Sunday, January 2, 2011

Time to Get Excited?

Yes. It is.

Consider the following:
  • The Engineers have concluded their non-conference schedule with a record of 8-1-3. The one loss was to Colorado College in the first game of the season.
  • 10 of the remaining 16 games on the schedule will take place at Houston Field House. RPI is 7-0-0 at home this season. The last time the Engineers went unbeaten at home before January was 1983-84 (9-0-0).
  • According to KRACH, RPI at this point in time would be favored (before considering home-ice advantage) in 15 of their remaining 16 games - every game but Yale, which is a home game and this year's Big Red Freakout.
  • Chase Polacek last year was a Hobey Baker finalist with a points per game average of 1.33. He's at 1.39 right now.
  • Midway through the season, Nick Bailen has 20 points. No Engineer defenseman has finished a season with at least 20 points since Jake Luthi in 2006-07 (27).
  • Tyler Helfrich has already set a personal best for goals in a season with 10. He was the team scoring leader during his freshman year.
  • Allen York currently has a GAA of 1.74 and a save percentage of .931 - he is in the middle of the greatest season for an RPI netminder since Joel Laing in 1999-2000 (1.82, .947, both school records for a single season), when Laing was a Hobey Baker finalist.
  • With 36 goals allowed in 18 games for a team GAA of 2.00, RPI once again has the top rated defense in the NCAA.
  • Only five teams currently have a better record than the Engineers (11-4-3): Yale, New Hampshire, Boston College, North Dakota, and Minnesota-Duluth.
  • RPI sits in 11th in KRACH, but more importantly, sits 7th in the PairWise Rankings.
  • The Engineers' current record against teams under consideration: 4-3-2 (Yale, Union, Colorado College, Boston University, Dartmouth, and Brown).
  • The remaining schedule against TUCs and teams who could possibly become TUCs: 6 at home, 3 on the road.
  • The only other time RPI had 11 wins before New Year's Day: 1999-2000, when they had 12.
  • Each of RPI's four losses have either been by one goal or included a late empty netter (Yale). Each of the one-goal losses featured a somewhat controversial waved off RPI goal.
  • While captain John Kennedy was out with a hand injury, the team put up a record of 5-1-0. Three key forwards also missed some of those games.
So we're seeing some parallels with the 1999-2000 season, are we? Yes. That was also the last time the Engineers were legitimate contenders for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. That season featured an experienced and talented senior class like the one this year's team has, and a goaltender putting up fantastic numbers.

Two things nipped that team. After nailing down that 12th win on December 29, 1999 to go to 12-3-0, they went 7-9-2 over the course of the regular season. They finished third in the ECAC (using winning percentage, that was the year of the Vermont hazing scandal). Despite reaching the ECAC title game (the last time that happened, too), the Engineers were the top team in the PairWise Rankings to miss the NCAA Tournament - then a 12-team affair.

There were only five at-large bids that year. Back then, each of the four conferences actually had two auto-bids, one for the regular season champion and one for the tournament champion. That meant there could be as few as four at-large bids - St. Lawrence was the only team to win both the regular season and conference tournament titles in 2000.

This year's team has an advantage over that ill-fated squad. They are competing to reach a 16-team tournament with 11 at-large bids. And they have lots of advantages as mentioned above.

So yes. It is time to get excited. We're 18 games in and there are 16 to go, so there's lots of hockey left to be played. But if things continue the way they have been going... excitement will be a bit of an understatement. In anticipation of the upcoming chase for the NCAA tournament, we will debut "Engineer Bracketology" next Tuesday, with the prologue coming up in just two days to explain the process.

Before the season, we were lamenting what could have been if Jerry D'Amigo and Brandon Pirri had stuck around. Instead, the team is roughly where we thought they might be if they were here. Now it makes you wonder how much higher this team could have gone - and what is in store for the future.

Strap in and hold on to something. The next eight weeks are going to be wild. Then it kicks into warp speed for another three weeks. Are you ready for this?

1 comment:

  1. Exciting times to be sure. Still RPI went into the bag last year with home ice on the line so until SA gets these boys over the hump, I am reserving judgment. First things first, Cherry and White need to get home ice in the ECAC's. As you mentioned, they have been killing it at home this year which makes it even more important. Then they need to get to the final four for the ECAC. They haven't been there in what seems like decades and I think that an appearance there will only solidify the PWR standing. I think the team is really close but these next few weekends will be nailbiters until the final seeding shakes out.

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