Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Know Your Enemy: Niagara

Part five of our "Know Your Enemy" series touches upon a program that, under the radar, has given the Engineers fits for no immediately obvious reason since the first meeting 13 years ago - but a look at their short history will reveal why the Purple Eagles have never been considered an easy win.

Nickname: Purple Eagles
Location: Lewiston, NY
Founded: 1856
Conference: Atlantic Hockey
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2008
Last Frozen Four: None
Coach: Dave Burkholder (10th season)
2009-10 Record: 12-20-4 (6-10-2 CHA, 3rd place)
Series: Niagara leads, 4-1-0
First Game: November 15, 1997 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: November 15, 1997 (Troy, NY)
Last NU win: November 18, 2009 (Lewiston, NY)

2010-11 game: October 23, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Key players: F Bryan Haczyk, sr.; F Paul Zanette, sr.; F Marc Zanette, so.; F Ryan Murphy, fr.; D C.J. Chartrain, so.; D Jason Beattie, so.

No, you aren't reading that incorrectly - since the Engineers triumphed over the Purps in their first meeting in 1997, Niagara has won four consecutive matchups against the Engineers. That includes last season's game in Lewiston, an odd affair in which a rash of injuries, a pair of key benchings, and a midweek road trip against a non-league opponent combined to create probably the worst game of the season for RPI.

Niagara is far better known in the Capital District as one of Siena basketball's bigger rivals within the MAAC, but their hockey prowess, especially considering that they are one of the newest D-I varsity programs in the country, is something most people are less aware of.

The lone RPI victory over the Purple Eagles came in Niagara's second season of varsity hockey, their final probationary year before their official entry into Division I as an inaugural member of College Hockey America. In those first two seasons, the Purps filled gaps in their independent schedule with Division III programs, but they impressed in turning in a pair of winning seasons. NU chose to be part of the CHA after declining to join the nascent MAAC hockey conference despite the school's MAAC membership in its other sports - they did not want to be constrained by the MAAC's restrictions on scholarships which still exist in Atlantic Hockey today.

Niagara's best season to date by far was only their fourth as a varsity program. In 1999-2000, under the tutelage of Blaise MacDonald, the program's first head coach, the Purple Eagles dominated the CHA and racked up plenty of eye opening non-conference wins as well, including a win in Lewiston against an Engineers squad that was ranked fifth in the nation at the time. The team swept the CHA regular season and tournament titles on their way to a 29-7-4 record which saw them becoming the first - and to date, only the second - team from a conference outside of the WCHA, CCHA, ECAC, and Hockey East to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, a feat all the more impressive when you consider the fact that the tournament only included 12 teams at that time.

But the impressive Purple Eagles didn't stop there. They famously won their very first NCAA tournament game, dropping a heavily favored New Hampshire team, 4-1, in what was at the time considered one of the biggest upsets in the history of the tournament.

Niagara would drop back the next year, suffering their first losing season as a varsity program, and MacDonald would depart for UMass-Lowell at the conclusion of the year. Since then, under Burkholder, NU has never truly been out of the mix in the CHA, but they've never been the world-beaters that they were in 2000. 20-win seasons in 2004 and 2008 brought with them their second and third CHA tournament titles and trips to the NCAA tournament, and the Purple Eagles claimed the CHA regular season crowns in 2006 and 2007, but as the CHA endured hardships and struggles to maintain membership, those accomplishments were viewed with a decreasing amount of respect in the hockey world.

Last year, Niagara endured perhaps the worst season of their D-I existence, limping to only 12 wins and losing 20 games for the first time. It was, however, nearly resurrected at the last moment when NU shocked the college hockey world by shooting down high flying Bemidji State, who would have to settle for the CHA's second at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Despite the rough season, the Purple Eagles ended up just an overtime goal away from the four-team CHA's final automatic tournament bid, losing to Alabama-Huntsville in overtime to end their season.

This season, Niagara takes the reluctant step of entering the league they spurned 12 years ago. With the CHA's long expected demise now a reality, the need for the safety of playing within a structured league with an automatic NCAA bid trumped NU's desire to offer a full complement of athletic scholarships. It's too early to tell what this will mean for Niagara's earned pedigree as a minor conference wildcard team - NU has won at least one game against a ranked opponent in every season since 2004, and only four seasons in their history where they didn't - but one thing is for sure: the Purple Eagles have declined in total wins in consecutive seasons for the first time in their history. Either they're on the decline, or they are due for a better season.

Unfortunately for Niagara, they will have a lot of holes to plug after an already difficult season. Their top three scorers last season were all seniors, including Chris Moran, easily the team's best passer with 33 assists, which by itself would have tied him as the team's leading scorer. Senior Paul Zanette returns with 11 goals and 10 assists last season, Haczyk and Paul's younger brother Marc are the returning forwards with the best numbers last year. A glance at NU's incoming freshmen shows a profile similar to RIT's - a lot of older recruits, perhaps the most impressive being Murphy, who put up 31 goals and 41 assists in 48 games for Oakville of the OJHL last season. He will be 21 by the time the season opens.

Defensively, the Purps were rough last year. Each of their three goaltenders got some significant playing time last season, and all ended the year with GAAs over three and save percentages hovering around just 90%. As a team, NU posted a GAA of 3.28.

The Engineers are going to need to take full advantage of their offensive and defensive advantages when the Purple Eagles come into town on the back end of a pseudo-travel partner weekend, as RIT and Niagara will swap between the Capital District pairing in late October. On both sides of the puck, RPI will undoubtedly be boasting better individual talent than Niagara, and playing well as a team will be the key to snapping the program's 4-game losing stream against NU. Perhaps even a reminder of the embarrassing loss suffered at Dwyer Arena last season might spark the Engineers to a Saturday night win - a win that could have the makings to be decisive if they play to potential.

At any rate, unless injuries and benchings are the story of the night for a second straight season, this is a game RPI should be winning and the difference in the team's play between last year's loss and this year's game will, to a small degree, be illustrative of the differences between the two RPI teams.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Not Seeing the Forrest For the Trees

There exists a system of tweaking the rules of the game for a very good reason: like any sport, the sport of hockey evolves as players, training methods, strategies, and equipment evolves over time, and what once made sense during a different era may not make sense anymore today. But in general, when the rules are fiddled with, the end result usually goes mostly unnoticed by the casual fan. The game, at its core, pretty much stays the same.

