether he's ready for college hockey right away coming off that long-term injury, or whether he should utilize that last season of junior eligibility to fully prepare for the NCAA. It's not outside the realm of possibility that Öhrvall is being brought in partially to allow Tironese that buffer time. Gut instinct says he's probably ready to come in regardless of the missed time - unless his injury won't allow him to be ready to play in October. That may be enough to see him back in the BCHL next year.

Alex Rodriguez: Twist our arms, and we'll still list Rodriguez as a likely fall arrival in Troy. By most accounts, he had a pretty decent year in the USHL, despite the lack of flashy offensive numbers that he became known for in high school. But, like Tironese, he does have another year of junior eligibility remaining, and if it's desired that he take another turn in the USHL - this time likely playing on one of Sioux City's top lines as many of the Musketeers' top offensive threats move on to college - that's something that's entirely possible. But it's not really necessary, either.

Carlos Fornaris: Like Tironese, Moore, and Manley, Fornaris was originally expected for 2014 when he committed to RPI, but was put off to 2015 likely due to his rough outing in the USHL in 2013-14. By most accounts he has had a far better year in the NAHL playing for Topeka, and while his offensive numbers, like fellow Miamian Rodriguez, don't exactly stick out, he doesn't project as a goal-scorer for the Engineers anyway - he's more likely to be a puck-mover and a playmaker similar to Mark Miller. If that's not the case, he does still have another year of junior eligibility at his disposal. So if four is the number, he's a candidate to be held for 2016.

Analysis
Five forwards wouldn't be out of the question. That would give the Engineers 16 on the roster, which is what they had from 2011 through 2013. It would also give them 28 total players, which is pretty high - although there may be a higher than normal number of non-scholarship skaters for a 26-man roster as it sat this season. It kinda feels like we can pencil in everyone in the "unknown" section for a 2015, at least as things stand now. If RPI lands another forward with a high probability of immediate arrival, we'll know at least one of the "unknowns" will be held back a season.

If it does end up being only four forwards, though, Tironese may again be the odd man out for the second year in a row - but probably only if there's any doubt whatsoever about where he's going to be physically come the start of the season. A very bright looking season was cut very short. Was that 19 game stretch enough to wipe out the issues he had playing in the USHL in 2013-14? Maybe. But for a player with the talent and promise of Tironese, it wouldn't be a complete shock if he's not added to the fold unless he's absolutely, 100% ready to roll.

UPDATE (4:12pm - 4/13/2015): Well, that didn't take long. Four and a half hours after this post originally went live, an eighth name was added to the list of forward recruits.

Lonnie Clary: The Riverside, CA native who committed to the Engineers today from the Fairbanks Ice Dogs (making him the second Ice Dog commit in as many weeks, and fourth in a little over a calendar year) turns 21 in September, which means he'll be incoming for this season. That makes for three '94 birth year forwards who lose eligibility if they aren't enrolled for this coming season. The early word on Clary - capable offensively, but a cursory look at his stats suggests an intimidating presence as well: he has accrued 333 PIM in three seasons in Fairbanks.

If we needed proof that one of the three "unknowns" is not coming to Troy in August, Clary is pretty much all we need. RPI might bring in five forwards (and probably will at this point), but not six. The only way the Engineers will see Tironese, Rodriguez, and Fornaris all on campus this fall is if one of the forwards currently scheduled to return next season has left or will leave school. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What Now?

OK, so... you might have noticed we took a little bit of a break after the season ended. It's been a very long year, of course. 75 games covered on the year between the men and the women, with 49 of them losses and only 19 of them wins... I think you can understand just wanting to exhale for a few weeks.

At the end of the day, neither the men's nor the women's team really did any worse than they were expected to do at the outset of the year. The women's side had the coaches picking them to finish 10th, they managed 9th. The men's side had the coaches picking 10th and the media 9th, they finished 9th. Look at it this way - both polls on the men's side had Union finishing 2nd. Who really had the worse season, eh?

The question from the outset of the season for the men was never really answered: "who's going to score the goals?" It needed to be a team effort. In the end, it was, but unfortunately there just weren't enough coming from enough people with enough consistency to be competitive night in, and night out. Jason Kasdorf, the team's rock in net, struggled through another season with injury woes. When he's on and healthy, he's hard to beat, and he proved that in the playoffs.

RPI graduates a senior class that always showed a lot of potential offensively, but never seemed to live up to that potential. We thought the Engineers could have a decent season last year based largely on that unrealized potential being tapped, and it just didn't pan out.

