Thursday, October 18, 2012

Early Returns

So, what do we now know about RPI Hockey in mid-October? It's not always easy to extrapolate from just a weekend or two of results, but there's little question that if the men could keep things going the way they did against Ferris State, it would be a pretty outstanding year.

Consider the following:

  • Jacob Laliberte's first freshman goal: December 2
  • His first sophomore goal: October 12
  • His third freshman goal: February 11
  • His third sophomore goal: October 13
  • Game in which RPI scored its fifth goal of the season in 2011-12: Fifth
  • Game in which RPI scored its fifth goal of the season this year: Second
  • Goals scored by sophomores against Ferris State this weekend: 5 out of 5
  • Points by sophomores against Ferris State this weekend: 9 out of 14

What does it all mean? It all speaks to the heart of the offense for this team, which is actually exactly where it was last year - with the Class of 2015. It's no coincidence that last year's five freshman forwards practically always played when they were healthy - and none of the five managed to make it through the entire season without illness or injury sidelining them (all missed at least four games).

The quintet - Laliberte, Ryan Haggerty, Zach Schroeder, Mark McGowan, and Matt Neal - notched a combined 23 goals last season, which led the four classes (sophomore forwards scored 10 goals among three, juniors scored 14 among three, seniors 16 among five).

Are they going to be the end all, be all this season? No, almost certainly not - we should expect to see solid contributions from C.J. Lee, Marty O'Grady (when he comes back), Brock Higgs, and Matt Tinordi based on what we saw last year. Nick Bailen has proven to be a scoring threat from afar over the last two seasons, and there's no reason we won't see a lot of Milos Bubela and Mike Zalewski this season, a couple of freshmen with the bonafides to be contributors. (Aside, of course, from the injury potential, knock on wood.)

Whenever you have freshmen as the core of your scoring output, you're bound to have a struggle to score goals, especially early in the season, and that was exactly the case last year. Although there are exceptions - Brandon Pirri and Jerry D'Amigo come to mind - freshmen typically have a need to acclimate themselves to college hockey before they can perform at a high level. Pirri and D'Amigo, it should be noted, also benefited from the presence of a Hobey Baker finalist on the team.

As well, the marginal utility that the program got out of those two players in terms of on-ice production is actually pretty low - D'Amigo already ranks behind classmates Lee and O'Grady on the all-time points list, and Pirri will likely fall behind Lee this season. It took the two seniors three years to accomplish what those players did in one, but that merely has spread out their usefulness.

So on the basic assumption that RPI is unlikely to see players on the level of Pirri and D'Amigo with any striking regularity, most freshmen that arrive in Troy are going to have seasons like Laliberte did last year, when after much anticipation and expectation, he scored "just" five goals. Does his three goal weekend mean we're going to see more of what was anticipated and expected last year? Perhaps. But he's not likely to be the only one improving. There's no getting around the fact that RPI's frosh five from last year are getting more experienced and getting better - which could be very good news going forward.

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