Every two years, the NCAA has the opportunity to go over the rulebook and propose rule changes. Usually, these proposals are fairly uneventful and largely agreeable. This year is a different story.

Some of the proposed rule changes, naturally, make sense and will be good to see implemented. For the most part, they are minor tweaks. Many are just common sense.

For instance, hybrid icing will be a welcome addition, giving linesmen the option to wave off icing if it is clear that an attacking player would be first to touch the puck, creating an element of the NHL's touch-up icing while maintaining the NCAA's safety-conscious automatic call. Accumulated suspensions through game DQ's carrying over into the next season for players with remaining eligibility makes sense. Innovations like switching sides before overtime (every overtime, for those playoff games that never end) are little things that won't have a major impact on the game, but could have tangible benefits.

But this year, the committee has put forward a pair of rule change proposals that are completely ridiculous, with one of them being completely nonsensical and facing practically universal opposition.

The rules committee, led by Alaska athletic director Forrest Karr, has proposed to enforce icing for a team on the penalty kill. This is an absurd abomination for a number of reasons.

1) First and foremost, the question has to be asked. WHY? What is the issue that this rule change is supposed to address? Hybrid icing addresses the ludicrous sight of the whistle blowing when an attacker is clearly the first tracking down the errant pass. The overtime rule seeks to shake things up a bit in an age where endless playoff games are becoming more common. But what is this a reaction to? Karr explains:

This change would remove a contradiction in the rules that allows a team that has violated the rules in one area to violate another rule in order to compensate for being shorthanded. This would provide more scoring opportunities for the power play team and could encourage more skilled play from the defensive team.
WHAT?! That's the explanation? Seriously? A "contradiction in the rules?" "Providing more scoring opportunities?"

The median goals per game last season was 2.95, and the median power play scored at a clip of 18.7%. That's not bad! Those are good signs that teams are getting plenty of scoring opportunities, on and off the power play.

Have Forrest Karr and his associates on the rules committee never actually watched a power play? Being down a player is a huge disadvantage. As we saw in Troy last season, being down two for a lengthy period can practically be like conceding a goal. It already requires skill for a penalty killing team to obtain control of the puck and get rid of it in order to make a change. Watch a penalty killing unit that's been unable to do that for a minute or longer and you'll see that it's not easy.

Teams that are down a man are further hamstrung by what is almost always a complete inability to attack for the duration of the penalty. Most teams that are good at scoring shorthanded are simply more adept at taking advantage of turnovers high in the defensive zone that allow them to quickly counter. But by and large, a penalty cripples a team's offensive ability. That's two giant disadvantages right there.

Then there's the effect that the icing rule has on pulling the goaltender late. Some coaches are hesitant to pull their goaltender on the power play despite the instant creation of a two or three man advantage, because it allows the shorthanded team to take potshots at the open net with impunity. If icing were enforced, pulling the goaltender on the power play becomes a no brainer, taking a strategic element out of the game.

The "contradiction in the rules" exists to mitigate some of the massive disadvantage, but it's not significant enough to keep a penalty from being something to be avoided at all costs. Using the argument that we should be reluctant to do anything that would help a team that has violated the rules, why do we allow penalties to expire? Shouldn't we just keep them off the ice until the "cheating" team has been scored upon? Wouldn't that be more fair under that logic?

We don't need power plays scoring at a 40% rate or more, which is exactly what this would cause.

2) College hockey has hired Paul Kelly to, among other things, try to attract more American and Canadian players to the NCAA ranks as opposed to the major junior route. A rule of this nature is sufficient enough to completely destroy any chance of the money that is being spent on Kelly being of any use whatsoever.

The NCAA does not concern itself with being a development league for the professional ranks in any sport, but the reality is that it is exactly the role it plays for a high percentage of participants. In the amateur ranks - which includes major junior whether the NCAA considers it professional or not - there's a big emphasis for players to earn time on special teams, that is, power play and penalty kill units, because it affords them the opportunity to show their versatility in a number of different and important roles. If this rule is put into place, the most basic special teams strategies will change on both sides of the puck. Power plays would play looser with the puck in the neutral zone, and penalty killers will be forced to do more than is asked of them in any other league.

No serious hockey league enforces icing on the penalty kill. No player serious about playing at the next level would agree to spend upwards of four years of his development in a league which does, because the special teams experience gained there will be wasted. This alone would make Kelly's argument of the college route being a better developmental experience for top talent nothing short of ridiculous.

3) There's a safety issue here. Ever seen a PK unit caught out for the majority of a penalty? Two minutes out on the ice is beyond tiring. Fatigued players are more likely to injure themselves, and desperate players are more likely to try things that might lead to injure others. There's no doubt that this rule will invariably lead to longer penalty kill shifts, regardless of a team's ability to display the "skilled play" that Karr and his team are looking for. This rule might have been a little easier to consider before the establishment of the rule that bars a team from changing personnel after an icing infraction, but even then, it would have been pretty dicey.

Seth Appert, in his role as president of the American Hockey Coaches Association, pointed out an additional safety issue - to spectators.
“The other thing we’re going to do is, we’re going to clear pucks into the stands, and that’s putting the fans at risk,” Appert bluntly explained. “Right now on the penalty kill, we work on icing the puck. Well, now, instead of doing that, we’re going to work on clearing the puck over the glass, because now we can get a change and get fresh bodies on the ice. You’re going to see a lot of pucks going into the benches, and a lot of pucks going into the stands.”
It doesn't matter if icing the puck doesn't allow a team to change players or if throwing the puck over the glass creates another penalty - a line that's dead tired isn't going to care as long as the whistle blows and they get a short breather.

4) Appert also outlined just how he would deal with the rule - he'd just keep icing the puck, making a penalty kill situation actually slow the game down if the power play can't maintain constant control:
“From a game-enhancement point of view is, I know what I’ll do with my players if this is passed: We won’t stop icing the puck; we’ll just ice the puck and take the whistle. So what you’re going to see is power plays become like the NBA in the last two minutes [of a basketball game] , where it’s stop-and-go, stop-and-go, stop-and-go. If we’re tired on the penalty kill, I’m not going to encourage our players to make a dangerous play. I’m going to encourage them to ice the puck, and we’re not going to go chase it. We’ll just line up four across, take a knee, get 10 or 15 seconds of rest while the referees go retrieve the puck.”
So the options we are left with are to have a power play running roughshod over the penalty killers, or to have the penalty kill take 10 real time minutes or so. Neither are appetizing for anyone involved - players, coaches, and fans.

