Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ring of Honor: Who's Next?

There are now five inductees into the RPI Ring of Honor, and the Institute has done a phenomenal job in choosing the honorees. If there are five figures who could be considered the five all-time greats of Engineers hockey, Adam Oates, Joe Juneau, Frank Chiarelli, Ned Harkness, and Bob Brinkworth are certainly those five without much argument whatsoever. The things that each of those individuals achieved during their time at the Institute continue to resonate today.

There's one more banner left on the western wall at Houston Field House to hang a Ring of Honor inductee from before the Institute has to figure out a different method (hanging them from other Ring of Honor banners, perhaps? In the rafters?). The RoH has been (almost) a yearly tradition since its inception in 2004. It stands to reason that eventually, a sixth inductee will join the big five in RPI Hockey immortality. But who is deserving? We've compiled a list of 10 potential names to become number six.

The Skaters
Abbie Moore (1951-54)
Moore was, along with Herb LaFontaine, captain of the 1952-53 Engineers. A year earlier, he played with Frank Chiarelli and Mo Mosco on one of the most formidable lines in the history of NCAA Hockey. Although Chiarelli would go on to finish his career as the top scorer in school history, it was Moore who led the Engineers in scoring in 1953 and 1954, Chiarelli's sophomore and junior seasons. Moore was the first Engineer to eclipse the 200 career point mark in 1954 (a feat Chiarelli would match later in the season), finishing his career with 206 points - the all time school record until Chiarelli broke it the following season. Most notably, Moore was named MVP of the 1954 NCAA Tournament as the Engineers won the national championship during his senior season. He remains the only Engineer so honored - Providence goaltender Chris Terreri earned MVP honors after RPI's 1985 title despite losing in the national championship game. Moore is 7th all-time in points at RPI, 4th in goals (102, one of only 4 Engineers to break the century mark in goals), 9th in assists (104), 4th in hat-tricks (12), and 1st in NCAA history in points per game with an astounding 3.38.

John Carter (1982-86)
Carter was an integral part of the 1985 national championship team his junior season, leading that team in goals with 43 goals. Since that time, the closest anyone has come to matching that total came 9 short - his teammate, Mark Jooris, the following year, with 34. Indeed, Carter's 1984-85 season - which was powered by six hat-tricks during the season - was second only to Chiarelli's 1951-52 season (55) in terms of goals scored. It was his 43rd goal of the season that was not only the biggest of his career but one of the biggest in RPI history, coming 5:45 into the 3rd overtime against Minnesota-Duluth in the national semifinals to send the Engineers to the title game. But it wasn't just in the championship season that Carter established himself as a force for the Engineers. A year earlier, he was named a first-team All-American. His name litters the RPI record books - 2nd all-time in points (225), 2nd in goals (117), 6th in assists (108), and 3rd in career hat-tricks (13). Following the end of his senior season, Carter went immediately to the NHL, playing 3 games for the Boston Bruins that year before playing a shift in the minor leagues. He would enjoy an 8-year career in the NHL with the Bruins and the San Jose Sharks, scoring 40 goals and 50 assists in 244 games.

Bryan Richardson (1992-96)
With RoH honorees already representing every other national and ECAC championship, the only team without a member in the Ring of Honor is the 1995 ECAC championship team, and without question, Bryan Richardson was one of the great Engineers of the mid-1990s. Richardson finished in the top two in team scoring in each of his four years at the Institute, leading the team in his junior (championship) and senior seasons. He netted at least 20 goals in each of his last three seasons at RPI, the last Engineer to accomplish the feat. Like Carter and Moore, Richardson's name is found all over the RPI record books - 11th all-time in goals with 80, 4th all-time in assists with 113, and 8th all-time in points with 193. Although Richardson posted one of the best careers at RPI since the mid-1980s, he never reached the NHL despite a long career in the minor leagues. After dominating in Germany the year after his graduation, Richardson returned to North America and played three seasons in the ECHL, reaching his apex in professional hockey in 2001-02, when he played 11 games for the Grand Rapids Griffins in the AHL. He continued playing into the 2008-09 season, competing in the rowdy Quebec minor leagues during his final five seasons.

