Thursday, December 27, 2012

Back To It

OK, now back to your regularly scheduled RPI hockey blog.

The men are back in action tonight, tomorrow, and on Monday, playing three games in five days. The first two are arguably more difficult, playing at nationally ranked St. Cloud State. Monday, it's the worst team in the nation according to KRACH, Sacred Heart.

The team ended the first half of the season playing pretty well. Can they keep the momentum up now that the Christmas holiday is over?

Speakers up, friends.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What If: Wait Until Next Year

* August 2010: Brandon Pirri and Jerry D'Amigo sign NHL contracts shortly before the beginning of their sophomore seasons

Taio Cruz - Break Your Heart

For a program that was in desperate need of salvation, Brandon Pirri and Jerry D'Amigo seemed like godsends - and despite a bitter ending to an otherwise successful season, better days were certainly on the horizon. Given all the things RPI fans were expecting to happen in the offseason following the team's bitter Game 3 loss to last-place Brown, the 2010-11 season was full of all kinds of hopes and dreams.

The first three seasons of the Seth Appert era were difficult to say the least. Making it clear early on that he intended to start essentially from scratch and build the program into prosperity with his own recruits, the team went 31-68-14 between 2007 and 2009, bottoming out in the third season with a .282 winning percentage that was the second lowest in the modern era, ahead of only the 3-19-0 season of 1965-66.

That 2009 result was deflating for a lot of RPI fans. After all, the new coach by that point was now at the head of a team that was comprised more than half of its roster with players he had recruited. There was little question that sophomores Chase Polacek and Tyler Helfrich were the heart of the offense, but team defense continued to suffer by and large.

Hope, it seemed, was on the way in the form of three prized forward recruits that had been landed just ahead of that dismal season. The first was a small forward from Ontario who could score in bunches, Jacob Laliberte, who committed in February 2008. Then came two big names at the almost same time - Jerry D'Amigo, who would play the 2008-09 season for USA Hockey's Under-18 program, who committed in July, and then the talented Brandon Pirri, a somewhat larger forward from Ontario who could also score in bunches.

Laliberte, who would have turned 19 just before the 2009-11 season got underway, was eventually pushed back a year, but the arrival of D'Amigo and Pirri as boosters for Polacek, Helfrich, and freshman standout Patrick Cullen certainly mitigated that move significantly, with interest piquing after Pirri was selected late in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft that summer, followed by D'Amigo's selection in the sixth round, not to mention the head-turning he did at the US Junior camp in Lake Placid that summer.

The season got off to a slow start as RPI put together a 1-2-1 record in its first four games and then posted lackluster wins against Sacred Heart and American International on back-to-back nights. A dramatic come-from-behind win in Schenectady over Union was overshadowed the next night by a loss to Army on Halloween night which concluded a lackluster October.

Hope began to spring in November with the ECAC schedule getting underway, as the Engineers whipped off wins against Yale, Brown, and Clarkson to start the league season 3-0, the first time the team had accomplished the task since the ECAC championship season of 1995. They then jumped out to a 1-0 lead over St. Lawrence, only two give up two goals in the span of 1:49 in the third period to lose 2-1. That would be the first of six losses in the team's next seven games, including four ECAC games, which sunk those early high hopes, especially given that the other three league games were all in Troy.

In December, D'Amigo was invited to join the US junior team in Canada, and he not only played, he starred on a team that defeated Canada for the gold medal. By the time he returned to Troy in January, his stock had risen significantly, and it coincided with a rise in the team's performance.

Things slowly cranked back up in mid-December. After an upset over BU in Boston, RPI took down Michigan in the first round of the Great Lakes Invitational and then swept the Quinnipiac/Princeton road trip. Between New Year's Day and Freakout, RPI put up a 7-3-2 record that put the team right back in contention for a first round bye. By this point, people were well aware of D'Amigo and Pirri as potential rookie of the year candidates, and Polacek was becoming a legitimate Hobey Baker candidate himself.

Then came Freakout, which was also senior night, and the Engineers could not have played more poorly. With sophomore goaltender Allen York out with an injury, Princeton destroyed RPI 7-0 and dealt a serious setback to the Engineers' first-round bye hopes. A one-point weekend in Central New York sealed the Engineers' fate, they would be the sixth seed after losing a tiebreak with St. Lawrence for fifth place.

Then, the Brown debacle. After a terrible third period performance in Game 1 put RPI down in the series, a 4-1 win in Game 2 forced the a deciding Game 3 - but the Engineers were flat as could be in that contest, falling behind 3-0 early in the third period. Two third period goals were too little, too late, and the turnaround season ended with an upset loss.

But, fortunately, another talented freshman class was waiting in the wings, chock full of defensive strength and, of course, Laliberte.

In August, as the team was getting ready to congeal again for the season, word came from Lake Placid - where D'Amigo was training again for the World Juniors - that the rising sophomore had gained a good 20 pounds of muscle during the offseason, and that Toronto, who had drafted him a year earlier, was impressed with his Rookie of the Year season and previous WJC exploits. After camp ended, D'Amigo was offered the money, and he signed.

It was certainly a blow to the team to lose D'Amigo that early - after his successful freshman year, few thought he would stay through his senior season, but almost no one thought he'd leave before his sophomore year - but conventional wisdom had it that as long as Pirri was in the mix, RPI was going to be OK. Then Pirri was a conspicuous absence at captain's practices, and before long, he had signed a professional deal as well.

The departure of the freshmen actually made up two of a series of events we deemed the "summer from hell" that drastically changed the 2010-11 Engineers from what expectations had been at the end of the 2009-10 season. Assistant coach Jim Montgomery left the program to restart the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL, prized defensive recruit Nick Quinn first pushed his arrival in Troy back a year and the decommitted altogether (ending up in the OHL), and Laliberte had his arrival in Troy pushed back for a second year in a row. That let a lot of the air out of high expectations for 2011 that had some pegging RPI as the top contender to Yale's dominance of the league table.

Pirri's departure was chalked up to the roster issues that Chicago, the Stanley Cup champions, had after being forced to let go of many of its role players to be able to afford some of the hefty contracts they'd taken on to make their championship run, but in all likelihood, D'Amigo's departure only hastened Pirri all the more. D'Amigo ultimately struggled in the AHL in 2011, eventually being sent to play in the OHL, while Pirri spent nearly the entire season in the AHL, save a single NHL game which extended RPI's streak of alums playing in the big leagues.

Despite diminished expectations, the Engineers still ended up having a phenomenal 2011. They chased after and picked up the team's first NCAA bid since 1995, and were nearly unbeatable at home - they won their first seven home games in a row, and didn't have a regulation loss at home until the final week of the regular season - which, as it turned out, could have helped them gain the first-round bye if they'd have had any other result in that contest. Overall, RPI went 14-3-1 between mid-November and early February, a showing for much of the season that helped them back into the NCAA tournament despite a 2-6-1 conclusion to the year.