5) Air Force coach Tom Serratore touched on another issue - power plays becoming such a game changer that referees will let more penalties go uncalled.
“If power-play percentages go up exponentially — and they’re certainly not going to go down — I’m afraid that the referees are going to become reluctant to call penalties at certain junctures of the game,” he mused. “We could end up having fewer penalties in a game, not because the game is any cleaner, but because the referees are reluctant to call it because the power plays are having such a bigger impact.”
This rule absolutely must be spiked. It is nonsensical in the extreme.

Then there's the other rule that needs to be scuppered - a well-intentioned rule that will lead to the officiating morass becoming an even bigger nightmare.

A rule has been proposed that will, for the sake of safety, require that contact to the head penalties be assessed as major penalties with a game misconduct or a game DQ at the referee's discretion. On its face, it seems like the right thing to do in order to try and cut down on dangerous plays that put players at risk of head injuries.

The committee has said that this rule is going to mandate a major if and only if the contact is a result of a targeted hit as opposed to incidental contact to the head (which will remain a minor), and even then, it doesn't seem that bad.

But this is going to have the exact same application as another well meaning rule that has led to a lot of heads in hands in the bleachers: the checking from behind rule. Far too often, we've seen CFB calls being applied indiscriminately and illogically, dumbfounding the same three principals referred to in the last rule - players, coaches, and fans. The difference between what was CFB and what wasn't changed from night to night, even with the same referees. Further, we have quite frequently seen that once one team was called for CFB, the other team had to be on their best behavior and not even come close to the infraction, or they'd have a player called as well in order to "even up," especially if the first call was a borderline situation in which the referee felt boxed in by the regulations and assessed the major.

If officiating in any of the five college leagues could even passably be described as being competent or consistent, there would be no problem with this rule. But any time you ask a referee to peer into the mind of a player and divine his intent, you're asking for trouble, even if you've got a top notch officiating crew. Sometimes, the best in the game can settle in on an interpretation that makes sense. That has little to no chance of happening here. So in a situation where CFB continues to be applied with no consistency, we're now going to add a CTH major to the mix, making for twice the frustration.

The rules committee is already putting forward a rule that could lead to a decrease in dangerous play anyway - they plan to study the use of half-shields for men's competition as an acceptable alternative to the full-shields currently required. The data is real - you get fewer dangerous plays in a game in which the participants wear less protection. For instance, football players sustain more head injuries than do rugby players, who wear minimal head protection. The rationale behind it is simple - if you and your competitors are open to injury, you're not going to go at each other as recklessly. But if the illusion of safety exists on both sides, a player is more likely to, say rush into the corner with more reckless abandon.

As mentioned, the rules committee has put forward a few rule changes that should be welcomed with open arms - but Forrest Karr and his cohorts seem intent on pushing forward with these two rules, the former of which has been loudly and defiantly shouted down from all corners, and the latter of which is only going to add to the NCAA's officiating problems. He's angling for a WaP photoshop, no question.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Know Your Enemy: RIT

Part four of "Know Your Enemy" focuses on a school with a lot of striking similarities to RPI in its academic, athletic, and hockey history profiles - RIT.

Rochester Institute of Technology
Nickname: Tigers
Location: Henrietta, NY
Founded: 1829
Conference: Atlantic Hockey
National Championships: 2 (Division II in 1983, Division III in 1985)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2010
Last Frozen Four: 2010
Coach: Wayne Wilson (12th season)
2009-10 Record: 28-12-1 (22-5-1 AHA, 1st place)
Series: RPI leads, 3-1-0
First Game: November 29, 1985 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: December 10, 2005 (Troy, NY)
Last RIT win: November 1, 1986 (Troy, NY)

2010-11 game: October 22, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Key players: F Andrew Favot, sr.; F Tyler Brenner, jr.; F Cameron Burt, jr.; D Chris Haltigin, jr.; D Chris Saracino, so.; D Eliot Raibl, fr.; D Greg Noyes, fr.; G Josh Watson, fr.

Usually, when the Engineers are paired up with a team that played in the Frozen Four the previous season, it's guaranteed to be one of the most difficult games of the non-conference schedule. RIT proved last season that they have the chops to win big games under the bright lights against some very difficult opponents, but this isn't exactly your usual situation when it comes to the aforementioned scenario.

RIT, founded in Rochester but later moved to South Henrietta (there's a reason they didn't change their name, obviously), is the newest member of the Division I ranks, but they boast a rich history of hockey that was magnified significantly with their magical Cinderella run through the NCAA Tournament last season.

The Tigers have one of the oldest programs in Atlantic Hockey, but it wasn't until the 1980s that the team became a perennial power in Division III. In 1982, under second-year head coach Brian Mason, RIT won 20 games for the first time in their history, and the Tigers followed it up the following season with their very first national championship in Division II (as there wasn't yet a Division III championship at that time), knocking off Bemidji State in the title game.

Mason left in 1984 to take over at Dartmouth, and was replaced by Bruce Delventhal, who would coach the Tigers to their second national championship in his first season behind the bench as RIT again bested Bemidji State for the title.

The 1985 title as with RPI, remains RIT's final national championship glory, but the Tigers remained among the best teams in Division III for the remainder of their tenure in the lower division despite a virtual revolving door of coaches. Delventhal would be Union's choice to guide the Dutchmen into Division I, and he left for Schenectady in 1988. His replacement, Buddy Powers, guided the Tigers to the national championship game in his only season in Rochester, dropping a two-game series to Wisconsin-Stevens Point in 1989 before leaving to replace Mike Addesa at RPI.

In 1994, RIT began a string of 12 consecutive winning seasons that included a national championship game appearance in 1996 (losing to Middlebury) and a nearly undefeated season in 2001, in Wayne Wilson's second season at the helm, going 27-0-1 in their first 28 games before losing in shocking fashion to Plattsburgh in the national championship game, 6-2.

