Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Alaska Anchorage

For the second time in Seth Appert's tenure at RPI - and the third time in 11 seasons - the Engineers take a long October road trip to the Last Frontier for an early season trip to one of the two Alaska fixed-schedule tournaments that open the season on top of the world. On back-to-back nights, RPI will do battle against the two Alaskan teams entering their third season as WCHA league-mates. The first night, the Engineers do battle against the more southern of the two teams by taking on Anchorage, a squad they've only seen sparingly since the Seawolves took on RPI in their first ever game on the east coast.

Alaska Anchorage

Nickname: Seawolves
Location: Anchorage, AK
Founded: 1954
Conference: WCHA
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 1992
Last Frozen Four: None
Coach: Matt Thomas (3rd season)
2014-15 Record: 8-22-4 (5-21-2 WCHA, 10th place)
Series: UAA leads, 2-1-0
First Game: November 23, 1981 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: November 23, 1981 (Troy, NY)
Last UAA win: October 16, 2009 (Fairbanks, AK)

2015-16 game: October 16, 2015 (Fairbanks, AK)

Key players: D Blake Leask, sr.; D Austin Sevalrud, sr.; F Blake Tatchell, sr.; D Chris Williams, sr.; F Brad Duwe, jr.; F Hudson Friesen, jr.; F Dylan Hubbs, jr.; D Chase Van Allen, jr.; F Matt Anholt, so.; F Austin Azurdia, so.; D Jarrett Brown, so.; F Anthony Conti, so.; F Tad Kozun, so.; G Olivier Mantha, so.; F Jeremiah Luedtke, fr.; F Jonah Renouf, fr.; F Nathan Renouf, fr.

Hockey at Anchorage got its start in 1979 under the guidance of Kelvin "Brush" Christiansen, who not only spurred the creation of a varsity program but would also serve as the team's head coach for its first 17 seasons, seeing the program through its birth through rocks and shoals and to its highest peaks thus far.

During their first season, the Seawolves participated in the Anchorage Senior League, playing only eight games against NCAA competition - all against the school's rivals from Fairbanks. UAA went 8-0 against the Nanooks in their opening year, for an officially undefeated NCAA record in 1980. The following year, playing a more full Division II schedule, UAA fell to Army in Anchorage to open the season, with the Cadets being the first non-Alaskan opponent to take on the Seawolves. Midway through the 1980-81 season, UAA ventured outside of Alaska for the first time for a six-game road trip to take on Division III programs in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

UAA's first ever trek to the east coast of the continental US took place in November 1981, starting with a game at Houston Field House against the Engineers ending in a 6-4 win for the home team. That trip was mostly against established Division I programs, and while the Division II Seawolves played well, they ultimately left empty-handed. But early in the program's development, Anchorage gained a well-earned reputation as a quality Division II side.

Division II, however, suffered from a lack of numbers. The defections of UMass-Lowell and Merrimack to Division I when Hockey East was formed helped precipitate an end to the D-II national championship, a serious blow to a UAA program that had managed a winning record in each of its first five seasons. But rather than move to a Division III schedule as many other D-II teams chose, Christiansen instead took the bold step of moving the Seawolves to Division I - a dicey prospect given the travel necessities from Alaska to the lower 48, and especially without a natural conference for UAA to join.

Christiansen led the way in creating an experiment of sorts - the Great West Hockey Conference. Banding together with three other formerly D-II teams from the far west (Alaska-Fairbanks, Northern Arizona, and U.S. International from San Diego), UAA sought to keep travel costs low by helping to grow the sport's western outposts.

Unfortunately, the Great West didn't last terribly long. Northern Arizona dropped its varsity program after the league's first year, and U.S. International dropped its team two years later. Meanwhile, the expansion of college hockey along the west coast never materialized. A two-team league being unfeasible, the two Alaska schools returned to the ranks of the independents.