How would the 2010-11 Engineers have fared if the "summer from hell" had never taken place? What if Toronto had told D'Amigo to hone his skills in Troy for another year to see if his skill level would catch up with his bigger size?

D'Amigo had a difficult first season in the pros, but it may have been portended by a rough WJC camp that summer, which had been chalked up to the attention Toronto had been giving him at the time. He may have been destined for a down year, but night-in and night-out at RPI is still a touch easier than the AHL or even the World Junior camp. Polacek managed to be a Hobey Baker candidate for a second straight season even without the pair, and Allen York came into his own as a top-tier goaltender as well.

Whatever kind of seasons Pirri and D'Amigo would have had in Troy in 2011, you have to think their presence would have boosted the Engineers in close games that were either tied or lost. That by itself likely would have been enough to boost RPI into a top four position in the ECAC playoffs, and probably would have made an NCAA bid more of a sure thing rather than the edge-of-your-seat waiting game that took place for two weeks after being upset by Colgate (which may have helped them get the bid, ironically).

Without considering how RPI would have fared in the ECAC tournament, the boost would surely have been enough to improve the team's draw for the NCAAs. Being matched up with the odds-on favorites for the national championship is never easy (and unfortunately, York wasn't in a good position to channel his inner Jon Casey against North Dakota).

Could that have produced at least the team's first NCAA goal since George Servinis, or perhaps even a first round win? I'd like to think that adding Pirri and D'Amigo to the NCAA roster combined with a less difficult first round opponent would have made the first likely, and the second one very, very possible.

Some have wistfully commented that given the actual turnout of the 2011 season, RPI could have been a Frozen Four team if not for the "summer from hell." It's certainly going too far to peg that as some kind of sure thing, but even to be able to say that such an event was even in the realm of the possible is an intriguing "what if" to chew on.

Beyond 2011, there's little likelihood either player would have ever been playing this season, as seniors, for the Engineers. After the 2010 season, most figured Pirri would stick around one more year, and D'Amigo two at the most.

To some extent, we are still seeing the fallout from the departure of Pirri and D'Amigo today through the depleted nature of this year's senior class. It's had a certain effect on recruiting, in all likelihood, too. While the fab frosh electrified Troy and got boosters dreaming of bigger things, their one season did not have the same impact as a player like Chase Polacek, whose career was overlooked by the NHL, allowing him to be a solid four-year contributor in Troy - or even Jeremy Welsh, who was a freshman at Union during Pirri and D'Amigo's lone year at RPI. Arguably, Welsh contributed more to Union's success by being undrafted and staying three years than Pirri and D'Amigo contributed at RPI.

As a positive aspect, though, their early success and quick professional attention at least portrayed RPI as a place serious hockey prospects could consider as a place to develop both the mind and body - something, however, that would have been enhanced had they stayed an extra year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

What If: The King of Troy

* April 2006: Seth Appert is named the 9th head coach in the modern era

Shakira - Hips Don't Lie

Between the time Dan Fridgen took over at RPI in 1994 and the time he left in 2006, college hockey grew in terms of national prevalence. While still a niche sport compared its collegiate counterparts, media and fan attention through cable and the Internet certainly grew over his 12 years as the boss in Troy, as did the growth of the sport as a legitimate breeding grounds for the professional ranks, already well underway by the time he became head coach.

Fridgen departed RPI as the coach with the most wins in program history, the most losses in program history, the most ties in program history, and the second longest tenure behind only Ned Harkness. Fridgen's record benefited from a longer playing season than his predecessors had enjoyed, but he put together some decent squads along the way. In his first season as head coach, with a team he had spearheaded recruiting for during his days as Buddy Powers' top lieutenant, the Engineers made a surprise run through the ECAC tournament, culminating with the program's third ECAC championship during the 10th anniversary of its second national title.

In the mid-to-late 1990s under Fridgen, the Engineers were regulars in Lake Placid, and were sometimes mentioned frequently in the national picture. The team finished with winning records in seven of his first eight seasons behind the bench. But after 2000, the bloom certainly was busy coming off the rose for many alums. Despite strong records in each of the talented Class of 2000's seasons - a class that included Joel Laing, Brian Pothier, and Pete Gardiner - RPI was not getting over the hump. They reached the ECAC title game in 2000, and finished in the top four in the ECAC every season, but won no titles and were not getting NCAA invites. Once the team started facing problems even advancing in the ECAC tournament in 2001, 2003, and 2004, followed by two dreadful losing seasons, Fridgen resigned as coach before the administration had the opportunity to ask him to leave.

Fridgen may have been a victim of his early successes raising expectations, but there was little doubt that teams in the late 1990s tended to underperform late in the season, and after a Lake Placid appearance in 2002, the program had steadily declined. After 12 years there was a lot of hope that fresh blood would reinvigorate things. This time, the search for a new coach would take place in the Internet age, leading to plenty of speculation on who would be the new bench boss in Troy - an open position that was among the most prominent in the nation.

Suggestions ranged from past heroes like Adam Oates and Joe Juneau, both recently retired from the NHL, to other college coaches, past and present, with a history of success, like Stan Moore, Don Vaughan, Mike McShane, Mark Morris, and Mike Addesa's name was even tossed around the rumor mill. Some looked to names long linked with top jobs, such as Ron Rolston, Casey Jones, and Mike Cavanaugh.

When the three finalists for the position were leaked, Boston College's Cavanaugh was indeed one of the finalists, but the other two names appeared to have come out of left field compared to the rampant speculation. One was Denver assistant Seth Appert, who had been a top lieutenant on George Gwozdecky's national championship teams in 2004 and 2005, a man who, if he'd accomplished similar things on the east coast would certainly have been part of the rumor mill. The other was Andy Murray - the man who a month prior had been the head coach of the Los Angeles Kings. Yes, those Los Angeles Kings.

Then word quickly came down that the offer had been made to Murray, whose previous head coaching position had been at Shattuck St. Mary's, a hockey mill that had produced RPI's Ben Barr, among many others. For a day, RPI fans had stars in their eyes, and questions took off. Would Murray really go from the NHL to college, where he'd had no prior experience? If he took the job, would it work? How long could he be stay? How many national championships was he going to win first? (OK, that last question exaggerates a bit, but not by much.)

By the end of the day, word got out again - Murray had declined the offer, and RPI was instead turning to Appert. The Ferris State alum didn't carry with him the spotlight of the NHL, but his resume was plenty good enough to have RPI fans excited anyway when he accepted the position.

The jury is still out on how the Appert era has progressed. Some are pleased that he has been able to bring in talented recruits and helped guide the team back to the national tournament in 2011. Others are dissatisfied with the many losing seasons the team endured on the way there, and the team's poor showing in 2012 (and rough start to 2013). That's a debate for another day - today, we're asking the question of what could have been if Murray had accepted the offer to replace Dan Fridgen in Troy.