In 2005, it was announced that RIT would be moving its accomplished men's team to Division I, where it would compete in Atlantic Hockey. The following season, the team played as an independent in D-I as part of its probationary period, during which they would be ineligible for the NCAA Tournament for two years. The independent season was rough - the Tigers won only 6 games and among their losses was a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Division III Oswego. But as the program recruited D-I talent, their fortunes immediately turned around in Atlantic Hockey. Barred from the Atlantic Hockey Tournament due to their ineligibility for the NCAA Tournament, the Tigers did the only thing they were able to accomplish that season - win the Atlantic Season regular season crown.

They were unable to repeat as regular season champions the following year, but won their second and third AHA season championships in 2009 and 2010, and followed up with their first AHA Tournament championship in 2010, leading to their first invitation to the Division I NCAA Tournament. What happened from there is still the talk of the college hockey world - the Tigers bumped off heavily favored Denver in the first round, and then demolished New Hampshire to claim the East Regional title and a ticket to the Frozen Four. Still playing the underdog role and with no expectations, the Tigers were pounded by Wisconsin in Detroit, but the message was loud and clear - RIT intends to be a solid competitor in Division I, and woe to the team that overlooks them at any time.

Since they came into D-I after the passage of Prop 65-1 in 2004, the Tigers are barred from offering athletic scholarships since they're still a Division III school (and one that's joining RPI's Division III league this season). Thus, in order to stay competitive, they've needed to be creative with their recruiting. One of their raps that they've received from some corners is that they rely far too much on bringing in older, previously passed over Canadian players. While that's basically true - 16 players on their 25-man roster last season were Canadians, and their youngest player celebrated his 20th birthday during the season - there's also nothing wrong with it, as it's a completely legitimate recruiting strategy.

With that comes the obvious - RIT's players have been playing the game longer than some of their opponents, and while you aren't going to find too many blue chip world beaters on their team, they do have several diamonds in the rough and they play very well as a team, especially in front of their rabid fanbase in Rochester.

A number of the top names from the Frozen Four run are gone - goaltender Jared DeMichiel, defensemen Al Mazur and Dan Ringwald graduated, and Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Year Chris Tanev signed an NHL contract during the offseason. But the Tigers' offensive core is basically all intact, including Burt and Favot, their two top returning scorers. Brenner was an absolute menace in the New Hampshire game.

The Tigers' freshman class should fit in very well with their style of play. Watson is DeMichiel's heir apparent, coming in from Powell River of the BCHL, where he posted a respectable 2.27 GAA last season. Defensemen Raibl and Noyes are both offensive minded and should fit right into the mold established by Tanev, Mazur, and Ringwald nicely. And don't worry, naysayers - every single RIT freshman next season will have reached at least their 20th birthday by the time the puck drops in October, and all but 3 of them come in from Canadian junior leagues.

The last time these teams met, RIT was in its independent D-I season and the game had zero defense whatsoever as RPI came out on the heavy end of a 10-7 score. The only man present as part of that game that will be part of this season's game is RIT coach Wayne Wilson, so if you still remember that slugfest, you can throw it out. Both teams are much better on both sides of the puck than they were that year.

The NCAA Tournament is what it is - a single-game knockout tournament that can produce Cinderella stories at the drop of a hat. That sums up RIT's magical run pretty succinctly - their victory over Denver in March was their first victory outside of Atlantic Hockey in seven tries. The Tigers were one of the last four teams standing last season, but it's hard to make a solid argument that they were one of the four best teams in the nation, even then. Given what the Engineers are bringing back themselves, this should be an enjoyable, probably even close game, but it's still a game RPI should be looking to come out on top in, especially at home. RIT is certainly not to be overlooked, however, and all it will take to get in trouble will be an early goal their way. Defense has to be the watchword early against the Tigers, and scoring first will be crucial.

Friday, June 18, 2010

2010-11 Women's Schedule

No, this isn't a classic Friday night news dump, it's just an inconvenient time to return from my secret bunker.

At any rate... for your consideration, the 2010-11 Women's Ice Hockey schedule, as released by the Institute. All times Eastern.

Friday, October 1 - at Wisconsin, 8 p.m.
Saturday, October 2 - at Wisconsin, 8 p.m.
Friday, October 8 - VERMONT, 7 p.m.
Saturday, October 9 - VERMONT, 4 p.m.
Friday, October 15 - NEW HAMPSHIRE, 7 p.m.
Friday, October 22 - at Providence, 7 p.m.
Sunday, October 24 - at Northeastern, 1 p.m.
Friday, October 29 - at St. Lawrence, 7 p.m.
Saturday, October 30 - at Clarkson, 4 p.m.
Friday, November 5 - PRINCETON, 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 6 - QUINNIPIAC, 4 p.m.
Friday, November 12 - at Yale, 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 13 - at Brown, 4 p.m.
Friday, November 19 - NIAGARA, 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 20 - NIAGARA, 2 p.m.
Friday, November 26 - at Syracuse, 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 27 - at Syracuse, 2 p.m.
Friday, December 3 - at Union, 7 p.m.
Saturday, December 4 - UNION, 4 p.m.
Friday, January 7 - DARTMOUTH, 3 p.m.
Saturday, January 8 - HARVARD, 3 p.m.
Friday, January 14 - CORNELL, 7 p.m.
Saturday, January 15 - COLGATE, 4 p.m.
Friday, January 21 - at Harvard, 7 p.m.
Saturday, January 22 - at Dartmouth, 4 p.m.
Friday, January 28 - at Colgate, 7 p.m.
Saturday, January 29 - at Cornell, 4 p.m.
Friday, February 4 - BROWN, 7 p.m.
Saturday, February 5 - YALE, 4 p.m.
Friday, February 11 - at Quinnipiac, 7 p.m.
Saturday, February 12 - at Princeton, 4 p.m.
Friday, February 18 - CLARKSON, 7 p.m.
Saturday, February 19 - ST. LAWRENCE, 4 p.m.
Fri-Sun, February 25-27 - ECAC Quarterfinals (Best of three, campus sites)
Friday, March 4 - ECAC Semifinals (at two highest seeds)
Sunday, March 6 - ECAC Championship (at higher seed)
Saturday, March 12 - NCAA Quarterfinals (at higher seeds)
Friday, March 18 - NCAA Frozen Four (Erie, PA)
Sunday, March 20 - NCAA Championship (Erie, PA)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Know Your Enemy: Bentley

Part 3 of "Know Your Enemy" discusses a program that's getting to be a familiar face in Troy. Bentley University - promoted from Bentley College in 2008 - will be the first regular-season home game on the 2010-11 RPI schedule for the third time in four years.

