Thursday, November 17, 2011

Times That Try Men's Souls

Took a couple of days to collect my thoughts on Tuesday's game. Here they are, with some serious pontification:

Tuesday was an embarrassment. To play that way on your home ice, in front of your home fans (on Greek Night, no less, ensuring that a surplus of rowdy frat boys were on hand to add to the atmosphere), against the local rival with whom you've just completed I-don't-remember how many classic contests in a row, was absolutely disgraceful. If you can't get yourself up for a game in a situation like that, what can you get up for?

The first seven or eight minutes, it must be said, the team did look the way the whole building had hoped they'd look: fired up, ready to go, and even had the early goal - the earliest of the season by almost eight full minutes. Alex Angers-Goulet gets a mini-breakaway and it takes a huge play from the defenseman behind the action to stop him from getting a shot on net. Then it breaks the other way and on a defensive breakdown, the game is tied up.

And that's the ballgame. Or at least, that's what it looked like.

We left our live tweets on Tuesday night with a shot - this team is playing with no heart.

We want to be proven wrong.

Without a Peer was born in 2009 for a few reasons. First, there was no independent site on the Internet that offered a fan's perspective of the Engineers (and, by and large, the ECAC either). We wanted to fill that gap, and that's something that's certainly been done. We also wanted to harness the power of social media to help RPI fans stay up to date on the latest with the team - to include live tweets of games. When we first started, we were the only ones doing it. Today there are at least three different places you can go to get live tweet, which is fantastic. Third, we wanted to have fun with our observations, in the vein of the Yankee blog nomaas.org, which was one of the inspirations for WaP.

We're biased - but we wear our bias on our sleeve. We don't claim to be giving equal time to everyone, although we do enjoy discussing the league and the NCAA from time to time. We've never wanted to be straight up fanboys when it came to our team. Long time readers have seen us defend the team, players and coaches alike, to the death - but these have never been blind defenses. We've had some criticisms here and there, too.

Anyone following our live tweets on Tuesday could see that it wasn't a straight up running report of exactly what was happening in the game. That is not our sole intention. We sought to display, in real time, the frustration of the stands, a frustration that has continued to mount over the course of the season.

Just a couple of weeks ago, we advised that it was not time to panic. There were plenty of external explanations as to why the RPI offense was struggling. Forwards left and right were out with injury - reasonable. The team went through a gauntlet of some of the best teams in the nation, each with a bonafide rock solid defense - reasonable.

The problem is, that gauntlet is now over. Clarkson and St. Lawrence and Brown are not Ferris State and Colorado College and Notre Dame.

All the forwards are back with the exception of Matt Neal.

We're going on the road for six weeks.

We're in last place. By ourselves.

So it's time to start casting eyes inward. Chase Polacek is not walking through that door. Brandon Pirri and Jerry D'Amigo are not walking through that door.

The knock on RPI from a number of quarters coming into the year was that they wouldn't be able to bounce back from losing Polacek and Allen York. We thought the latter charge was fairly spurious, argued against it vigorously, and it turned out we were right. Bryce Merriam is doing just fine.

Chase Polacek was a great player, one of the best to ever don the Cherry and White for four seasons. But hockey is a team sport, and there were plenty of guys who played last year who were just as much a part of the team's success. Brock Higgs. Patrick Cullen. Johnny Rogic. Marty O'Grady. Josh Rabbani. Alex Angers-Goulet. Joel Malchuk. None of them were asked to step up and be Polacek.

Add to the mix one of the most anticipated classes of freshmen in RPI's history - Neal, Jacob Laliberte, Ryan Haggerty, Zach Schroeder, Mark McGowan. None of them were asked to step up and be Polacek.

But surely, with all of those guys available, the offense wasn't going to be a major issue.

Boy, do we look stupid now.

You don't lean on your freshman class in order to be successful no matter how talented or anticipated they may be - because you never know how a freshman is going to adapt to the college game. You can't place blame on these guys, especially because three of the five have done time on the injured list. In fact, give Haggerty some credit - he's the team's leading forward in scoring, not that it's much to brag about right now.

The upperclassmen - the seniors, juniors, and even sophomores - seem to be waiting. Waiting for someone else to be that offensive leader. Someone else to take the shot. Someone else to look for that pass to the open man. Someone else to dig the puck out. Someone else to connect.

Worse, in games like Tuesday, they're almost waiting for bad things to happen, and when that tying goal came down in the first period, ending a three minute lead, the view from the stands was that despair had already set in. Perhaps it's just what happens when a team is accustomed to losing, as any 2-10-0 team certainly would be, but this should not be a team accustomed to losing. 3/4 of this team beat the #1 ranked team in the country last year. 3/4 of this team was taking on North Dakota in Wisconsin in late March.

Prove us wrong, gents. We're begging you.

Quite honestly, the six week break before the next home game is probably good for the fans, too. By the time the third period came around, there were plenty of fans arguing with each other. That's not a good sign. It was the fans with the reserve attitude shouting at those whose faith was fading as quickly as the product on the ice.

It can't be easy to come to the rink for practice right now. The game these guys grew up playing at all hours of the day probably doesn't seem like a lot of fun when you're in a tailspin like this. Understandable.

Thomas Paine, in The American Crisis, wrote words to rally supporters at a time when the Revolution seemed hopeless and lost:

These are the times that try men's souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.

This quote, it should be noted, goes for fans and players alike. There's still time to lead. There's still time to steel our resolve and salvage our pride.

This is a team that has done a lot of things right. In fact, in many games - basically, all of them but Tuesday's farce and the Clarkson game - they've done everything they've needed to do to win hockey games except putting the puck in the net. That's why we know this is a team with potential. This isn't the team we watched limp to a 7-25-2 regular season record three years ago. That team played some of the toughest teams around, but just wasn't ready for primetime. We'd go to games and just watch the team get manhandled by better programs.

Today, the record is just as dismal, and yet we're watching a team that's very much a part of most of the games they've played, and they just aren't getting anything from these games. That speaks to something else. On Tuesday, it looked very much like a lack of heart.

Prove us wrong, guys. Prove us wrong.

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