Murray elaborated on why he turned down RPI when he was hired at Western Michigan in 2011. It came down to being able to watch his own children play college hockey - his oldest, Brady, had just left North Dakota after two seasons for a professional career. His daughter, Sarah, was about to start playing at Minnesota-Duluth, and his youngest son, Jordy, played at Wisconsin for three years. "I was offered the job," he said. "I remember walking with [Dr. Jackson], who took me past the architecture and biomedical engineering buildings and asking, 'Does the hockey coach have to be smarter than his players? You may have the wrong guy here.' I really looked at that job because I've always been interested in coaching in college hockey. But in the NHL, I did have the possibility to catch the odd [college] game."

Murray ended up coaching in St. Louis that December as a midseason replacement, and he stayed with the Blues through the end of 2009, when he was fired in the middle of the season. Once his son left Wisconsin, he accepted the position at Western Michigan, a team that was coming off its first NCAA appearance in 16 years. He replaced Jeff Blashill, who left Kalamazoo after one season to join the staff of the Detroit Red Wings.

When Murray had been hired by the Blues just months after having been a candidate at RPI, the prevailing opinion had been that the school had dodged a bullet. One of the big questions people had about Murray when they learned of his candidacy was that he may not have been inclined to stay in Troy very long, given that he'd been a head coach in the NHL already. His comments clearly indicate a strong desire to see his two younger children play in college, but would he truly have been a short-term coach if he'd decided to take RPI's offer?

That familial motivation probably leans us in the yes column. At Western Michigan, he no longer has that element to worry about - perhaps the only thing Broncos fans have to concern themselves with is whether the NHL comes calling again. Still, even if he doesn't stay long, he managed to deliver WMU's first ever CCHA hardware of any kind by leading them to the league tournament championship last season, the program's first 20-win season in over a decade, the team's first back-to-back NCAA tournament appearance ever... and oh yeah, his hiring helped facilitate WMU's accession to the National College Hockey Conference for next season. Not bad for a guy who's only been on the job for a year-and-a-half.

But presuming Murray would have been OK with staying in Troy for more than a couple of seasons, would he have been able to spin similar magic? The team he would have inherited was... light on raw talent, to say the least. Presumptions that Murray would have been able to turn RPI around quickly hinge on whether he would have been able to bring in top recruits quickly, something that may not have been the most natural thing in the world for a guy used to dealing with general managers - not to mention having little experience with the added necessity of bringing in top recruits able to hack it at RPI.

One thing Murray would have guaranteed would have been buzz. For a 17 or 18-year-old to have a former NHL coach at your door seeking to recruit you, that's pretty special (and something WMU is likely benefiting from now). The other would certainly have been the product on the ice. If you're a solid enough tactician to coach on the highest level, it's possible he'd have been able to squeeze water from a stone and had the team competing more quickly. Jordy Murray, it should be mentioned, was no slouch at Wisconsin. Perhaps if his dad had been an active college coach, he would have had a shot at RPI?

There are lots of questions that are destined to go unanswered, and there's little doubt that the question of whether Murray coming to Troy would have been good or bad for RPI is going to be clouded by one's perception of the current coach. So all there really is to say is that Murray's decision was pretty black and white for RPI - it probably either saved the school a lot of unnecessary hassle, or it possibly delayed major improvements in the program. It's your call.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

What If: Purity

* January 2004: Division III grandfathers programs with Division I scholarships

OutKast - Hey Ya!

When word got out in the summer of 2003 that the president of Middlebury College was proposing to restrict Division III schools that "play up" in Division I from offering athletic scholarships in their Division I sports, it sounded like a cruel joke.

"Let's issue is athletic scholarships, " John McCardell had said. "Let's debate that issue. The evidence is the [1983] waiver [allowing the "play up" scholarships]. It's a general acknowledgement that what they're doing is at variance from what is the Division III philosophy."

Thus, the gauntlet was thrown down. Division III was suffering the impure stain of scholarships offered by eight institutions - RPI in men's hockey, Clarkson and St. Lawrence in men's and women's hockey, Colorado College in men's hockey and women's soccer, Johns Hopkins in men's and women's lacrosse, Oneonta State in men's soccer, Hartwick in women's water polo, and Rutgers-Newark in men's volleyball. In McCardell's view, this was an affront to the 416 other Division III schools, and demanded their immediate revocation, for the sake of Division III purity. Proposition 65 was born.

McCardell assembled his allies. "There's nothing that prevents them from continuing their Division I competition, but do it without giving financial aid. Division III schools should never give athletic-related financial aid, ever." So said Donna Ledwin, commissioner of the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference, against all semblance of logic.

"It's special interest legislation that gives special treatment to eight members," declared Lincoln College president Ivory Nelson.

Battle lines were drawn. Twenty years after RPI's first scholarship athletes graduated, that privilege was in serious danger. The old Tri-State League rivals - RPI, Clarkson, and St. Lawrence, bitter enemies on the ice, found themselves sharing a foxhole in a fight for survival. Fortunately, RPI had a dynamic young leader helming the athletic department in Ken Ralph. In just his second year on the job, he was facing a serious threat to his school's premier athletic program, and he was ready to take the lead in order to fight it.

Ralph banded together with his counterparts at the other seven institutions to put together an all-out counteroffensive against McCardell's crusade, seeking to educate presidents and athletic directors all over Division III about the importance of defeating the measure - after all, it was one that affected only a very small percentage of the wider D-III membership, and could easily have just been voted in without a great deal of thought.

Ralph and his cohorts pulled out the big guns, launching an internet campaign called Stop Prop 65. Hockey games turned into pseudo-political rallies. Senator Charles Schumer hosted a press conference at Houston Field House urging the NCAA to defeat Proposition 65. The greater college hockey community mobilized - Ralph even received a phone call from a season ticket holder at Northern Michigan, a school RPI had never and still has never played, asking what he could do to help.

And still, heading into the NCAA's Division III convention in Nashville, no one was sure of success. There had been a great deal of hemming and hawing "we'll see" responses, and plenty of support for the measure to be found. So as the convention began, the eight schools went on offense. They proposed an amendment to Prop 65 - Proposition 65-1 - that would bar Division III schools from offering athletic scholarships, but grandfather the eight institutions which were already doing so.

It was a gamble. The eight schools ran the risk of appearing to be asking for even more special treatment, and the supporters of Proposition 65 tried their to make that argument. Ultimately, the education campaign paid off. 65-1 was taken as a legitimate compromise between the nature of the programs in question and the drive for a more pure Division III, it passed 296-106. Proposition 65 was then passed as amended, 304-89. 65-1 was ultimately supported by all but one Division III school that shared a conference with one or more of the affected schools (Union).

Thus, going forward, RPI, St. Lawrence, Clarkson, and Colorado College continue to offer athletic scholarships. This is also why Union and RIT are unable to do so, Union didn't offer them at the time and RIT didn't move to Division I in hockey until 2005.

RPI also made the announcement that women's hockey would move to Division I shortly after the vote.