Nickname: Falcons
Location: Waltham, MA
Founded: 1917
Conference: Atlantic Hockey
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: None
Coach: Ryan Soderquist (9th season)
2009-10 Record: 12-19-4 (10-15-3 AHA, 8th place)
Series: RPI leads, 2-1-0
First Game: October 9, 2007 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: November 27, 2009 (Troy, NY)
Last Bentley win: October 18, 2008 (Troy, NY)

2010-11 game: October 16, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Key players: F Erik Peterson, sr.; F Jamie Nudy, jr.; F Joe Campanelli, so.; F Dan Koudys, so.; F Brett Hartung, so.; F Justin Breton, fr.; D Trent Bonnett, jr.; D Ryan Kayfes, jr.; G Kyle Rank, jr.

For a period in the early part of the last decade, it seemed that yearly home matchups with Mercyhurst were becoming the norm for the Engineers when it came to scheduling games with Atlantic Hockey teams. The Lakers made five appearances in Troy in as many seasons early in the 2000s. Sacred Heart then followed on with five appearances in seven seasons between 2004 and last season. Today, Bentley is now in that mold as well, as they will make an appearance for the fourth consecutive season at Houston Field House, this time as the opponents for RPI's homecoming weekend.

Bentley has a relatively short and unimpressive hockey history. They moved their club team to the Division III ECAC in 1978, where they competed until 1985, when the school moved to the ECAC North-South in Division II to bring the program in line with the rest of its athletic programs in Division II.

The Falcons struggled in their first decade in Division II, but by the late 1990s, their record was improving, largely thanks to the diminishing number of D-II programs requiring the team to fill its schedule with D-III opponents. It was the diminishing D-II club that eventually forced Bentley into the D-I ranks, as was the case with most other early MAAC teams. Bentley was not an inaugural member of the conference that would soon become Atlantic Hockey, spending that first season as a D-II independent before acceding to the MAAC in 1999.

Since moving to D-I, Bentley has largely struggled. In 6 of 11 seasons, they failed to reach the 10-win mark. Their two bright spots were in 2006, when the team made a Cinderella run to the Atlantic Hockey championship game before losing to a Holy Cross team that was one of the strongest the league had produced to that point. The other was 2009, when Bentley finished in 4th in Atlantic Hockey with their first (and only) winning season in D-I to date.

As we have seen in their visits to Troy, however, they're not a team that's going to be quickly pushed over. Netminder Kyle Rank recorded his first collegiate win against the Engineers in 2008-09, and then displayed some outstanding skills in last year's RPI Holiday Tournament, standing on his head to make 49 saves before blanking Lake Superior State in a shootout to lead Bentley to third place.

The Falcons also boast a pair of sophomores in Campanelli and Hartung who they'll rely on for goalscoring. Incoming freshman Justin Breton could potentially add to that as well, as he comes in from the EJHL having netted 54 points in 45 games last season. If the name Dan Koudys sounds familiar, there's a good reason for it - the Bentley sophomore is RPI freshman defenseman Patrick Koudys' cousin. He had a solid freshman campaign, posting 6 goals and 14 assists in 33 games. Campanelli, Hartung, Breton, and Koudys will be counted on to replace the scoring lost when forward Marc Menzione and defenseman Bobby Preece graduated, they were the Falcons' first and third leading scorers respectively last season.

Head coach Ryan Soderquist is entering his 9th season behind the bench at Bentley, but he remains one of the youngest head coaches in the nation. Soderquist was a 2000 graduate of Bentley, where he remains the highest scoring player in program history. He took over just three seasons later, meaning he coached some of the same guys he played with. His ninth season will tie his predecessor, Jim McAdam, for the longest tenure in school history.

Given the solid competition the Engineers will be facing in road games ahead of the Bentley homecoming, this should be a game that RPI should be able to win fairly easily, but they must be on guard against a letdown. Two years ago, this same team made the most of a lackluster effort by the Engineers to earn a shocking overtime victory that would be a harbinger of a terrible season to come for the Tute. We've seen the Engineers play down to the level of their opponent quite frequently when they are faced with teams they should be able to take down. This will be their first test to see if they can overcome that - last season, many of those early tests (Army, AIC, and Sacred Heart especially) displayed that the stigma was still there. Bentley, on the back half of the away-home weekend, is going to be a must-win if only because any team that will have high expectations has to be able to win a game like this at home, and should do it decisively.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Women's Hockey - Introducing the 2010-2011 Engineers

With the Class of 2014 announced a few weeks ago, let's take a moment to review the additions, subtractions, and returnees that will make up the 2010-2011 Engineers. With several top players departing after their senior seasons, the heat is on for the incoming freshmen to provide an immediate contribution and the returning players to step up their game to fill the void.


Departed: Rossli Chace, Whitney Naslund, Allysen Weidner, Allison Wright

Returning: Kendra Dunlop, Ashley Gaylord, Laura Guillemette, Alisa Harrison, Taylor Horton, Kristen Jakubowski, Sydney O'Keefe, Clare Padmore, Audrey Stapleton, Jill Vandegrift

Recruits: Missy Mankey, Toni Sanders, Jordan Smelker

Losing Naslund and Wright to graduation is a severe blow as the Engineers lose 53 points (23.6% of their total) between the two, and another 18 with Weidner's departure. The departing seniors as a whole represented 41.7% of RPI's scoring last season, and it will be up to the incoming forwards to give a shot in the arm to a team that has lost much of its punch. Expect Alisa Harrison and Kendra Dunlop to lead the charge for the Engineers as the third and fourth leading scorers from last year's team, and the top two returning.

Recruits Missy Mankey (Coon Rapids, MN/Minnesota Whitecaps/Hopkins HS), Toni Sanders (York, PA/West York HS Boys/Susquehanna Rapids U19), and Jordan Smelker (Anchorage, AK/Team Alaska U19) will round out the roster and each has their own contribution to offer.

