Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Looking Ahead - The Next Crew

There's been no official release on the recruits for next season yet - RPI doesn't use letters of intent, and coaches aren't allowed to speak about recruits who haven't signed one - but the Internet has a great way of letting us know who's made a verbal commitment to the Engineers.

Over the past few season, we've gotten used to seeing blue-chip prospects. Bryan Brutlag had us buzzing as part of Appert's first full recruiting class, but Tyler Helfrich, Jeff Foss, and Chase Polacek soon got us talking just as much. Allen York was the big fish of Appert's second class, and while it took a bit of time for us to see him mature into the top man in net, we're certainly seeing great things from him now, not to mention the big things we're seeing from classmate Mike Bergin. Then this year's class hit with an absolute bevy of talent.

Next year's class? Dare I say it - blue-chippers abound.

So without further ado, here's a quick look at who's coming up through the pipeline in the next couple of seasons that we're aware of. Special thanks to RPI TV for providing the graphics. All statistics are as of January 13.

Laliberté is not only the longest awaited of the current recruits - he committed to RPI before Josh Rabbani, who's now in his sophomore year - he's also easily the most anticipated. Take in those numbers for a moment. Yeah, he's been averaging over two points per game and well over a goal per game. Laliberté's running roughshod over the CJHL as the captain of the Cornwall Colts. Those numbers, quite frankly, are ridiculous.

He has prior experience with some current Engineers, having competed with Brandon Pirri and Marty O'Grady on Team Canada East in the 2008 World Junior 'A' Challenge, a team to which he returned in 2009 as the team captain. He was considered a potential late-round draft pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, but was not selected - he will be eligible again in 2010.

Committing to RPI back in February of 2008, at the time it was anticipated that Laliberté would be on campus in time for the 2009-10 season, but either Seth Appert or Laliberté himself chose to defer his arrival in Troy until Fall 2010 - imagine this year's team with another guy capable of posting numbers like those. He's quite obviously got some solid talent, but there's been quite a bit of uneasiness since it became official that he would not be with the Engineers this season. Last summer, Gatineau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League made a move to sign Laliberté, which would have made him ineligible to play in the NCAA, but he spurned the Olympiques' advances to stay with Cornwall.

Since then, all eyes have been on Laliberté as he has obviously continued to draw attention from the major junior ranks. His coach insists that Jacob will not be going to major junior this season, but rumor has it that Laliberté's "family advisor" (read: unpaid agent who gets his back pay when Laliberté signs his first pro contract - most top players have them) is trying to nudge him to major junior next season. There was similar concern with Brandon Pirri and Jerry D'Amigo last year, but obviously that turned out OK - not to mention that in those cases, both players repeatedly made comments in the media about how excited they were to be coming to Troy. With Laliberté, those comments haven't necessarily been as front and center, leading to worry that he won't show next year.

We'll see what happens. Obviously, the ball is in Laliberté's court, and just as obviously, we hope he chooses the world class education at RPI. Next year's team will be outright dangerous when he arrives.

The name Tinordi should sound familiar to hockey fans - Matt is the son of 12-year NHL veteran defenseman Mark Tinordi.

The area in and around Washington is becoming the latest non-traditional hockey locale to start generating some homegrown talent (following Southern California and the Dallas area in recent memory). Sophomore Patrick Cullen, for instance, hails from Washington itself.

When Matt first committed in March 2008, it was thought that Appert may have pursued him partially in pursuit of his younger brother, Jarred, along the same lines as Dan Fridgen's recruitment of Bryan Tapper and Eric Cavosie partially in hopes of luring their younger brothers - Brad Tapper and Marc Cavosie - to the program. Jarred, a defenseman who's currently with the US National Development Program team (the squad Jerry D'Amigo played for last season), eventually committed to Notre Dame last February, but Matt is hardly just a consolation prize.

Like Laliberté, Tinordi was initially expected to arrive in Troy this season, but will instead turn out in the Fall of 2010. This season, he's with the Olds Grizzlys of the AJHL, where he's currently fourth on the team in scoring. He'll be just short of his 21st birthday when the puck drops to start next season, so hopefully he'll be arriving with a little more seasoning than most freshmen. He's not on the level of the current top players like Polacek, Pirri, and D'Amigo, but Tinordi should see a good amount ice time given his size and ability, similar to Justin Smith and Garett Vassel this season.

Bailen's an exciting prospect for a very good reason - he's already proven he's got the chops to survive as a standout defenseman in the NCAA. How? Because he's already played in the NCAA. Bailen was described as one of the best players at Bowling Green last season.