A win was a win, and a bullet was dodged thanks to some very hard work by a number of stakeholders. But what if their argument had failed to persuade the fence-sitters in Nashville? What if the McCardells of the world had won the day, and scholarships had been stricken from those eight institutions?

At the time, public discussion on what would be done if Proposition 65 passed unamended was pretty much forbidden. After all, it would have done little good for the campaign if it appeared that members were prepared to either swallow the measure or bolt Division III to avoid its effects. For the sake of recruiting, both RPI hockey and Johns Hopkins lacrosse insisted they would continue to play in Division I, but the lack of specifics to potential recruits across the board on whether or not they would still have scholarships as seniors (with Prop 65 slated to take effect in 2008) surely played a negative role regardless of the declarations.

This scenario is easier to examine than some of the other ones, because there were only a few options available as contingencies if Proposition 65 had been enacted.

First, RPI could have chosen to drop the hockey program to Division III for the sake of competitiveness. This was practically always considered probably the least likely scenario, given all that the program had survived over the course of its history.

The next option would have been the "do nothing" option, simply playing in Division I without scholarships in hockey while remaining in Division III in other sports. In hindsight, this possibly could have been made to work, especially given that the last two Division III programs to reach the Frozen Four were... RIT and Union. They're getting by without scholarships, and it's possible that the other four schools could have managed to get by without them too (although Colorado College specifically would have had a much harder go of it), although to say that RIT and Union "don't offer scholarships," without putting the word "athletic" into it, is a bit misleading.

The third option was to move out of Division III, and was ultimately a pair of options - a move to Division II, or a move to what was then Division I-AA. Division II, geographically, was a poor option - it would have left RPI playing against schools like Saint Rose, Le Moyne, Pace, and Adelphi on a regular basis, schools which don't have a great deal in common with RPI other than location.

Division I-AA, however, would have offered some clear potential. As we've mentioned before, RPI would have found a number of similar schools in the Patriot League, and (at the time) would have even been able to keep costs down due to a lack of football scholarships in the league. At the end of the day, this option, presuming the Patriot League would have been open to accepting RPI as a member, would have been the most likely scenario.

Hindsight tells us that RPI's window for Division I accession would have been slim - in 2007, the NCAA issued a moratorium on teams moving into Division I, which means the school would have had three years to get the process underway. With scholarships scheduled to be revoked in 2008, it's likely that it would have been done relatively quickly.

There is one event in particular which took place a month before the vote in Nashville that may have nudged RPI in that direction. The football team, a local laughingstock for decades, broke through with not only its first ever NCAA tournament win, but three in a row as the Engineers advanced to the national semifinals before falling to eventual national champions St. John's just one win from the Stagg Bowl. The football team captivated campus at a time when it was in need of a pick-me-up, given the Prop 65 fight.

The combination of the football team's success and the fight to stop Proposition 65 was a bit of an enlightenment for RPI president Shirley Ann Jackson. Having focused almost entirely on academics since her arrival on campus in 1999, she began to see in full the popularity of athletics between the march through the national tournament in football and the impassioned response of alums to the NCAA threat in hockey. It's not too much of a stretch to suggest that in the wake of a lost battle against Prop 65, she could have been convinced to push forward with expanded early plans for a new East Campus Athletic Village that would allow the football and basketball teams to take on Ivy League opponents with a similar regularity as the hockey team while allowing the school's premiere sport to maintain competitiveness in Division I.

Money was the issue - but Dr. Jackson has never had a problem coming up with money when the urge or the need arises, that's for sure. Had Proposition 65-1 failed, it's very likely that we'd be seeing RPI competing as a Division I Football Championship Subdivision school today - but the possible cost to the hockey program of such a move weighs just as much as what it would have gained through continued ability to offer athletic scholarships.

No longer separated from other offerings by a special distinction, hockey would be jockeying for position with a football team now facing Colgate, Holy Cross, and Yale rather than Union, Merchant Marine, and Alfred, and basketball teams able to tap into the very popular Albany basketball market with competition against Siena and UAlbany, not to mention the money bonanza that would go along with a potential invitation to the March Madness dance.

Despite the likelihood of this scenario, RPI is far better off today because of the success of 65-1 regardless of the excitement that Division I athletics would have brought to campus. Despite its opposition to the purity drive of Prop 65, RPI as an institution does place its emphasis on academics and research, and it's commitment to Division III values allows the school to keep that emphasis there, while allowing for the special history of hockey at the Institute. It's a win-win, despite the allure of what could have become.

Friday, December 21, 2012

What If: Tempered Temper

* April 1989: Mike Addesa resigns as coach after using a racial slur two months earlier

Martika - Toy Soldiers

From almost the first moment, and even through perhaps the greatest high in the history of the school's premiere athletic program, Mike Addesa was at odds with the powers that be in the Institute's administration. He was too brash, too presumptuous, and too focused on exploits outside of the classroom to mesh with the powers that were. Once the team backed away from the heights of a national championship and fell from grace, the sharks were circling.

The excuse the school was looking for came in February of 1989, late in a season in which the Engineers, much as they had the previous year, took a promising start and ground to a very disappointing end. Following a 2-0 win over Brown in Troy on February 3 - a win, it would turn out, that would be the last of the season for RPI and the final win of his tenure - Addesa berated the team for a lack of seriousness on the bench, including senior Graeme Townshend, who had scored the game's winning goal. Townshend, a Jamaican-Canadian and one of two black players on the team, had been trying to get his teammates focused on the game and had words on the bench with Bruce Coles, the other black player.

Addesa, as was his usual, sought to get his team fired up. Never one to mince words, he certainly went more than a bit too far in this instance, lumping Townshend in with the rest of the team to try to evince the "us vs. him" mentality that he was famous for as RPI's bench boss. Townshend recalled Addesa saying, "What I saw between you and [Coles] really made me sick to my stomach. If you don't stop acting like a n*****, I'll start treating you like one."

Townshend later confronted Addesa in private, asking him not to use the word around him any more, but Townshend recalled Addesa reasserting himself in that conversation. Eventually, word got out of the locker room about the incident, the newspapers caught wind, and a major controversy was underway.

The program had fallen almost as quickly as it rose under Addesa. Since going 35-2-1 and winning the national championship, the Engineers had been on the decline basically every season since. 1986 was still a 20-win season for RPI, but 1989 had represented a third consecutive losing season at 12-17-3 as RPI glided to an eighth-place finish in the ECAC, losing to the likes of Dartmouth and Army down the stretch and just barely qualifying for the eight-team playoff for the third straight season.

There were plenty of people in the RPI administration who were ready to be rid of Addesa from the moment he stepped on campus and successfully lobbied for athletic scholarships. But despite his string of losing seasons, the national championship four years prior and the support that came from alumni because of it made getting rid of him practically impossible - they couldn't just can him without a good reason, or there would certainly be repercussions from upset boosters and alums.