Coach Burke commented on Mankey's speed and all-around utility, stating she is a player the Engineers would be able to use in numerous situations. Sanders, who split time between a high school boys hockey team (tallying 46 points) and an Girls Under-19 team where she had 62 points (44 more than the next leading scorer) should have no problem being a physical presence with a great shot. Smelker attended US player development camps, was named HS girls hockey player of the year twice by the Anchorage Daily News, and was all-conference three years straight. Coming into RPI with a 4.0GPA and interest in math and science, she's also no slouch in the classroom and it wouldn't be surprising to see her end up in one of RPI's more difficult majors.

In RPI's official release regarding the incoming class, it was noted that 9 forwards would return for the upcoming season, and 6 of the top 10 scorers from last season. If you count the above we have 10 supposedly returning forwards, meaning one won't be back. If we discount the 6 remaining top scorers (Castignetti, Dunlop, Harrison, Horton, O'Keefe, Vandegrift) we're left with one of Gaylord, Guillemette, Jakubowski, Padmore, or Stapleton leaving. With Jakubowski earning the team's Most Improved Player award, averaging over 50% on faceoffs, it would be surprising not to see her return.

Gaylord, though listed as a forward, was utilized as a 3rd-pair defenseman for the latter part of last season after Janessa Haller left the team unexpectedly in January. Gaylord played just a handful of the 20 prior games at left and right wing before taking on the defensive role, and saw relatively little ice time at the defensive position. After playing only 3 games the season before last, best guess is that she will be the player that does not return; with two skilled defense recruits arriving she would likely not be needed on the blue line. However it's all speculation until the official roster comes out.


Departed: Laura Gersten

Returning: Amanda Castignetti, Katie Daniels, Andie Le Donne, Sierra Vadner

Recruits: Logonaimanufaalava (Nona) Letuligasenoa, Madison Marzario

Few players had as large an impact on last year's team as captain Laura Gersten. ECAC Student-Athlete of the Year, co-Bill Cahill Award winner, Sarah Devens award winner, and scorer of the 5OT goal that pushed the Engineers past Quinnipiac in the playoff quarterfinals, the captain was the keystone of the Engineers and will be sorely missed.

It is fortunate for the Engineers to have not lost any additional defensemen as their ranks were already thin, playing all the defensemen on the roster plus a forward for the latter half of the season to fill out six slots. Additions to the team this year include a girl with perhaps the longest name in college hockey, Logonaimanufaalava Letuligasenoa (Fairbanks, AK/North American Hockey Academy) and Madison Marzario (Prior Lake, MN/Shattuck St. Mary's).

Letuligasenoa, who goes by Nona for the sake of everyone's sanity, was a top varsity softball player in addition to her performance on the ice. Marzario, listed at 5'9", has a big shot and will add some physical presence to the defense according to Coach Burke. Aggressive and ready to jump up into plays, expect her to help with the forwards' difficult task of restoring lost scoring to the team


Departed: None

Returning: Kristen Burney, Shannon Ramelot, Sonja van der Bliek

Recruits: None

There's not a whole lot to say here. Sonja van der Bliek was a rock in net last year with a .924sv% and 1.85GAA. Now the recipient of ECAC Goalie of the Week Honors five times, most recently the Engineers 3-game playoff win over Quinnipiac where she stopped 98 of 101 shots, for a 0.61GAA and .970sv% on the weekend in nearly 300 minutes of hockey. Van der Bliek holds many of RPI's goaltending records already after only three seasons, including games played, games started, wins, minutes played, and shutouts.

Expect Shannon Ramelot to play a few more games this season as well in preparation for van der Bliek's departure following her senior season. Although she only played in four games in 09-10, Ramelot posted an impressive .925sv% and 2.08 GAA with a 1-0-1 record last season.



Scoring is going to be the big question mark for the Engineers in 2010-2011 as they attempt to somehow replace the loss of the players that truly led the team's charge into Division I. If players like Harrison and Dunlop can step up and fill some of the void while the recruits pitch in from day one, this could be less of an issue than expected. But if we don't see strong performances out of each of the veterans, we could see van der Bliek put under a lot of pressure to keep RPI in games. Although Gersten's departure hits hard, fans can look forward to two incoming defensive recruits, which should allow Coach Burke a little more flexibility in putting a full complement of defensemen on the ice for each game.

With many of the teams in the ECAC picking up solid talent this offseason, competition will once again be stiff in league. A middle-of-the-pack finish in the 6th-8th place range looks likely as the talent level across the league improves. It's getting hard to find a "sure win" in the ECAC anymore and you can expect some serious competition between teams to fill in the 8 playoff spots by the end of the season.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Based on a True Story

Captains for the men's team were named this week, and as expected, John Kennedy will return as team captain. He will have three teammates wearing the "A," one of whom wore it last season, and two others who... well, let's just say other coaches typically formulate strategies for dealing with them.


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Know Your Enemy: Northeastern

For the second part of "Know Your Enemy," we take a look at the first local matchup of the 2010-11 season, the front-end of an away-home weekend against Northeastern University.


Nickname: Huskies
Location: Boston, MA
Founded: 1898
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2009
Last Frozen Four: 1982
Coach: Greg Cronin (6th season)
2009-10 Record: 16-16-2 (11-14-2 HEA, 9th place)
Series: RPI leads, 25-16-1
First Game: January 9, 1954 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: October 28, 2005 (Troy, NY)
Last NU win: November 29, 2008 (Troy, NY)

2010-11 game: October 15, 2010 (Boston, MA)
Key players: F Wade MacLeod, sr.; F Tyler McNeely, sr.; F Garrett Vermeersch, so.; F Justin Daniels, so.; F Mitch MacMillan, fr.; G Chris Rawlings, so.; G Clay Witt, fr.

Northeastern tends to be one of the more common non-conference opponents for the Engineers among the major conferences. Although there's no yearly game as there is with BU, the Huskies do seem to pop up on the schedule more frequently than some other programs, seemingly about every other year or so. They're one of a handful of teams that have won the RPI Holiday Tournament more than once.

NU definitely lives in the shadow of BU and BC - and on a historical level, Harvard as well. One needs to look no further than the yearly Beanpot tournament to see this illustrated. Over the 58 years in which the tournament has been held, Northeastern has come out on top only 4 times (all during the program's heyday in the 1980s), by far the least among the Beanpot schools. They've finished in 4th place, losing both Beanpot games, 50% of the time.