But while the program was looking for a new home, it began to reach new heights even as the travel costs began to mount. With the NCAA tournament recently expanded to 12 teams in 1988, an at-large bid was earmarked for independent teams, and the Seawolves managed to cobble together a full enough and successful enough schedule to qualify with an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament in the 1990, 1991, and 1992 seasons. In 1990, UAA was blown away in two games by Lake Superior State, but the 1991 tournament brought the Seawolves to arguably their highest point as a varsity program.

Just over a decade after beginning play, Anchorage traveled to Boston College as huge underdogs against the Eagles. In a two-game, total goals series, the Seawolves managed not just one win, but two, taking down BC 3-2 and 3-1 to advance to the quarterfinal round, one step from the Frozen Four. They fell 8-5 and 5-3 to the eventual national champions from Northern Michigan, but UAA had put its stamp on the Division I map.

The following year, UAA again fell to the eventual national champions, this time dropping a single-elimination game against Lake Superior State, 7-3. Their "in" to the tournament was abolished the following season, giving greater urgency for the Seawolves to find a conference to play in. After one more year as an independent, UAA was invited to join the WCHA, giving the program some much needed schedule stability but requiring an increase in the number of trips between Alaska and the lower 48.

Having established the program he started in one of the nation's top conferences, Christiansen retired in 1996, three years into UAA's tenure in the WCHA. Under his guidance, the team had only five losing seasons - three of which were his WCHA years. But under his successors, the Seawolves would struggle to find any footing at all within the conference - a catch-22 of having the league as a safety latch for the program, but the super-competitive nature of the league making it difficult for UAA to find success.

Christiansen's successor, Dean Talafous, managed to crack 10 wins only twice in five years. John Hill then did this twice in three years, but those seasons bookmarked a horrible 2002-03 campaign in which UAA managed just a single, solitary win through an entire season, that one win coming in the very first game of the season against Fairbanks. The record winless streak to end the season was a mind numbing 35 consecutive games.

The following year, UAA made a playoff breakthrough by upsetting Wisconsin in the first round of the WCHA playoffs, then taking down Colorado College in the play-in game of the WCHA Final Five. Hill then left to return to an assistant's role at Minnesota, and Dave Shyiak took the helm. The same usual script continued: a bottom-of-the-barrel finish, a first-round matchup on the road, an early exit. Other than a historic two-game upset sweep at Minnesota in 2011 which sent UAA to the Final Five for a second time, that script followed exactly the same throughout Shyiak's tenure through 2013.

The reasoning was fairly simple. UAA was a minnow in a league of sharks, at a serious disadvantage in recruiting given the distance of the school from the core of the league in Minnesota and Colorado. In each of its 19 seasons in the WCHA, the Seawolves had finished with a losing record, only once coming as close as two wins under .500. But as Shyiak departed in 2013, that metric began to shake a bit. As the college hockey landscape shifted with the advent of the Big Ten and the NCHC, the sharks of the WCHA mostly swam off for those conferences, leaving a playing field that UAA could better handle.

2013-14 was a landmark season for UAA's post-independent existence. With Matt Thomas now coaching, the Seawolves finished with a winning record for the first time since 1993, and although they still had to travel on the road for the first round of the playoffs, they at least played their first ever playoff series in Alaska by taking on arch-rivals Fairbanks, one of the new arrivals in the WCHA following the shakeup. They won that series in three games, then took Ferris State to overtime in the WCHA semifinals - literally a goal away from playing for an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Last year, however, the Seawolves backslid a bit. For the third time in four seasons, and the 10th time since joining the WCHA, UAA finished a season with fewer than 10 wins. The new WCHA may prove to give Anchorage more than a fighting chance eventually, but it's clear the program still has obstacles to overcome.

Two current members of the Washington Capitals, Curtis Glencross and Jay Beagle, played their collegiate hockey at UAA, but neither stuck around very long, both leaving after their sophomore seaasons. Among UAA alums who had more than just a cup of coffee in the NHL, none stayed for four years.