In that light, the locker room incident was practically a godsend for the administration. Controversy flared up in the local media - the truth was, a lot of local sports writers were no fan of his either, since his caustic personality and black and white mentality alienated them. Minority student groups rallied on campus for Addesa's dismissal.

At the time, Townshend - a physical forward who was a captain at RPI in 1988 and played in the NHL - defended Addesa, but later came to regret sticking up for his coach as he came to grips with the borderline relationship he had with his mentor.

Eventually, the pressure became overwhelming, and Addesa resigned as head coach, officially leaving the school on his own terms but in reality quitting before being fired. It served as a disappointing bookend to what had been an amazing decade in RPI hockey history.

Addesa never found another job in college hockey. He applied for the open position at Denver in 1990, but current Air Force coach Frank Serratore was given the nod. The following year, he fell short in his bid to take the reins at Northeastern, a job that went to then-Dartmouth head coach Ben Smith. The root of Addesa's struggles then manifested itself when he was asked about whether he would then apply for the newly open position in Hanover - "I don't believe in the academic index," he said, essentially declaring that he had given up on the ECAC in general before declaring the gravity of having been labeled a racist. "The RPI scam has eliminated any possibility of me coaching college hockey."

Today, separated by time from the bitterness of his term in Troy and with the grand nature of his accomplishments during that term shining brighter than the dark moments, Addesa appears to be on at least friendly terms with the Institute. He returned to campus in 2010 and spoke during the celebration of the 1985 championship team's 25th anniversary.

But what if Addesa hadn't gone too far that night in Troy? What if, instead of pushing the envelope, he'd simply shouted at the team and stormed out of the room? What would have been the result?

Again, with conjectural questions like these, it's difficult to say with certainty what could have happened, and a look around at what did happen is certainly in order. The desire of many of the powers that were at RPI to see Addesa gone would still have been hanging over things even if they were unlikely to be able to do much about it without cause.

Under new head coach Buddy Powers, RPI's fortunes improved to the tune of winning records in 1990 and 1991, and as one could expect, it was largely on the backs of players recruited by Addesa like Coles and Joe Juneau, the latter of which truly came into his own during his junior and senior seasons despite having led the team in scoring in both of his first two seasons as well.

If Addesa had been able to pull of similar results, the Institute probably would not have been rid of him until the mid-1990s at the earliest - more likely, Addesa's frustrations with RPI likely would have seen him out the door by then, though the question of who his successor would have been is dicey. Powers had been at RIT before the RPI job opened up, and he left Troy after just five seasons to coach at Bowling Green. Dan Fridgen was then hired directly from Powers' staff. If Addesa had been able to stay beyond 1989, it's likely that his replacement would have been someone else, changing RPI's fortunes in the late 1990s.

Addesa's comments on the ECAC's academic index indicate that he probably would not have been long for RPI in the 1990s anyway, regardless of the team's record or the administration's dislike of him. Given that the team's resurgence in the early-to-mid 1980s did not follow on with the team establishing itself as a national power or even a firm new power in the ECAC, it is by no means a given that a lengthened tenure from Addesa would have provided any specific boost. Meanwhile, the Powers and Fridgen-led teams of the following ten years, while some may have certainly underperformed at times, were at least very competitive for the duration of the 1990s.

Thus, while we may look back and ponder what could have been had Mike Addesa had the opportunity to build upon his successes at RPI, his departure from the program at the time it occurred may have been just what was needed to soldier forward in the right direction.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What If: Whistle Blown for Offsides

* March 1985: George Servinis scores a disputed goal to put RPI ahead 2-0 in the national championship game

Tears for Fears - Everybody Wants to Rule the World

The hard part was supposed to have been beating Bill Watson, Brett Hull, and Minnesota-Duluth. That was plenty hard, considering how long it took to get it done. But after three overtimes, John Carter finally potted the game winner to give UMD its second consecutive long-game heartbreaker and lift the Engineers to a place they hadn't been since 1954 - the national championship game.

Providence wasn't even supposed to be there. Their run was supposed to have ended against BU in Hockey East's first ever semifinals. After a 5-2 upset, it was supposed to have ended to Hockey East's first ever regular-season champions, Boston College. With a little home cooking - the neutral site for Hockey East's first tournament was the Providence Civic Center - the Friars earned the nascent league's inaugural title with a 2-1 double overtime win. Then they weren't going to survive a two-game, total goals set at CCHA champions Michigan State. They did. Surely they wouldn't survive BC a second time in the Frozen Four. Once again, an overtime winner. The Providence Friars were into the national championship game, against all odds.

Friar netminder Chris Terreri earned himself the nickname "the Extra Terreri-al" with out of this world goaltending, and he was perhaps some of the best proof you'll ever find that a team can ride a hot goaltender pretty far. But there was no doubt he was in for a real test facing down an RPI team that was one of the greatest offensive juggernauts in the history of college hockey. Three goals was a bare minimum for the Engineers in 1985.

RPI looked to be on their way to three with a power play goal just 4:29 into the contest off the stick of sophomore Neil Hernberg. The Friars then had to survive two more RPI power plays in the first period, and Terreri made 13 saves to keep the score 1-0 after one period.

Perhaps Providence's most golden opportunity to put themselves in position to tie things up came early in the second. Mark Jooris' hooking penalty 38 seconds in was compounded by a cross-checking call against captain Mike Sadeghpour, giving the Friars a two-man advantage for 32 seconds. RPI killed Jooris' penalty, but still had 25 seconds left to kill on Sadeghpour's minor when a faceoff came in the RPI end. Providence won the faceoff, but a blue line pass by Peter Taglianetti was stolen by George Servinis, who immediately went on a breakaway, faked Terreri down and put the puck into an empty net to give RPI a 2-0 lead. The picture of Servinis shooting past a splayed out Terreri is one of the most famous pictures in RPI's hockey history.

There was just one minor problem. Servinis was in a position to intercept the pass, in part, because he appeared to have skated into the faceoff circle just before the puck was dropped, which made him offside. That's not supposed to be legal, but the goal counted anyway - one wonders how the linesman who was dropping the puck missed the movement into the circle.

The rest is history - Providence provided some drama with a power play goal midway through the third period, but it was as close as they would get as Terreri put up a brilliant effort with 40 saves, stifling the RPI offense as no other goaltender had all season by allowing just two goals, but the Engineers skated away with their second national championship.

How would things have been different if Servinis' goal had been called back? Tough to say for sure. Obviously, both teams scored one legitimate goal each, but we can't calculate how the teams played differently in the second period and the first half of the third with RPI holding a 2-0 lead as opposed to a 1-0 lead. The Engineers certainly had their opportunities to add to their advantage with three more power play chances before Providence's Paul Cavallini made it 2-1, but a combination of brilliant play by Terreri and tired legs from having played a three-overtime contest the night before made for a bit of a power outage by the awesome RPI offense. The Engineers were 1-for-7 on the man advantage.