Much like Colorado College, Northeastern's long hockey history is filled with an awful lot of difficult seasons. A member of the original ECAC, the Huskies did not make any meaningful impact on the conference during the first two decades of its existence, but that began to change in the early 1980s.

1982 was a banner year for NU - two years removed from their first Beanpot triumph, the Huskies won the ECAC championship to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. They made the most of their experience there, reaching the Frozen Four before bowing out to eventual national champions North Dakota. Three seasons later, NU would break from the ECAC to be an inaugural member of Hockey East, and early on they enjoyed some success, winning the Hockey East title in 1988.

But since then, Northeastern has largely fallen back into its old ways of typically being an also-ran within Hockey East. The Huskies have made two NCAA appearances since their 1988 Hockey East title, in 1994 and 2009, but they still haven't advanced in the tournament since 1982.

Last season, the Huskies were caught in the muddled middle of Hockey East, missing the playoffs by a single point - and finishing just 4 points out of third place. A reversal of fortunes in their final weekend of the season against Boston University could have seen them finishing in third instead of the Terriers. Instead, their season was over. As non-playoff years go, however, NU had one of the better years that one could expect, finishing with a .500 record overall and nearly .500 in Hockey East as well. It was a tough finish for a team that had reached the NCAA tournament a year prior, but the early loss to the pro ranks of Hockey East Player of the Year Brad Thiessen, the goaltender who had led the Huskies into the tournament in 2009, was a big setback.

The current edition of the Huskies got another gutshot recently when sophomore-to-be defenseman Jake Newton, one of the standout players on the team last season as a major offensive threat from the outside, signed with the Anaheim Ducks, foregoing his last three years of college eligibility. But it's not all bad news. The Huskies do bring back a decent amount of scoring potential, especially in MacLeod and McNeely. MacMillan joins the team from Alberni Valley, where he played with Johnny Rogic for Nolan Graham, as the reigning Coastal Conference MVP with 61 goals in 59 games, and should quickly become another scoring threat for NU.

The drawback, though, is Northeastern's terribly young defensive corps. As we've seen in Troy, having a dearth of experienced leadership on the blue line can spell disaster. Mike Hewkin will be the only senior defenseman on the team, backed by a glut of freshman and sophomore blueliners. If this young corps can congeal satisfactorily, Northeastern can be a very dangerous team to play against. The Engineers, in this sense, will be fortunate to be playing the Huskies early in the season.

In net, Chris Rawlings didn't come anywhere close to matching Thiessen's standard with a wildly erratic freshman season, but he was never intended to come in and be the number one goaltender right away - he was supposed to be Thiessen's understudy last season. This year, NU brings in one of the top rated goaltender recruits in the nation in Clay Witt, who should get drafted in Los Angeles this month. Time will tell whether the job is up for grabs or whether Rawlings or Witt will be the go-to-guy from the beginning.

RPI faces the Huskies in what will be their third consecutive road game to start the season, but this will be a "one-night stand" in Boston. They'll more than likely sleep in their own beds the night before and certainly the night after, as they have a home game the following day. If the first weekend in Colorado isn't successful, this game will be an early must win, and the key, more than likely, will be RPI's experienced offensive attack jumping on the Huskies early and often and then, as was one of the issues last year, not letting up late in the game.

This should be the first major opportunity for RPI fans to see the team in a meaningful game - unless of course, you're planning to see them in Colorado. The Engineers' first few home games are all against Atlantic Hockey opponents, so getting out to Boston for this game might be a good idea. The Huskies play in Matthews Arena, the oldest surviving and operational indoor ice hockey arena in the world, and the team's loyal student section has to be seen to be believed. The Bruins, Whalers, and Celtics all once called this building home, and Matthews is one of three present-day college hockey barns to have hosted the Frozen Four (Houston Field House and Brown's Meehan Auditorium are the others) - so if you've never been, this might be your year to check it out. The building is celebrating its centennial this year, having opened in 1910.

Friday, June 4, 2010

For Mandi

We've only been around for a little over half a year, but Without a Peer has already earned a reputation for being savage when it comes to dealing with the competition. Hockey's a no-nonsense sport, and we are unapologetically zealous in support of our team. There's a time and a place for that. But there's also a time and place for the college hockey world to come together and support one of our own.

This is one of those times.

This is Mandi Schwartz. She's appeared in 73 games for the Yale Bulldogs over the first three seasons of her college career, and she should have been enjoying her final season and graduation from Yale right about now.

In December 2008, in the midst of her junior season, Mandi was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. She went home to Wilcox, Saskatchewan to be near her family as she underwent chemotherapy and recovery. The leukemia was in remission, and she returned to Yale in January 2010 to complete her junior year and prepare to take the ice again in 2010-11.

Here's Mandi talking about her return to Yale and her optimism for the future:

Unfortunately, shortly after this interview was conducted, tests showed that the cancer had returned. She is now back in Saskatchewan undergoing chemo again.

What Mandi needs is a stem cell transplant - which means we must find a bone marrow donor or cord blood donors for her, and both are difficult to find, because when it comes to bone marrow, there are 10 points that must match to ensure that there will not be rejection, and cord blood requires as many as 200 donors.

Here is a discussion about Mandi and her condition from Yale, featuring former Yale men's team defenseman Brennan Turner, who grew up with Mandi in Saskatchewan:

So what can we do to help? It's very simple - and I pray that you join the cause to help Mandi find her hero.

* Check out Yale's website about Mandi. If you have any questions, be sure to send an email to info@BecomeMandisHero.org

* Join Mandi's Facebook page to get up to date information about her condition and what you can do to help.

* If you are pregnant, or know a woman who is pregnant, please, let her know about cord blood donation. Mandi is in need of cord blood from babies with any combination of German, Russian, or Ukrainian heritage especially, but cord blood donation can potentially help thousands of other people as well - if it isn't donated, it is just thrown away. BecomeMandisHero.org has a special card that you can print out with information about cord blood donation.

* The most proactive thing you can do is to join the national bone marrow registry for your country - click here for the American registry, click here for the Canadian registry, or click here for information about registries in Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden. If you are a potential donor, you could directly help save Mandi's life or thousands of others like Mandi who need your help to survive.