Bailen's a tough guy. But don't take my word for it. Here's a quick clip of Bailen in action with the Indiana Ice in April 2008, just before he arrived at Bowling Green. He's #29 in light blue.

Supposedly, Bailen lost a tooth in that little affair.

Bailen was the youngest player in the USHL (just short of his 16th birthday) when he committed to Bowling Green in November 2005. He turned 20 last month. He put up 6 goals and 10 assists last year for the Falcons, being described as "one of BG's best defensemen." After BGSU raised the spectre of the program being eliminated, Bailen opted to leave the school in April, returning to the USHL's Indiana Ice, where he is currently in his fourth season with the team and is considered one of the best players in that franchise's history. In August, he committed to RPI. Like all transfers, he is required to sit out a year before playing for a new school in Division I, he will be a 20-year-old sophomore next season (the RPI TV graphic got this wrong).

Defense is definitely an area which needs to be addressed before the upcoming season, with Peter Merth, Erik Burgdoerfer, and Christian Jensen graduating, but with Bailen, and more as you'll see, capable replacements are on the way.

The name and the face both look familiar for a reason - Greg is Erik's identical twin brother.

Those zeroes seem awfully striking. But there's an easy explanation. Burgdoerfer's already in Troy, enrolled in classes, and practicing with the team. Like Bailen, he's sitting out his transfer season. He'll be a junior academically next year, but a sophomore in terms of eligibility (much the same as Mike Bergin).

Greg appeared in 30 games for Air Force last season as a freshman (but neither of their two NCAA tournament games), tallying 3 goals and 3 assists. Like his brother, he's tough - he racked up 35 penalty minutes as a Falcon.

It's hard to know exactly what to expect from Burgdoerfer next season. His numbers at Air Force weren't overwhelming. Graduating senior forwards - Kerins and Vassel - are more than made up for with Laliberté and Tinordi, and as we're seeing this season, there are plenty of talented forwards who will be back next season. Some have suggested that he might move to the blue line to replace his brother, but there's nothing tangible to suggest that this will be the case. It could be that the 21-year-old Burgdoerfer will simply provide additional depth - not to mention size and toughness - at forward.

By the way, interesting little factoid - Bailen and Burgdoerfer make the 2nd and 3rd student-athletes to transfer to RPI from another NCAA Division I school since Seth Appert took over, Mark Zarbo being the first. Zarbo came from Bentley, Bailen from Bowling Green, and Burgdoerfer from Air Force, all known as the Falcons.

Quinn is another Canadian prospect who has broken the hearts of major juniors. The Sudbury Wolves of the OHL had been expecting to see Quinn in camp before last season, but instead he opted to retain his NCAA eligibility and play for his father at the Toronto Dixie Beehives (where he was named 2009 OPJHL Top Defenseman) and then the Aurora Tigers of the OJAHL. He would make his committment to RPI in August 2009 (the Engineers beating out 13 other schools reported to be interested in securing Quinn's services, most notably Vermont, which Quinn had said was one of his top two schools along with RPI, and Boston College) and was transferred to the Orangeville Crushers after his father left the head coaching position at Aurora.

Quinn was invited to Team Canada East's WJAC mini camp, but did not make the final roster. He did, however, compete in the CJHL top prospets game in Winkler, Manitoba last month, where he scored the only goal of the game for Canada East.

Numerous sources have called Quinn a "highly-touted recruit" and an excellent two-way defenseman - not quite stay at home in the vein of John Kennedy, but not with a predilection to wander like Bryan Brutlag. Given the caliber and number of schools that were hoping to land him, it should be very exciting to see him in the cherry and white next season as a 19-year-old.

Higgs was a fairly unexpected commitment in November, but certainly a welcome one. Higgs initially committed to Atlantic Hockey's Canisius in December 2008, but decommitted sometime during the summer of 2009 while simultaneously spurning the advances of his hometown Kingston Frontenacs of major junior's OHL (are we spotting a trend here?). From the sound of things, Higgs jumped at one of the first NCAA offers he had and later realized there would be more coming down the pike.

He was a teammate of Jacob Laliberté on the Team Canada East in the 2009 World Junior 'A' Challenge, and is currently with the Kingston Kimco Voyageurs of the OJAHL, where he's scoring at a decent clip - he doesn't have Laliberté's numbers, but with more than a point per game he is certainly no slouch himself. He's fifth on his team in scoring, but he also missed several games while competing with Team Canada East on Prince Edward Island.