We'd like to think the 1-0 edge might have produced some added urgency for the RPI power play on those final three opportunities. The Engineers didn't face much adversity in that championship season, but when the game was tight they put things together, bouncing back from a 3-2-0 start to the season to go undefeated the rest of the way and winning overtime games against a less than stellar Brown team in Providence and against Division III Union in Schenectady (albeit a Division III team that had played for the national championship a season earlier).

Providence, remember, had plenty of time to get themselves back into the game, but could only manage the one goal thanks to RPI's outstanding defense led by Daren Puppa, Ken Hammond, and Mike Dark, not to mention some good discipline after the Sadeghpour penalty ended, as they allowed only two more power plays from there on out (including John Carter's hooking call which helped get the Friars on the board).

So maybe it's just us being homers here, but if it hadn't been George Servinis on a disputed call, we think it probably would have been someone else over the course of 35 minutes of game play that would have collected a memory for the ages.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What If: Lake Placid in March

* March 1984: Jon Casey leads North Dakota to a 9-6 series upset over home-standing RPI in the NCAA tournament

Van Halen - Jump

Something was certainly afoot in Troy in 1983, and it made the entire college hockey world stand up and take notice of RPI in ways it hadn't for at least 20 years dating back to its last NCAA tournament appearance and perhaps even 30 years dating back to Gordie Peterkin and the goal that shocked the college hockey world.

The 1983-84 Engineers were beastly. Practically able to score at will, RPI dominated scoreboards night in and night out, beatable only when held under three goals in a game (they were 1-4 in those games during the regular season, all five were one-goal games). Furthermore, they were unbeatable at home with a perfect 17-0 record at Houston Field House, winners of 23 straight in Troy dating back to a December 11, 1982 loss to Clarkson by the time the 1984 NCAA tournament began. During that run, they outscored opponents at home 177-84, averaging over seven goals per game.

So when North Dakota, runners-up to Minnesota-Duluth (in both the regular season and the tournament) in the 6-team WCHA came to Troy for the quarterfinal round of the NCAA tournament, there weren't too many giving the Fighting Sioux a fighting chance. While RPI was busy dominating all comers in the east down the stretch to the tune of 15 wins in their last 16 games on their way to the ECAC title (mostly - Clarkson proved more than game in both RPI's only loss and in the ECAC semifinal), North Dakota had limped to a 6-6-2 record in the same stretch, their final win a 5-4 "victory" in the back end of a two-game series with Duluth in the WCHA playoffs that followed an 8-1 loss that had the Bulldogs in cruise mode.

Truly, the Engineers had a date with destiny in front of what was sure to be a favorable crowd at the Frozen Four in Lake Placid. North Dakota senior Jon Casey had other plans.

With some of the greatest names ever to don the Cherry and White blasting away at him, Casey put on a display of brilliance in net that propelled North Dakota to an upset of the ECAC champions and into the Frozen Four themselves. The netminder faced a total of 93 shots in a two-game, total goal series at Houston Field House, and managed to emerge victorious on the other end. In game one, Casey allowed the Engineers four goals, but the RPI defense, frequently able to bend significantly due to the usual higher output from the offense, allowed five, giving the Fighting Sioux a one-goal edge heading into the back end of the series.

The Engineers couldn't have been overly concerned about falling out of the tournament at that point, after all, they had put together a barrage and were still just one goal down. Another similar effort the next night offensively combined with a boost defensively would surely still see them through. But as good as Casey had been on Friday night, he was even more effective on Saturday night, limiting RPI's freakish offense to only two goals, while the Sioux were able to pump in four of their own. Despite being outshot 93-52, the total score was 9-6, and it was North Dakota, on the back of an incredible performance by their goaltender (with a save percentage of .935, good by today's standards and unheard of at the time), who was off to Lake Placid, leaving the Engineers to wonder about what could have been.

Mike Addesa and some of his charges were critical of the officiating in the series (which had featured western referees), but at the end of the day, officiating can't accomplish what Casey did in net - the numbers simply don't lie.

But what if Jon Casey hadn't been Superman that weekend in March? What if the heavy favorites from that school with the funny name had gotten the job done and moved on to the Frozen Four for the first time in 20 years?

Presuming that the heavy favorites had found a way to continue their usual goal scoring ways and had gotten themselves past Casey and North Dakota, the Engineers would have been the lone eastern team in the 1984 Frozen Four at Lake Placid, which actually ended up being an all-western affair. RPI was not the only team that could have been local in Lake Placid - Clarkson, it should be noted, came within a goal of forcing a Game 2 overtime at Minnesota-Duluth. Boston University, meanwhile, did face overtime in its Game 2 while hosting Bowling Green, the odd sight of a 4-1 game going into overtime thanks to a 4-1 BU win the night before ended with a goal for the Falcons, sending the CCHA regular season champs to the Frozen Four.

But leaving everything else alone, RPI would have gone to Lake Placid with Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan State, and Bowling Green as the other three teams. North Dakota faced off with the Bulldogs, leading to the possibility that an RPI win over North Dakota would have created the classic RPI-UMD matchup that graced the 1985 tournament, just one year sooner.

The 1984 Duluth squad, as one would expect, was largely the same as the 1985 team, with one major exception - Brett Hull was still a year away from matriculating. Both teams included 1985 Hobey Baker winner Bill Watson as the top scorer, both included Norm Maciver, who went on to a long NHL career, and both featured Rick Kosti in net. The 1984 team, in place of Hull, really, had defenseman Tom Kurvers, who had won the 1984 Hobey Baker.

UMD defeated North Dakota to advance to the national championship game, but it wasn't for lack of effort by Jon Casey, who continued his amazing performance to limit a team with two eventual Hobey Baker winners to just one goal in regulation. The Bulldogs advanced in overtime, 2-1. Would RPI have done any better? It's almost impossible to know for sure. To their advantage, they would have been closer to home, but RPI did end up with a 1-3 record against WCHA teams in 1983-84 in real life, coupling the two losses to North Dakota with a split against Wisconsin in Madison. It certainly would have been a very, very good game, probably quite similar to the 1985 classic (especially since UMD went to four overtimes in the 1984 national championship).

We're probably assuming a lot by pondering further, but the Engineers would likely have been favorites against Bowling Green in the national championship had they advanced that far. The Falcons had a number of players who had long NHL careers, including Garry Galley, Dave Ellett, and Gino Cavallini, and they were coached by Jerry York, who was in search of his first national championship. They had overachieved a bit on their way to what would eventually be that first national championship.

The question really isn't whether RPI could have beaten Bowling Green here, because it presumes an answer to the previous situation. The question really is this: if RPI had won the 1984 national championship - certainly a happening that would not have been outside the realm of possibility - what would have changed?

Would the professional exodus that took place after the 1985 championship have taken place? Possibly. Daren Puppa probably would have stuck around since he'd just finished his freshman season, but would sophomore Adam Oates have stayed? Hard to say for sure, but probably just as hard to see them staying. It's certainly not a given that the Engineers would have been in a position to go back to back, especially if they'd run into a UMD team with extra motivation to beat RPI in 1985.