Now, the Engineers boast a significant number of underclassmen with the potential to be outstanding and even stars in this league. Drew Melanson, Lou Nanne, Riley Bourbonnais, and Viktor Liljegren all showed at times during the season that they were ready to be key elements in a successful hockey team. Next season is the time for them to grab that brass ring and help pull this team to bigger and better things. They are set to be joined by a number of freshmen who've displayed high potential - Evan Tironese, Brady Wiffen, Alex Rodriguez, and the just-committed Jesper Öhrvall, especially.

What RPI needs now is for potential to be realized. For a long time, we've seen solid freshman seasons lead to higher expectations down the road - as one usually should expect from still developing players - but more often than not seeing more stagnation than growth, and from the ones that grow, we've seen some early departures.

The women have found their greatest successes when working from the net outward. Sonja van der Bliek didn't always have the most scoring in front of her, but when she was on she was one of the best goaltenders in the league and the team had more success than failure. Her replacements between the pipes, Kelly O'Brien and Brianna Piper, were solid Division I goaltenders, but neither could really carry the team by themselves when the offense struggled. Next year's team features a pair of new goaltenders, Kira Bombay and Lovisa Selander. We don't know a lot about either of them due to the limited amount of information that comes out about women's hockey recruits that aren't international-level prospects, but Bombay a season ago had a season in which she finished with a GAA under 1.00. Enough to raise the eyebrows, at least.

So there's really only one thing to say about the future.

There is hope. But we need to see that development.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Men's Hockey - ECAC Quarterfinals (13/14 Mar)

The Engineers needed an outstanding effort if they were going to survive a second consecutive weekend in the North Country get to Lake Placid. They got one on Friday, but it wasn't enough to overcome a St. Lawrence team that was right back on top of their game as RPI endured a heartbreaking, literally last minute 1-0 loss. That loss that proved too difficult to bounce back from on Saturday as their season ended with a 5-1 defeat in Canton.

Game 1
Liljegren-Schroeder-Bubela
Melanson-Miller-Nanne
Neal-McGowan-Laliberte
Wood-Bourbonnais-DeVito

Leonard-Bradley
Curadi-Bell
Prapavessis-Wilson

Kasdorf

The conventional wisdom coming into the weekend had the play of Jason Kasdorf as the key for RPI - if he played up to his potential, the Engineers had a chance. On Friday night, facing off with the obvious choice for the ECAC's Ken Dryden Award given to the goaltender of the year, St. Lawrence freshman Kyle Hayton, RPI got the kind of play from Kasdorf that they needed to have that chance.

The RPI offense was grooving as well, controlling play and putting pucks on net. In fact, outside of a pair of penalty kills the Engineers needed to get through in the first 20 minutes, RPI had a pretty solid grip on possession throughout the first period. But while Kasdorf was playing well in net for RPI, so was Hayton for St. Lawrence. The freshman netminder made a number of acrobatic robberies throughout the first two periods to frustrate an Engineer attack that was otherwise functioning just as well, if not better, than it had for much of the season to that point.

No doubt, with the offense working hard, moving the puck well and taking shots, and with Kasdorf frustrating St. Lawrence's offense on the other end, RPI had the formula that they needed for victory. But Hayton's unrelenting play on the other end turned the contest into the consummate chess match as neither team wanted to be the one to blink first. In the first two periods of the game, each netminder made 21 saves on 21 shots. It was the very definition of a goaltender's duel.

Possession slowly started moving in the opposite direction midway through the second period, and where the Engineers had dominated the game early on, St. Lawrence began getting their opportunities later in the contest. But just as Hayton had generally weathered the storm well early, Kasdorf did the same for the Engineers. As time wound down, it became fairly obvious that the first goal of the game could well be the last as well, and that the tally would easily be the most momentous of the series, one on which the fortunes of both teams would rest.

RPI got their golden opportunity to be the one to score that goal with about 4:30 or so left in regulation. The Engineers, moving quickly in transition, took a shot that Hayton saved, but the rebound came free and a number of RPI players had the opportunity to pounce on it and potentially score. St. Lawrence captain Gunnar Hughes was not willing to let that happen, and he tossed the cage to stop play. That earned him a penalty for delay of game at a crucial point of the game, but the RPI power play was unable to capitalize.