The Goaltenders
Neil Little (1990-94)
There are no goaltenders in the Ring of Honor yet, but there a number of qualified candidates, especially over the past 20 years. To some extent, the recent history of goaltenders with solid numbers is a function of longer seasons and changes in equipment - helping goalies post more wins, saves, shutouts, etc. - but Neil Little has a resume that places him among the greatest goaltenders in the history of the program. Even since his time, the schedule each season has been longer, but Little remains the all-time winningest goaltender in team history (58) and was the first goaltender to appear in 100 games and log over 6,000 minutes in the goal for the Engineers. Little won the starting job midway through his freshman season and never let it go, helping the team to its first ECAC championship game and NCAA tournament appearance since 1985 during his senior year (in which he became the first goaltender in school history to be nominated for the Hobey Baker Award), one season after earning second-team All-America honors. In the professional ranks, Little rode the line between the AHL and the NHL - a star in the top minor league for years, but rarely getting opportunities in "the show." Little spent 12 seasons in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, almost entirely with the Philadelphia (now Adirondack) Phantoms of the AHL, where he won two Calder Cups, and was named to the Phantoms Hall of Fame in 2006. He played a total of two games in the NHL over his career, and is now at Princeton as their goaltending coach.

Joel Laing (1996-2000)
The only other goaltender in school history to be named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, Laing was the heart and soul of the Engineers in the late 1990s, backstopping the team as the lead goaltender in a tandem with Scott Prekaski. Even though Prekaski came to Troy as the presumed top choice and was a capable goaltender in his own right, Laing was firmly established as RPI's top choice netminder early on in his career. With the team for three 20-win seasons (and 18 wins in 1997-98), Laing presided over 13 shutouts, besting 1954 national championship goaltender Bobby Fox by one for the all-time lead in school history. His career save percentage of .926 is also tops in RPI history, almost a full percentage point ahead of second place, and when he graduated he was also tops in goals against average with 2.59, a mark which has since been eclipsed. Laing's play was so instrumental to the Engineers' success of the late 1990s that during his senior season of 1999-2000, perhaps the greatest individual season ever turned in by an RPI goalie, Laing wore an A on his jersey as an alternate captain, a rare honor for a netminder. That season, Laing established RPI single season records in GAA (1.82) and save percentage (.947) that still stand today. Laing earned the Ken Dryden Award that year as the top goaltender in the ECAC, a Hobey Baker nomination, and was named a First Team All-American. His single-season save percentage that year remains the 3rd best in NCAA history, and his career save percentage is 10th all-time in college hockey - all done while amassing a grade point average that allowed him to graduate summa cum laude. Despite his impressive resume, Laing enjoyed only a short minor-league career that included 16 AHL games and a season in England.

Nathan Marsters (2000-04)
Marsters was Laing's immediate replacement in the Engineer net. With big skates to fill, he not only met Laing's standards, he also in many cases exceeded them. Like Laing, Nathan Marsters came to RPI alongside another solid goaltender, Kevin Kurk, and much like Laing, Marsters established himself early in his career as the top choice. During his time at the Institute, Marsters, a draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings, led the Engineers to a pair of 20-win seasons and a number of school records, breaking Little's career marks in total games, starts, minutes, and saves, becoming the first - and to date, only - goaltender to long over 3,000 saves for a career. His numbers do betray the influence of an increasing number of games in the season - his 57 career wins are just one short of Little's mark, but he also set the school record in losses with 50 (a number which has since been broken). His 2.55 career GAA broke Laing's school record, and his .917 career save percentage ranks 2nd all time in RPI history. Speaking only of individual season's Marsters' freshman and senior years are among the top single seasons in both GAA and save percentage; he is the only goaltender that can make that claim. His 21-win campaign in 2003-04 was only the third in school history, trailing only Daren Puppa's only two seasons in Troy. After graduation, Marsters enjoyed a decent minor league career but didn't quite make the big time - he did earn a one-game callup for the Anaheim Ducks as an emergency backup, but didn't see the ice - and hung up the pads in 2008 after being unable to earn an AHL job. Sadly, Marsters' life was cut short at the age of 29 last June in a single-car accident in Smithville, Ontario.