As bad as they were last season, UAA was still arguably better than RPI when one looks at the raw numbers. The Seawolves outpaced the Engineers in goals per game and had better defense and special teams. Tatchell paced Anchorage in scoring with seven goals and 15 assists, while Azurdia tied for the lead in goals with eight.

Among the more interesting additions to the UAA roster this year are the Renouf twins, Jonah and Nathan. The Ontario natives enrolled at Quinnipiac last season (where they love twins - see also the Jones twins), but for some reason never saw action in a game and transferred to Alaska-Anchorage. We'll have to see if there was a good reason Rand Pecknold never had them in a game, but they appeared ready to be solid contributors at the Q heading into last season, so if that potential blossoms in Anchorage instead, they could be big additions for the Seawolves.

The ice in Fairbanks is Olympic-sized, as it is in Anchorage. That's not a killer - RPI won a game they played on Olympic ice last year in New Hampshire - but it's an advantage for UAA. They are the nominal home team, although Fairbanks partisans who come out for the game may find a sudden affinity for the Engineers they never knew they had thanks to the bitter rivalry they share with Anchorage. RPI is likely to be improved from last year. If UAA can claim the same thing it should make for a great game, all things considered. As we'll surely mention throughout this series, having a netminder who has a proven ability to steal a game is a benefit the Engineers enjoy, but don't be surprised to see this as a spot where Alec Dillon may make his RPI debut as well.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Know Your Enemy: Boston College

October is going to be an exciting time in Troy. Not only is a new season getting underway, but the Engineers will be welcoming a pair of the biggest heavy hitters that college hockey has in its ranks to the Field House for the first time in decades. The first of those teams will be kicking off RPI's NCAA home schedule, a team that only perhaps a bitter BU partisan would deny was the team of the decade in the first 10 years of the 2000s, and has easily been the most successful program of the 21st Century thus far with four national championships since the dawn of the millennium. Break out the fine china - hopefully they won't smash it to pieces.

Boston College
Nickname: Eagles
Location: Chestnut Hill, MA
Founded: 1863
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 5 (1949, 2001, 2008, 2010, 2012)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2015
Last Frozen Four: 2014
Coach: Jerry York (22nd year)
2014-15 Record: 21-14-3 (12-7-3 Hockey East, 2nd place)
Series: BC leads, 20-14-1
First Game: December 18, 1954 (Boston, MA)
Last RPI win: January 2, 1995 (Troy, NY)
Last BC win: October 13, 2013 (Chestnut Hill, MA)

2015-16 game: October 11, 2015 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Teddy Doherty, sr.; F Austin Cangelosi, jr.; F Chris Calnan, jr.; G Thatcher Demko, jr.; F Ryan Fitzgerald, jr.; F Adam Gilmour, jr.; D Ian McCoshen, jr.; D Steve Santini, jr.; D Scott Savage, jr.; D Noah Hanifin, so.; F Zach Sanford, so.; F Alex Tuch, so.; F Jeremy Bracco, fr.; F Joey Dudek, fr.; F Colin White, fr.; F Miles Wood, fr.

Previous KYE installment:
Boston College was probably peeking from behind covered eyes when the NCAA tournament field was laid out in March, checking to see if Union was on the other side. The Dutchmen ended the Eagles' seasons in 2013 and 2014, but even though Union wasn't in the national tournament, the Eagles still couldn't manage to get past Denver in the Providence regional. That ended a year in which BC failed to win either the Hockey East regular season or the league tournament for only the third time in nine seasons.

BC was a strikingly young team last year. None of its top 10 scorers were seniors, and the starting goaltender was a sophomore. Such is the level of talent that BC attracts that the Eagles were still able to muster a second place finish in Hockey East and an NCAA tournament berth. It was a much more balanced attack than BC got from it's 2013-14 team, which featured Hobey Baker winner (and this year Calder Trophy finalist) Johnny Gaudreau scoring 80 points and his linemates, Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold, amassing 65 and 53 points respectively. Last season, freshman Tuch and sophomore Gilmour paced the program with just 28 and 27 points each.