As time drained away and overtime started to look inevitable, the game changed in a manner so common to hockey - a bounce. SLU's Chris Martin sent the puck weakly toward the net through traffic in an attempt to try and make something happen, and that's exactly what he got. The puck deflected off of Chris Bradley and into the back of the net with 51.5 seconds remaining in regulation, a bounce that St. Lawrence earned with strong penalty killing and the possession advantage late in the game.

The Engineers pulled Kasdorf from the net with 20 seconds left, but they were unable to get on past Hayton, who finished with 27 saves against 33 for Kasdorf.

Game 2
Liljegren-Schroeder-Bubela
Nanne-Miller-Gillespie
Neal-McGowan-Laliberte
Wood-Bourbonnais-DeVito

Leonard-Bradley
Curadi-Bell
Prapavessis-Wilson

Kasdorf

The ominous pre-game news was the loss of freshman forward Drew Melanson, the team's leading scorer, to an injury sustained the previous night. Kenny Gillespie, who had previously only seen time on the fourth line, slotted in on the right wing of Melanson's line, moving Lou Nanne to the left wing as Seth Appert sought to avoid disrupting the chemistry of the team's other three lines, which have been fairly static for the last couple of weeks.

RPI got their opportunity to put their stamp on a bounce-back effort early as SLU's Woody Hudson took a holding call 1:52, giving the Engineers a quick power play chance. That power play, however, went nowhere at all for an RPI team that would go 0-for-4 on the man advantage in Game 2 and conclude their season with just one power play goal in their final 17 games.

The Engineers certainly didn't back down after Friday night's loss. They sought to take the game to the hosts early, and for the second straight night, they peppered Kyle Hayton with shots in the first period, but once again, he was up to the task. Hayton made 16 saves in the first period alone, giving him 43 saves on 43 shots across the first four periods on the weekend. RPI was putting up a goose-egg on the scoreboard, but it wasn't for lack of trying.

Meanwhile, St. Lawrence took advantage of their opportunities in the first period, limited though they were. Another fortunate bounce for the Saints turned into the game's first goal at 5:45, and then a far more intentional redirection put SLU up 2-0 just 1:05 later, a devastating turn of events for an RPI team that had still been doing just about everything right on the weekend.

RPI finally got one past Hayton early in the second period as Mark Miller picked up his seventh goal of the year 2:02 into the middle frame to cut SLU's lead in half at 2-1. The Engineers were very much alive at that point, and they pressed looking for the equalizer. That was, however, destined to be the only puck they could get past the Saints' netminder on the weekend. Hayton made another 11 saves in the second period, and added 11 more in the third period, giving him 65 saves on 66 shots over the course of the weekend. As good as Jason Kasdorf was, Kyle Hayton was simply even better, and that was the difference.

The Saints iced the series with two more goals, one late in the second and another late in the third to make the score 4-1, then with the Engineers pulling out all stops, added an empty netter with about 15 seconds remaining to make the final scoreline 5-1. The Engineers, two steps away from Lake Placid, finished their season with a 12-26-3, but had little to be ashamed about for their final effort of the season.

Semifinal matchups
#1 Quinnipiac vs. #6 Harvard
#2 St. Lawrence vs. #4 Colgate

RPI at St. Lawrence
ECAC Quarterfinals, Game 1 - Appleton Arena (Canton, NY)
3/13/15 - 7:00pm

RESULT: St. Lawrence 1, RPI 0

RECORD: 12-25-3 (8-12-2, 18pts)

RPI at St. Lawrence
ECAC Quarterfinals, Game 2 - Appleton Arena (Canton, NY)
3/14/15 - 7:00pm

RESULT: St. Lawrence 5, RPI 1

RECORD: 12-26-3 (8-12-2, 18pts)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Thank You

It's the end of a long, difficult season, and there's only one thing left to say.

Thank you.

#3 Kathryn Schilter - Aurora, ON - Business and Management
#4 Ali Svoboda - Arlington Heights, IL - Industrial Management Engineering (undergrad and grad)
#7 Delaney Middlebrook - Minneapolis, MN - Business and Management
#8 Taylor Mahoney - Cary, IL - Business and Management
#13 Mariana Walsh - Walpole, MA - Business and Management/Economics
#30 Brianna Piper - Oakville, ON - Biomedical Engineering
#31 Kelly O'Brien - Sussex, WI - Biomedical Engineering

--

#5 Luke Curadi - Cheshire, CT - Business and Management
#9 Matt Neal - Minesing, ON - Business and Management
#10 Curtis Leonard - Napanee, ON - Business and Management
#15 Jacob Laliberte - Rockland, ON - Business and Management
#21 Mark McGowan - Toronto, ON - Business and Management (undergrad)/Management-Finance (grad)
#34 Scott Diebold - Buffalo, NY - Industrial and Management Engineering

The Final Stand

It's heartache when you fight so hard and prove pretty much all the naysayers wrong, only to find yourself on the short end of the score due to a bizarro bounce - but that's pretty much the entire story of last night's epic game for the Engineers.