Women's Hockey
Bill Cahill (1988-90, 1995-03)
Given that the last banner without a Ring of Honor inductee hanging below it is the banner recognizing the 1994 women's club championship, perhaps it would be appropriate to honor a pioneer of women's hockey at RPI. A men's hockey assistant under Mike Addesa, Buddy Powers, and Dan Fridgen, Bill Cahill took the reins of the women's program from Ryan Stone in 2000 after years of dedicated service as one of the top recruiters for the men's team. In only three seasons as the head coach, arguably became the Ned Harkness of women's hockey at RPI. The Engineers came alive during Cahill's tenure, becoming one of the top teams in the Division III ECAC East. In his three seasons behind the bench, the Engineers amassed a 47-28-3 record, a .622 winning percentage that places him tops among women's coaches at RPI. His reputation for recruiting continued after taking over the women's program, setting up a legacy that existed long after his presence as he laid the foundation for the team's jump to Division I in 2005, which Cahill had been championing practically since the day he took the job. Sadly, he never got to see the Engineers play at college hockey's top level. In October 2003, just one week before the beginning of his fourth season behind the bench, Bill Cahill passed away at the age of 53. In his final season, Cahill was named ECAC Coach of the Year and was a finalist for national Coach of the Year, and in 2005 was posthumously awarded the Joe Burke Award for outstanding service to women's hockey.

Bridget LaNoir (1995-99)
A standout in both field hockey and ice hockey, Bridget LaNoir stands out as one of the greatest defensemen in the history of RPI hockey, male or female, and was the first women's hockey player at the Institute to earn national recognition. As a freshman in 1996, she earned the first individual honor in the then-brand new varsity program's history, earning honorable mention All-ECAC honors. The accolades grew as her career marched forward, taking First Team All-ECAC in 1997 after scoring 15 goals and 29 assists from the blue line in only 24 games. In 1998, LaNoir became the first (and to date, only) women's All-American First Teamer, awarded the honor by Women's Hockey News. LaNoir was also RPI's Female Athlete of the Year in 1998. Finally, in her senior year, LaNoir was named Second Team All-American by both the ACHA and the AWCHA, and was also an nominee for the NCAA's Woman of the Year award. She finished her career with 52 goals and 77 assists in 96 career games. Today, LaNoir is still a fixture at RPI, having been the head field hockey coach since 2001. She also served as an assistant to Cahill and John Burke with the ice hockey team from 2002 to 2005.

Cindy Acropolis (1996-2000)
Owner of almost every meaningful scoring record in program history, Cindy Acropolis was not only an accomplished offensive threat, but also played a physical game that made her one of the most feared forwards in the ECAC during her tenure. If there's a category for a skater, Acropolis' name is there when it comes to the RPI record books. She is the all-time leader in goals (128, the only Engineer with more than 100 goals for her career), points (212, the only Engineer over 200), and penalties (104 penalties for 208 minutes) in 98 career games. Her points total is even more impressive when you consider that only six Engineers have ever even reached 100 points for a career (a number which will likely grow by one this season, as Whitney Naslund sits at 98 points right now). 2nd all-time in assists (84), her 16 career hat-tricks (9 of which came in her freshman year, when she was named ECAC Rookie of the Year) have her tops in that category by 11. She has three of RPI's four 30-goal seasons, three of RPI's four 50-point seasons, and each of her four seasons are among the top five in penalties and penalty minutes per game. These numbers, coming relatively early in the history of women's hockey, make Acropolis perhaps the Frank Chiarelli of women's hockey.

The Pioneer
Livingston Houston (1909-13, 1944-58)
"Liver" Houston was the 11th president of the Institute and only one of two Presidents to have been a graduate of the school, but his connection with the sport of hockey at RPI runs deeper than any other - Houston played on the team as a student, and was instrumental in the revival of the modern RPI hockey program after World War II when he championed the building of the Field House, the building which today bears his name. His important connection from the early years of RPI hockey to the cradle of what would become today's Engineers linked the Institute in a tradition that now spans 108 years.

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So far, every inductee to the Ring of Honor has A) been alive at induction and B) been previously elected to the RPI Athletic Hall of Fame. Of the potential nominees listed here, only 3 meet both of those guidelines - Little, Laing, and LaNoir.

There were a few other names that are potentials that I've failed to mention for one reason or another - Marc Cavosie, Eric Healey, Matt Murley, and Daren Puppa chief among them - partially because I can only list 10 on this poll and partially because I wanted a good spread of eras and categories.

So how about it? Which of these potential candidates, if any, are deserving of a place in the Ring of Honor? Try out the poll and feel free to leave a comment below it.

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