As usual, Boston College will boast a variety of outstanding pro-bound talents throughout its ranks. Nine NHL draftees return from last year's team. Wood (a former Brown commit) and Dudek arrive having already been drafted in the 2014 Entry Draft. White and Bracco should both be taken in the first two rounds of this year's draft. Then there's Hanifin, who most observers call the best player in the draft outside of the highly touted top duo of Connor McDavid and BU's Jack Eichel. It'll be somewhat shocking if he isn't taken by Arizona with the 3rd pick in the draft, and he's a question mark to return for his sophomore year. If he does return, he simply makes an already dangerous BC team even more deadly.

Demko, who earned his first collegiate win in a 7-2 home rout over RPI two seasons ago, anchors the defense. His numbers didn't exactly make him a candidate to be one of the best goaltenders in the nation, but they certainly placed him among the very best in Hockey East, and sometimes that's really all that matters - being better than the contemporaries in your conference.

BC last season wasn't a team that did anything excessively well, but they didn't do anything badly, either. In the big four categories (offense, defense, power play, and penalty kill), the Eagles ranged from 14th (penalty kill) to 35th (power play) in the nation. Typically, the nation's very best teams will be in the Top 10 in one or more of those categories. But when the worst part about your team is somewhat close to the national median, you're still doing pretty well - especially when you're as young as BC was last season.

York is entering his 44th consecutive season as a Division I head coach, 26 wins away from becoming the first coach in college hockey history to earn 1,000 wins. Putting that in perspective, RPI, since the modern era of the program began in 1950, has 999 wins, or just 25 more than York has behind the benches at Clarkson, Bowling Green, and Boston College.

Only twice in the last 18 seasons has Boston College failed to win 20 games, those were also the only seasons the Eagles have missed the NCAA tournament in that stretch (2002, 2009). BC and York together has simply been a winning combination and that will not end until York retires - and who knows when that could be. This will be BC's first trip to Houston Field House in 20 years, since just after York took over the program. That game coincidentally ended 7-2 as well, but in favor of the soon-to-be ECAC champions against a BC team still regularly finishing in the doldrums of Hockey East. The dynamics will be far different this time.

With or without Hanifin, the Engineers will be facing a difficult order. Home ice may well be the only advantage they'll have in this game, the second in a row against a tough Hockey East opponent.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Your 2015-16 RPI Engineers

Hot on the heels of a later than usual schedule release comes an earlier than usual incoming freshman release from RPI. We were closer this year than in most recent years to figuring out exactly who was coming in and who was not - ultimately, only Carlos Fornaris and Charlie Manley were among the potential recruits for this season whose arrival will be delayed until 2016.

With that in mind, here's the early look at how the transition from last season into next is looking now that we know who's comprising the roster.

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

The Engineers get some much needed depth up front by replacing three graduating seniors with five incoming freshmen. The extent that defensemen were being forced to play forward last year was pretty rough with only two reserve forwards when the team was healthy, which was basically never last year.

All but two of the returning Engineers played regular roles on the offense last season - Gillespie got plenty of playing time late in the season due to injuries, while Fulton, who has played a spark-plug role since his arrival, suffered a season-ending injury midway through the year. Even among those who were dressed when healthy, Bubela, Melanson, Nanne, and Schroeder all missed significant amounts of time.

Clary should fit a physical role that DeVito and Wood specialize in and also the energy role we've seen from Fulton. He provides good coverage in those often less appreciated areas of the game. Öhrvall, Tironese, and Wiffen project as goal-scorers, while Rodriguez should be an outstanding playmaker. Those four will likely find it hard to all be dressed together, but expect at least Tironese (assuming he's ready to go injury-wise, since he's coming off a season-ending shoulder injury) and Öhrvall to find regular niches in the lineup, while Wiffen and Rodriguez are also likely to be dressed more often than not, depending on the situation.

Ultimately, this is a group that simply has to be improving on its 1.88 goals per game average from last year, and there's going to be a healthy amount of competition for ice time with the added depth. Even for players who were among the top forwards on last year's team, anyone not pulling their weight could well find themselves in a suit and tie on game night.