Some RPI backers have called Higgs a "security blanket" as it pertains to Laliberté, with a double meaning. Laliberté and Higgs are familiar with each other, and Higgs' decision to come to Troy may be further encouragement for Laliberté to do the same. On the other hand, if Laliberté does bolt for the major junior ranks, Higgs will certainly help to soften the blow. In this sense, he would be similar to freshman Marty O'Grady, who was supposedly close with Brandon Pirri and may have provided extra incentive for Pirri to be happy with his decision to come to RPI. As we've seen, O'Grady is a decent player himself. There's little question that Pirri and O'Grady work well together on the ice, perhaps the same will be true of Higgs and Laliberté.

Major junior watchers have said that Higgs would have provided an immediate boost to Kingston if he had chosen to go there. One has to assume that he could have a similar impact in Troy. He'll be draft eligible in 2010 as an 18-year-old.

Tentative nickname for Luke: The Real Big Red.

Yes, Luke Curadi is a mountain of a man. One of the top defensemen for the BCHL's Penticton Vees, his head coach, former St. Cloud State assistant Fred Harbinson, described him as being "football big."

NHL Central Scouting listed him 113th among North American skaters in their recent midterm rankings for the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He initially committed to UMass for the 2009-10 season while he was with the Hartford Jr. Wolfpack, but it was a rushed decision on his part and he instead chose to head out to British Columbia to ply his trade in one of the most competitive junior leagues out there. Both of your intrepid reporters spotted him with his mother speaking to RPI assistant coach Kevin Broad at the second Union game in Troy last month, and shortly thereafter word got out that he had decided to commit to RPI.

Curadi was born at West Point (yes, that West Point), and his father is currently serving a tour in Iraq, where he flies helicopters for the Army. From the sound of things, Luke and his family are very excited about coming to RPI, and we should be just as excited to have him. He'll be the largest Engineer in well over a decade - Pete Gardiner of the class of 2000 was the last 6'5" Engineer, and Gardiner didn't have anywhere near Curadi's mass.

Is he tough? I'll let you be the judge. He's the big dude in white.

The most impressive part of this beatdown? It happened in the Atlantic Junior Hockey League All-Star Game. Yeah.

At this point, it's not known whether Curadi is coming to Troy in 2010 (at age 19) or 2011 (at age 20) - supposedly, Appert has his eye on another potential blueline recruit that would be coming in for 2010 if he commits, which would push Curadi's arrival to 2011, when there'll be a big need for defensemen - Brutlag, Foss, Kennedy, and Zarbo all graduate after next year. Either way, it'll be very exciting to get a big, physical d-man with a wicked slapshot like Curadi.

At any rate, the two Nicks, Bailen and Quinn, looked to form the heart of the defensive corps in the near future as replacements for Peter Merth and Erik Burgdoerfer, but as Christian Jensen plays an increasing role on this year's team, a third solid d-man is needed - and the Engineers will have another one on the way, whether it is Curadi or someone else, and he'll be a force to be reckoned with.

Koudys (pronounced COW-dice) is the first known recruit for the class of 2015, one of an expected three blue-liners for the fall of 2011. As mentioned above, Luke Curadi could be a second. Koudys isn't as big as Curadi - almost as tall but much smaller - but he's also only 17 and has plenty of time to fill out. He committed to RPI last May as a 16-year-old, which is fairly early as far as recent RPI recruits are concerned. Seems like both sides are happy with the arrangement to have something done that early.

In the meantime, Koudys is with the Burlington Cougars of the CCHL, and as his scoreline shows, he finds the scoring sheet more often than not with an eye for the open man.

We saw his cousin, Dan Koudys, at the RPI Holiday Tournament in November playing for Bentley. Dan's a 19-year-old freshman but nowhere near the size of his younger cousin.


So there you have it. Recruiting for next season may or may not be wrapped up (depending on the defenseman that may or may not be coming in (if you want a hint to who's rumored to be on Coach Appert's radar, I'll say this: he's an ex-Gopher), but if it is... wow. We don't lose too many guys to graduation this year - Paul Kerins and Peter Merth are the two big names - but each position is, for all intents and purposes, being reloaded with guys who are just brimming with potential.

The team currently has scoring ability, speed, passing, and good special teams play. They're adding even more scoring (in case the team loses guys like Polacek, Pirri, or D'Amigo early to the NHL), some significant size, and even better defense.

Yeah, I'm excited for next season too... especially if the Engineers can keep the aforementioned three and Laliberté in the fold. Just thinking about it is enough to give you a warm fuzzy feeling, isn't it?


  1. Stats in the graphics updated as of 1/13/09. I also fixed Bailen's year.

    Great article, extremely thorough. I'm definitely excited about next year!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.