Outside of RPI, one wonders if Jerry York would have caught on at his alma mater in 1994 without the national championship win in his back pocket from a decade prior. That seems pretty likely, but if not, what becomes of the current Boston College dynasty? Just a ponderance.

All in all, it's hard to see exactly what RPI would have gone on to accomplish if they had lived up to expectations in the first round of the NCAA tournament, but it certainly underscores the speed with which Mike Addesa was able to build a national contender in Troy.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What If: Eastern Promises

* July 1983: Five schools plan leave the ECAC to start Hockey East, RPI stays put

Michael Jackson - Beat It

The ECAC unified eastern college hockey under a single banner since its formation in the early 1960s, but it had always been a strange brew. The Ivy League, its own conference in every other sport, made up a healthy chunk of the group. The other teams based in the east of the region were typically Division I schools with a strong pedigree in hockey, while the other teams based in the west part of the region were mainly relics of a bygone era, when small schools and large schools were lumped into one, but their hockey histories made them equals.

The league has always been a precarious combination, and when concerns over the Ivy League's potential departure from the alliance, or their stringent academic requirements becoming paramount within the ECAC, it created a rift that ultimately led to the creation of one power conference and the slow decline of the former eastern power.

In July 1983, Boston College, Boston University, New Hampshire, Northeastern, and Providence decided upon a preemptive strike to protect their programs from an Ivy split. They announced the formation of a new conference, the Hockey East Association. Maine, the lone holdout from the ECAC's Eastern Division joined in soon thereafter, along with Division II power UMass-Lowell, giving the nascent conference seven members. There were certainly room for more.

The Division III schools of the ECAC, RPI, Clarkson, and St. Lawrence, were invited to become a part of the new grouping in part thanks to their strong hockey reputations. Clarkson was the program with the highest winning percentage in college hockey history, St. Lawrence a traditionally strong program, and RPI was on the rise to what would eventually become a national championship.

The remaining schools had a conundrum. Would they abandon the Ivy League ties, with its prestigious links to outstanding education, or would they pass up the opportunity to join what was sure to be one of the new power conferences of college hockey? Ultimately, all three schools chose to maintain their connection to the ECAC, and when the Ivy League elected to remain in the ECAC, a new 12-team conference was born, minus many of its top tier programs.

RPI was offered another opportunity to join Hockey East in the 1990s, but the school again turned down the invitation, citing a satisfaction with their position in the ECAC given that the program was among the league's top teams at the time. Recent flirtations between RPI and Hockey East went nowhere after UConn chose to improve their program with scholarships and a new arena in order to become the league's 12th team.

So the Engineers have had more than their fair share of opportunities to join Hockey East - besides the usual suspects of UConn and the University of Rhode Island (as the only prominent state schools in New England not currently in the conference), the Engineers may be the program most frequently linked with Hockey East accession. With the latest development of the Huskies joining the conference, it seems to be a road now closed to RPI, at least until the next conference upheaval, if and when it happens.

But what if RPI had done what BC and BU did in 1983, and freaked out at the possibility of the Ivies striking out on their own - a scenario which continues to pop up in rumors from time to time? What if they'd chosen to accept the invitation?

Hockey East's first season was also the season RPI won the national championship, the 1984-85 campaign. Given that Hockey East played an intriguing interlocking schedule with the WCHA that season (in which games were scheduled between the conferences, to count in each conference's standings), it's likely the Engineers would have played a much more difficult regular-season schedule than they actually did. While they could have certainly finished atop the new conference, it would not have been as easy as it was in the ECAC.

RPI certainly would not have faced Providence in the national championship if they had left, as Providence was a Cinderella team in the NCAA tournament. Had the Engineers duplicated their feat of winning the ECAC regular season and tournament in the new conference, the Friars would likely have been stuck at home. That could have jumbled the entire tournament up, and seen RPI facing the likes of Minnesota-Duluth, Boston College, or Michigan State in the finals instead - the latter of which would have been a tough draw in Detroit for sure. It's hard to say exactly what would have happened - perhaps Providence's Cinderella run would have derailed RPI completely.

Further out, though, the Engineers' prospects in Hockey East as charter members are likely closer to that of the Friars than to the power quartet that has traded the regular season crown since the conference's creation. The ECAC, for all of its problems, has been a conference with a great deal of parity from year to year, but in Hockey East, it's all about the Big Four, and the rest have traditionally fought for the scraps. NCAA bids for teams outside the Big Four have been few and far between - Providence in 1985, 1989, 1991, 1996, and 2001; Northeastern in 1988, 1994, and 2009; Lowell in 1988, 1994, 1996, and 2011; UMass in 2007, Vermont in 2009 and 2010, and Merrimack in 2011. That's just 16 bids over 28 years, compared with 19 for Boston College alone and 72 between all of the Big Four schools.

RPI has as many NCAA tournament appearances (four - 1985, 1994, 1995, 2011) as any non-Big Four Hockey East school with the exception of Providence during Hockey East's existence (Vermont too, if you count their three trips while they were in the ECAC). It has been argued that RPI's recruiting would improve if it were in Hockey East, but would it improve enough for them to be able to compete more frequently than Providence does? It's tough to make that assertion.

The major difference would be in October every year - RPI would be playing league games in its first month if it were in Hockey East today, and although its chances at competing for hardware would be diminished, they probably would be able to draw better non-conference opponents to play at Houston Field House as a Hockey East member, and by extension it's likely that the RPI Holiday Tournament would still exist. Non-conference games with Union, Clarkson, and St. Lawrence would be commonplace. Yearly home contests with the major schools of Hockey East would likely raise the local profile of the program.

All in all, many of the difference are things we discussed last year when the possibility of becoming the 12th team in Hockey East was thrown around. The move could have had murky effects on the 1985 championship, but all told it's hard to say for sure it would have been a net positive experience for the program. If any existed, it would likely be only incremental.

Monday, December 17, 2012

What If: Money in the Bank

Late 1970s: Scholarships come to RPI

The Knack - My Sharona

The program survived the turbulent 1960s, and once the 1970s began, the Engineers were back to being regularly competitive within the ECAC. Leon Abbott took over for Garry Kearns in 1969, leaving after three years with a winning record. Jim Salfi became RPI's fifth head coach of the modern era after Abbott's departure, moving to Troy from the University of Pennsylvania, which was the Ivy League's seventh program at the time.

Competitiveness was a relative thing in the 1970s, and it started slowly - the Engineers qualified for the ECAC Tournament in 1971, 1972, and 1973, but were blown out each time in the one-game quarterfinals. In 1974, they broke through with an overtime win over a UNH team considered the best in the nation (keeping the Wildcats out of the NCAA tournament in the process), but were humbled by Harvard and Cornell in the semifinals and consolation games. 1977 and 1978 brought more tournament qualifications, but no breakthroughs, not even at home against eventual league champions Boston College in 1978, the Engineers' first ever home game in the tournament (a 7-6 overtime loss).