Defensemen
Gone: Luke Curadi, Curtis Leonard.
Returning: Bradley Bell, Craig Bokenfohr, Chris Bradley, Phil Hampton, Mike Prapavessis, Parker Reno, Jared Wilson.
Arriving: Tommy Grant, Meirs Moore.

The blue line was about to get considerably smaller, before Grant's commitment late last month, as Moore and Charlie Manley both stand quite a bit shorter than the men they would have replaced together in the rear echelon. Instead, it only gets a little bit shorter (Grant stands 6'3") and it gets a little more offensive-minded with the addition of Moore, and that's certainly the direction the Engineers seem to be moving in.

Assessing the defense is a touch easier than assessing the offense if only because there are fewer defensemen than there are forwards. Three of the six spots are basically filled already on a healthy team: Bradley, Prapavessis, and Wilson are guys who are going to dress when they're healthy and available no matter what. We saw that last year with them already, and those three guys are definitely the core of the defense this coming season. A fourth spot is all but a lock for Bell, who fought injuries last season but came on strong in regular play late in the year and into the playoffs.

That leaves five players competing for the remaining two spots, and we can probably count on one of them becoming a regular. Bokenfohr and Hampton will be seniors, but have basically spent their first three years making spot appearances. Bokenfohr tends to run hot and cold (rarely in-between) and can be semi-regular when he's playing well. Hampton does well when he's called upon to fill in but he hasn't really approached a potential regular starting role the way Bokenfohr sometimes has.

Grant, Moore, and Reno remain as options, and as an upperclassman, you'd have to think Reno's got the inside edge. The junior-to-be out of Edina, MN has played 38 games in two years, which is a little under 50% of the total games the Engineers have played in that stretch (that's 11 more than Hampton and five less than Bokenfohr, who have accrued their totals in three years).

Best guess is that the order of likelihood for that fifth regular spot is going to be Reno, Bokenfohr, Moore, and Grant, with Hampton very likely to remain a capable reserve. Expect the two freshmen, however, to get a decent amount of playing time in that sixth spot if they aren't regularly starting.

Goaltenders
Gone: Scott Diebold, Jake Soffer.
Returning: Sam Goodman, Jason Kasdorf.
Arriving: Alec Dillon.

As always, goaltending is the most straightforward of the positions, but it gets a little murky this season with an unusual couple of occurrences and a medical redshirt involved.

Goodman became a de facto part of the varsity squad during the 2013-14 season when the former club netminder stood in as the practice goalie following Kasdorf's season-crushing shoulder injury in October 2013, and he became a full member at the beginning of last season. That led into the departure of sophomore Soffer, who decided to forgo two and a half seasons of eligibility to go pro - in the business world.

Add in the graduation of Diebold, and you've got two departing and two returning goaltenders, with one position open. Goodman, as far as we know, is firmly a practice and emergency goaltender, and Kasdorf, of course, is the rock upon which RPI will build its hardware dreams in 2015-16. That leaves open the #2 position, and in this case, it's more of an understudy than a backup.

That's the term we have long been using to describe Dillon's upcoming freshman season at RPI, and it rings true because he's preparing to become the top guy once Kasdorf moves on for Buffalo (which is almost certainly going to happen after next season, despite the academic senior's remaining redshirt year). He's practically ready for a full-time gig in the NCAA right away. After all, he did lead the USHL in goals against average last season. But he'll be able to be gradually introduced this way rather than being tossed onto the fire - and he makes for excellent insurance against another potentially devastating injury to Kasdorf, who has yet to stay healthy for an entire season in Troy in three tries.

Appert said in the press release announcing the incoming class that the Kasdorf-Dillon tandem "should" be the best duo in the nation between the pipes. That's entirely possible.