Please - if the only thing you do is to pass this along to one other person, take the time to spread the word about Mandi. It only takes one person to save her life, and the more people we have on the hunt looking for that person, the better chances we'll have of finding that person.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Know Your Enemy: Colorado College

Today, we kick off a 20-part Summer Cooler series we like to call "Know Your Enemy," a semi-detailed look at the 19 teams (and one potential matchup with Bowling Green) that the Engineers will be grappling with in the upcoming season. With a little over 17 weeks left until the puck drops in October, that means we'll have about one of these every week, with a couple of weeks where we'll have two, right before the season starts.

We'll start with the non-conference games - the teams that RPI fans will probably be less familiar with - and then get to the 11 ECAC foes. We start this week with the first opponent of the season.

Colorado College
Nickname: Tigers
Location: Colorado Springs, CO
Founded: 1874
Conference: WCHA
National Championships: 2 (1950, 1957)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2008
Last Frozen Four: 2005
Coach: Scott Owens (12th season)
2009-10 Record: 19-17-3 (12-13-3 WCHA, 6th place)
Series: Colorado College leads, 2-0-1
First Game: January 30, 1954 (Colorado Springs, CO)
Last RPI win: Never
Last CC win: December 29, 2007 (Tampa, FL)
2010-11 games: October 8-9, 2010 (Colorado Springs, CO)

Top players: F Tyler Johnson, sr.; F Nick Dineen, jr.; F Rylan Schwartz, so.; F William Rapuzzi, so.; F Andrew Hamburg, so.; F Jaden Schwartz, fr.; D Ryan Lowery, sr.; D Gabe Guentzel, jr.; D Eamonn McDermott, fr.; G Joe Howe, so.

This trip will mark only the fifth time in school history that the Engineers have made the journey to Colorado Springs - they did so in 1953 (where they took third place in the Frozen Four), twice in 1954 (once to play the Tigers and once to compete in - and win - the Frozen Four), and once in January 1995 when they swept a weekend series at Air Force. So if you like omens, that's a good one - the Engineers played in the NCAA Tournament every season in which they went to the Springs.

A full weekend matchup with the Tigers has long been expected ever since Athletic Director Ken Ralph left the Institute in 2007 to take the same job at CC. The teams met in the Lightning College Classic in Florida during Ralph's first year at the helm in Colorado Springs, but the matchup had been determined well prior to his departure.

CC is home to some of the longest suffering fans in college hockey. For the last 9 years, ever since Boston College broke their 52-year streak without a national championship, the Tigers have had the mantle of "longest championship drought," a dry spell that has now overtaken BC at 53 years. After their last title in 1957, CC became something of a perennial afterthought in the nascent WCHA. Just five years after winning the national championship, the team went 0-23-0, and between 1958 and 1993, the team had no less than 30 losing seasons against only 5 where they went .500 or better. Their best season during that stretch was 1974-75, when they went 23-16-0.

The renaissance began as soon as Don Lucia, then head coach at Alaska-Fairbanks, came to Colorado Springs in 1993. That season, Lucia turned the program around from an 8-28-0 record just a year prior to a 23-11-5 record in 1993-94 and the program's first MacNaughton Cup, the trophy awarded to the WCHA regular season champions. They would suffer a humiliating defeat to Michigan Tech in the first round of the playoffs that year, but the die was cast. The Tigers would follow up with back-to-back 30-win campaigns, a three-peat as MacNaughton champions, and two trips to the NCAA tournament, the latter of which ended with an overtime loss to Michigan in the national championship game.

Lucia left in 1999 to take the helm at Minnesota, but the Tigers were an afterthought no more. Since Lucia's arrival, the Tigers have gone 17 consecutive seasons with a .500 record or better and have been a staple in the NCAA Tournament. Lucia took the team there in the last five of his six years in the Springs, and Scott Owens has been there six times in 11 seasons - in fact, last season was the first time since 1994 in which the Tigers have failed to make the NCAAs in back-to-back seasons.

Within the WCHA, the Tigers are generally being predicted to fall somewhere in the middle quartiles of the now 12-team league, roughly between 4th and 9th. They're coming off a season in which they got out of the gate much stronger than most observers expected them to, going 12-5-3 in the first three months of the season, but faltered in the 2010 segment of the schedule, 6-10-0 finish, with two of the wins coming in a home weekend against Atlantic Hockey teams. That doomed them to a road playoff series against Minnesota-Duluth, which they lost in 3 games, ending hopes for an NCAA berth.

Most pressing right now for CC is replacing the 36 goals scored by Bill Sweatt and Mike Testuwide last season. Johnson had 14 goals, while Rylan Schwartz had 6 with 22 assists on the year as the highest returning scorer for the Tigers. His highly touted brother Jaden, who should be a fairly high pick in the NHL Draft this month, should make his college debut against the Engineers.

In net, the Tigers boast one of the best young goaltenders in the nation in Joe Howe. Howe had some mighty large skates to fill after Richard Bachman left after his sophomore season, and he performed admirably, being named the top freshman goaltender in the nation by both CHN and INCH.

There will be a number of factors working against the Engineers. First, it's Colorado, and with that comes the altitude. Second, the Tigers' home arena, Colorado Springs World Arena, is an Olympic-sized ice surface, which the Engineers have struggled with historically. They had an 0-1-2 record last season on the larger ice, and RPI is winless on Olympic ice since beating Michigan Tech 4-3 in Anchorage, AK on October 15, 2005 - but since MTU plays on an NHL sized rink themselves, you have to go back to November 2, 2002 to find the last time RPI beat an team with Olympic ice on the larger sheet, when they knocked off St. Cloud State at the National Hockey Center. Third, our understanding is that the opening weekend of the season is also homecoming at CC, so expect the building to be filled with some 5,000 CC partisans. Finally, the Engineers are 1-4 against the WCHA in the Seth Appert era - with the one coming in his second game behind the bench, at Denver. It's a tough league - a mid-table team in the WCHA will usually be a tough opponent for even the very best of the ECAC.

So no matter how you slice it, the first two games that count in the upcoming season will be tough. The Tigers represent an excellent opportunity in the first weekend of the season for a physical and mental challenge that will serve RPI well as the season develops. If nothing else, the season will certainly be starting off with a bang.