There's no shame, no shame at all in what happened last night. It was a goaltender's duel that any true student of the game would adore. St. Lawrence had the lion's share of the possession in the third period, so they earned the right to be in a position to benefit from a bounce off two players and into the net.

It was a performance to be proud of, but even if RPI had been blown out of the building last night, the situation would stand the same - down 1-0, staring into the end of the season for the second time in three games. There's only one thing to do now. Throw the sweater back on and prepare for war in the trenches once again. We saw last year that the road team can win games 2 and 3. Let's make it happen for us, this time.

Since it's the weekend of St. Patrick's parades and the theme (and the weather, in Troy at least) is about right... here's a solemn battle aire for tonight - a slower tune that can still send chills and adrenaline in a way only the Irish can.

Friday, March 13, 2015

House Money?

Week two. Another trip to the North Country. Another very low margin for error. Another chance to extend the season.

There's no pressure on RPI at all other than the pressure the team has on itself to achieve as much as they possibly can. Few observers think we have a prayer. Maybe they're right. But some of those same observers were delivering obituaries for this team in January and February. Oops.

There's no team out there that's still got a season in front of them that can't string together eight wins and lift the ultimate prize. It's true for everyone from North Dakota (25-7-3) to Niagara (7-26-4, although technically it's only seven for the Purps). How likely is that? It's not likely in the slightest.

But how about something closer to home? How about just going to Lake Placid? We don't need to take eight steps this weekend. Just take two - to a place we haven't been since a few scant months after 9/11.

There's always hope, especially if this team is peaking at the right time. They could give it their all and still come out on the short end. But what if we have yet to see this team at their best this season, and we get it now? That would be something.

No fear.


Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ride or Die

I don't want to give the wrong impression from yesterday's editorial. I'm not warning Puckman Nation to moderate their feelings on the season for the better just because we just knocked off Clarkson. On the contrary - soak it in, people. Enjoy it. It's been a tough year, we've earned the right to be happy about it.

One of the things I'm proudest of in WaP's coverage of the team this season is that almost at the same time, we got a couple of pieces of opinion from people complaining about said coverage. One was an e-mail that accused us of being a "cheerleader" for the team. The other was a tweet lambasting our "negative" coverage and questioning our loyalty.

That pretty much sealed it for me right then and there - we were getting it right. When those two criticisms came down in succession, I knew that our quest to be bluntly honest was getting it absolutely right.

Let there be no confusion at all. We're fans. All of us here are RPI fans - through thick and thin.

My favorite tweet of the year, I wrote the morning after the Freakout! was over. The weekend after the gut punch that was getting swept by Brown on the season and having Yale suck the energy out of a packed house early.
The frustration was destined to mount just a little bit more as the winless streak extended a further three games, but there we were throughout, hoping for the best, even as we criticized uneven play. That's all we've ever wanted to do here. We didn't want to be cheerleaders. We didn't want to be strictly dour, either.

And here we stand - on the other side of a season that at times was a long slog, on the precipice of a series no one thinks we're going to win.

That's why I want to take this opportunity to go out on a limb here.

We're going to go back to Lake Placid. If it's not next week, it's going to be soon, and we're going to win it all there.

We're going back to the NCAA Tournament. Probably not this year. But eventually.

That third national championship? It's coming someday.

I don't have any proof. I can point to Union winning it last year as proof that we (that is, anyone) can win it all, but it doesn't mean we're going to.

So how do I know? Because I'm a fan. I believe. Do you? If the answer's no... why are you a fan? What are you hoping for?

I've been blessed to be a part of this family called RPI Hockey for basically my entire life. I was too young to remember the '85 championship, but I remember the '95 title well. We have high expectations on our team because we know where they've been and what they're capable of.

Never forget that the team places high expectations on itself, and that every player in that locker room has the same hopes and dreams that their fans do. They want it even more, trust me.