Overall outlook

Hard not to see a team that should be at least somewhat improved over last season on both ends of the ice. Most of RPI's best offensive talent is young - freshmen and sophomores - but the added depth and hopefully a good offseason of development for the rising sophomores should add a bit more kick to the attack in the coming year. The defense has shown potential to be stingier than they were last season, and all fingers are crossed that Kasdorf is able to get through the season without injury. That by itself will go a long way toward making the Engineers competitive again within the ECAC.

2016-17
Out: Bubela, Fulton, Miller, Schroeder, Bokenfohr, Bradley, Hampton, Goodman, Kasdorf(?)
In: Todd Burgess, Carlos Fornaris, Jacob Hayhurst, Emil Öhrvall(?), Austin Cho, Charlie Manley.

The Engineers are about where we'd like them to be about a year out from the expected announcement of the Class of 2020. Cho is a solid bet to get drafted in the NHL Entry Draft next month, he projects as a replacement on the blue line for Bradley. Charlie Manley's arrival has been pushed back twice now, we will be watching to see if he can find himself a job in the USHL, hopefully the third time is the charm. If the younger Öhrvall brother is coming in 2016, we can probably close the book on forwards for this class, but don't be surprised to see him come in 2017 instead, in which case, we're looking for one more forward. Diebold's functional replacement will likely need to be coming to RPI in this class, and that's a name we're hoping to see in the next few months.

By the way, an interesting little side note on Manley - with his arrival now pushed to 2016, he's now slated to replace either Bokenfohr or Hampton, both graduating, on the roster. Manley committed to RPI in December of 2011, Bokenfohr in February 2012, and Hampton in May 2012.

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

Not a bad start for what should be a smaller than average Class of 2021, especially if this is the class Emil Öhrvall is targeted for. As mentioned above, a goaltender isn't likely a strong necessity here, so after a couple more forwards this class should be in the books. Don't be shocked if we find the first member of the Class of 2022 before the end of this calendar year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Know Your Enemy: UMass-Lowell

It's a belated start this year for WaP's annual Know Your Enemy feature, a function of the relatively late release of the RPI schedule (May 14 this year, which is after KYE usually gets underway), so we're going to play a little catch up to ensure that the series concludes right on time as the season gets going. Typically, we will have a new entry every Wednesday, but we're starting off the first couple of weeks doing two a week (like two-a-days, only less stressful). This is the first of 23 entries for this offseason.

Since last we left UML - preparing to head into Norm Bazin's first year as coach - much has changed. The Engineers' first NCAA opponent next season will be a program that has undergone a renaissance of sorts, quickly rising from the bowels of Hockey East to being in regular contention at the top of the conference. It's kinda like Union with fewer years of awfulness before the rise to the top.

UMass-Lowell
Nickname: River Hawks
Location: Lowell, MA
Founded: 1894
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 3 (1979, 1981, 1982 - all Division II)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2014
Last Frozen Four: 2013
Coach: Norm Bazin (5th season)
2014-15 Record: 21-12-6 (11-7-4 HEA, 4th place)
Series: UML leads, 11-10-1
First Game: December 30, 1982 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: December 16, 2006 (Troy, NY)
Last UML win: December 29, 2011 (Storrs, CT)

2015-16 game: October 9, 2015 (Lowell, MA)

Key players: G Kevin Boyle, sr.; F Adam Chapie, sr.; F Michael Colantone, sr.; F Michael Fallon, sr.; F A.J. White, sr.; F Evan Campbell, jr.; F Joe Gambardella, jr.; D Michael Kapla, jr.; D Dylan Zink, jr.; D Chris Forney, so.; D Tyler Mueller, so.; F C.J. Smith, so.; F Ryan Dmowski, fr.; D Niklas Folin, fr.; D Mattias Goransson, fr.; F Guillaume Leclerc, fr.

Previous KYE installment:
Sometimes, a program gets a new coach and that coach instantly turns things around with the talent he inherits. Such was the case in Lowell, as Bazin took the reins from Blaise MacDonald before the 2011-12 season, and instantly made the River Hawks more than just contenders. He guided the program back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 16 years, just a year out from a season that ended with a whopping five wins.

UML has been nothing but successful under Bazin, who was the Spencer Penrose Award winner for national coach of the year in 2013 as he guided the River Hawks to their first Division I Frozen Four in just his second year at the helm - they were defeated by eventual national champions Yale in Pittsburgh. Lowell advanced to the NCAA tournament in each of Bazin's first three years, winning Hockey East hardware for the first time in 2013 by sweeping the regular season and tournament crowns, then following up in 2014 with a second consecutive Hockey East tournament championship.

Even this past season has to be considered something of a success, as the River Hawks completed their fourth consecutive 20-win season, something they haven't done since their days as a Division II powerhouse in the early 1980s. It was successful enough that UML just barely missed out on a fourth straight national tournament bid, which led to a confused columnist in the Lowell Sun penning a hilariously awful screed blasting the Pairwise Rankings up and down which embarrassed most real Lowell fans in its shortsightedness. But that crazy column did at least make the valid point that the River Hawks remain one of the best teams in the country.

When Connor Hellebuyck, arguably the top goaltender in the country during his freshman and sophomore years, signed a pro contract at the beginning of last season, some expected UML to come back down to earth, but with junior transfer Boyle between the pipes (coming in, oddly enough, from UML's rivals at UMass-Amherst), the River Hawks remained more than competitive. His numbers were not as astronomically high as Hellebuyck's had been, but they were more than good enough. Meanwhile, a relatively young team was paced by its freshmen and sophomores, as five of the team's top six scorers were from those sets of underclassmen, with the sixth being a junior (Chapie). Smith, in his freshman campaign, led the team in scoring with 16 goals and 19 assists.

All told, Lowell brings back 11 of their top 12 scorers from last season's team, which was 7th in the nation offensively. The defense, as mentioned, wasn't quite as strong as it had been in the previous two seasons with Hellebuyck as the anchor, but the offense was, with some frequency, good enough to bail out and defensive issues.

Bazin produced winners even when he was still largely coaching MacDonald's team. Now in year five, this is entirely his team and he has UML poised to be competitive in a very difficult conference for the foreseeable future. It's not a team brimming with gobs of individual talent like some other Hockey East programs do, but they function as the best teams always function - as more than the sum of its parts.

That makes for a difficult first outing for the Engineers, who will need to find the equalizer in Jason Kasdorf, a goaltender who was frequently compared to Hellebuyck earlier in his career because they both carried their team high and far in 2013 as freshmen who were both (at the time) Winnipeg Jets property with among the top numbers nationally among goaltenders. Lowell's defense isn't impenetrable, which means that an Engineer team that struggled to hit the net at times last year has to take advantage of opportunities as they arise in order to be successful - because even if Kasdorf plays well, it'll be for naught if they can't take advantage on the opposite end.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Official 2015-16 Women's Hockey Schedule

Hot on the heels of the men's schedule coming out, we now have the women's schedule to look at as well. Here it is.

Friday games are at 7pm, Saturday games at 4pm unless otherwise noted.

Saturday, 26 September - UNIVERSITY OF QUEBEC-MONTREAL (UQAM) (Exhibition)

Friday, 02 October - NORTH DAKOTA
Saturday, 03 October - NORTH DAKOTA, 3pm
Friday, 09 October - at RIT
Saturday, 10 October - at RIT
Friday, 16 October - ROBERT MORRIS
Saturday, 17 October - ROBERT MORRIS
Friday, 30 October - at Cornell
Saturday, 31 October - at Colgate

Friday, 06 November - ST. LAWRENCE
Saturday, 07 November - CLARKSON
Friday, 13 November - at Dartmouth
Saturday, 14 November - at Harvard
Sunday, 22 November - at McGill, 2pm (Exhibition)
Friday, 27 November - NEW HAMPSHIRE
Saturday, 28 November - NEW HAMPSHIRE

Friday, 04 December - YALE, 3pm
Saturday, 05 December - BROWN, 3pm

Saturday, 02 January - at Mercyhurst, 3pm
Sunday, 03 January - at Mercyhurst, 3pm
Friday, 08 January - QUINNIPIAC
Saturday, 09 January - PRINCETON
Friday, 15 January - UNION, 3pm
Saturday, 16 January - at Union, 3pm
Friday, 22 January - at Brown
Saturday, 23 January - at Yale
Friday, 29 January - COLGATE
Saturday, 30 January - CORNELL

Friday, 05 February - at St. Lawrence
Saturday, 06 February - at Clarkson
Friday, 12 February - HARVARD
Saturday, 13 February - DARTMOUTH (Senior Day)
Friday, 19 February - at Princeton
Saturday, 20 February - at Quinnipiac
Fri-Sun, 26-28 February - ECAC Quarterfinals (at higher seeds)

Saturday, 05 March - ECAC Semifinals (at highest remaining seed)
Sunday, 06 March - ECAC Championship (at highest semifinal seed)
Saturday, 12 March - NCAA Quarterfinals (at seeded teams)
Friday, 18 March - NCAA Frozen Four (Durham, NH)
Sunday, 20 March - NCAA Championship (Durham, NH)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Official 2015-16 Men's Hockey Schedule

A bit delayed from recent seasons, but the official RPI schedule for the upcoming year is now out.

Notably: no BU, but BC and Michigan both coming to Troy for the first time in a long time. Engineers to compete in a pair of in-season tournaments, including one at Notre Dame for the second straight season.

Mark your calendars.

Saturday, 03 October - ST. THOMAS (N.B.) (Exhibition)
Friday, 09 October - at UMass-Lowell
Sunday, 11 October - BOSTON COLLEGE
Friday, 16 October - vs. Alaska-Anchorage (Brice Alaska Goal Rush, Fairbanks, AK)
Saturday, 17 October - at Alaska (Brice Alaska Goal Rush)
Saturday, 24 October - MICHIGAN
Friday, 30 October - at Union
Saturday, 31 October - UNION (Black Saturday)

Friday, 06 November - at St. Lawrence
Saturday, 07 November - at Clarkson
Friday, 13 November - YALE
Saturday, 14 November - BROWN
Friday, 20 November - at Bentley
Tuesday, 24 November - NEW HAMPSHIRE
Friday, 27 November - vs. Western Michigan (Shillelagh Tournament, South Bend, IN)
Saturday, 28 November - vs. Harvard/at Notre Dame (Shillelagh Tournament - South Bend, IN)

Friday, 04 December - DARTMOUTH
Saturday, 05 December - HARVARD
Friday, 11 December - ARIZONA STATE
Saturday, 12 December - ARIZONA STATE

Saturday, 02 January - at Miami
Sunday, 03 January - at Miami
Friday, 08 January - at Princeton
Saturday, 09 January - at Quinnipiac
Friday, 15 January - CORNELL
Saturday, 16 January - COLGATE
Saturday, 23 January - vs. Union (Albany, NY)
Friday, 29 January - at Brown
Saturday, 30 January - at Yale

Friday, 05 February - ST. LAWRENCE
Saturday, 06 February - CLARKSON (Big Red Freakout!)
Friday, 12 February - at Harvard
Saturday, 13 February - at Dartmouth
Friday, 19 February - QUINNIPIAC
Saturday, 20 February - PRINCETON (Senior Night)
Friday, 26 February - at Colgate
Saturday, 27 February - at Cornell

Fri-Sun, 4-6 March - ECAC First Round (at higher seeds)
Fri-Sun, 11-13 March - ECAC Quarterfinals (at higher seeds)
Friday, 18 March - ECAC Semifinals (Lake Placid, NY)
Saturday, 19 March - ECAC Championship (Lake Placid, NY)
Fri-Sun, 25-27 March - NCAA Regionals (Albany, NY; Worcester, MA; Cincinnati, OH; St. Paul, MN)

Thursday, 07 April - NCAA Frozen Four (Tampa, FL)
Saturday, 09 April - NCAA Championship (Tampa, FL)

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.