For a side that wasn't among the beasts of the east in the 1970s, six tournament appearances in eight years was no slight feat. Only eight teams made the tournament back then, and the league was comprised of 17 programs for much of the decade. But the Engineers were surely facing a bit of a ceiling that they just couldn't break through. They couldn't get past the BUs, BCs, Cornells, and Harvards of the league, and although they'd put a serious gap between much of the rest of the league, they weren't looking likely to breach the top tier any time soon.

Looking back, it's fairly impressive that RPI was able to do what it did without having the Ivy League pedigree of Cornell and Harvard, or the big school/scholarship allure of most of the teams that eventually formed Hockey East. RPI had a solid educational background, but without the fanfare that came with being Harvard. The only thing to do was pretty obvious - athletic scholarships.

The concept of athletic scholarships had been around since 1950, but it wasn't until 1973, when the NCAA developed clear guidelines for scholarships (and the three divisions) that they became a strategic element. RPI was (and still is) a Division III school - one that did not offer athletic scholarships at all, but the hockey program was certainly incongruous with the rest of the athletic department.

The debate over athletic scholarships was simple - the Division III mentality saw them as a watering down of the educational foundation of the school, by and large, and the question at RPI was really one of philosophy over expediency.

By the time Holy Cross coach Mike Addesa arrived in Troy in 1979, the argument was pointed. Addesa looked at the situation, and made his case to the administration - the program needed scholarships to compete, and they needed them immediately. Now 25 years removed from the national championship that had placed the school on the map, the school could not draw the top Canadian talent that was flocking to Clarkson and St. Lawrence thanks to proximity, could not draw the talent that flocked to the Ivy League pedigree, and couldn't hope to compete with BC or BU on equal grounds without being able to offer financial incentive.

Addesa clashed with administration on this issue until he finally got his way. He made enemies in the process, which would lead to his downfall a decade later, but in time for the 1981-82 season, the first set of scholarship athletes arrived in Troy. They didn't know it right away, but these would become names etched in RPI history. Tim Friday. Ken Hammond. Mike Sadeghpour. Pierre Langevin. All four would eventually skate for and win RPI's second national championship in their final game in the Cherry and White.

The second scholarship class was even bigger. George Servinis. Kraig Nienhuis. Mike Dark. Mark Jooris. John Carter. And, of course, Adam Oates. An NHL-caliber goaltender in Daren Puppa arrived in 1983, and the rest is history.

The speed with which Addesa brought RPI from the middle of the ECAC to the top of the nation with the mere addition of athletic scholarships is a testament to his abilities as both a recruiter and a coach. When Adam Oates was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, he singled out Mike Addesa by name for what he'd done for his career in bringing him to Troy.

This "what if" scenario is a bit of a two-fer. What if RPI had failed to institute athletic scholarships in the early 1980s, and alternatively, what if Adam Oates had never come to RPI? The latter would have been a possibility had Oates been drafted by the Ontario Hockey League, but the confluence of scholarships and a lack of interest from major junior set into motion events that would lead to RPI's second national championship.

There is little argument that the team Addesa assembled to become one of the greatest college teams in the history of the sport would never have come together without the incentive of athletic scholarships, but the addition of Oates to the lineup in 1982 was just as vital. It helped attract additional key pieces to the Engineers for their monster seasons in 1984 and 1985.

Without scholarships, RPI likely maintains the trajectory they were on in the 1970s, and after the Hockey East split, would have probably put together a path similar to that of Dartmouth in the late 1980s and 1990s, perhaps a touch better - in the lower half of the 12-team league most years, occasionally reaching the middle of the conference but never more than that. If resistance to scholarships had continued through 2003, when the NCAA grandfathered Division III schools offering them in their Division I sports, by the time the present day rolled around, there would surely have been discussions whether moving to Atlantic Hockey, with its restrictions on scholarships, would be in the program's best interest. In all likelihood, the program would probably be more similar to that of RIT today.

If the school had instead offered scholarships later down the road, the effect probably would not have propelled them to the heights they reached during the mid-1980s - Colgate and St. Lawrence, when they began offering scholarships, did not suddenly become world beaters. The timing had to work out just perfectly for the Engineers in the early 1980s, and historically, it was the right move at the right time in order to get the right players.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What If: Another Day at the Office

December 1968: Doug Hearns scores an overtime goal to defeat Ken Dryden and Cornell

The Beatles - Hey Jude

By the time the 1968-69 season rolled around, the worst of the most troubled period in RPI's hockey history was coming to an end. The dreadful 1966 and 1967 campaigns were fully in the rear-view, and in the 1967-68 season, the Engineers began their road back to respectability. It was painfully obvious that they weren't quite where they needed to be to be competitive yet, given four losses to Clarkson and St. Lawrence, plus an 8-1 pasting by Ned Harkness and the reigning national champions from Cornell, but after two years with just one ECAC win, RPI was certainly ready to take an 11-11-0 overall record.

That wasn't quite enough to end the discussion on whether the team should remain in what was then termed the "University Division" of the NCAA in hockey, however. The pedigree that came with having been a national champion pulled the program toward staying, but the nature of the remainder of the school's athletic offerings coupled with the barely concluded doldrums the team had recently experienced pulled away.

The 1968-69 season kicked off with a road trip to Amherst, MA to square off with American International, an ECAC-II level team that was local enough to have appeared on the RPI schedule in every season dating back to 1956. The Yellow Jackets, much like today, were a traditional punching bag for pretty much everyone. From 1956 to 1965, the Engineers beat AIC by at least five goals - and usually more, frequently by double digits - in every single season. The 1966 team, however, had been so bad that they had lost to AIC by five goals, still the only time the Engineers have ever lost to the Yellow Jackets.

The winning ways returned the following season with a closer than usual three-goal edge in 1967, and had gotten back in the normal swing of things with a 7-0 win in February of 1968. This time, RPI picked up another win, but it was close by the measure of previous seasons, just a 5-1 edge.

Waiting for them in the home opener just four days later were the Cornell Big Red. Harkness had done with Cornell pretty much what he'd done at RPI, and just as quickly. In 1963, Cornell had a long, but relatively undistinguished history on the ice. That changed immediately once Harkness came to Ithaca, and by his fourth season behind the bench in 1967, the Big Red were enjoying a 27-1-1 season, their first ECAC title, and their first national championship.

1968 was almost as good for the Big Red. They returned to the Frozen Four with a 26-1-0 record, but were upset by North Dakota in the first round, having to settle for third place and a still astounding 27-2-0 record. Needless to say, with a record of 54-3-1 in the preceding two seasons, Cornell coming to RPI was supposed to be pretty much a walk in the park.

The Engineers hadn't had much luck against Cornell with their old bench boss leading things, naturally. Although Rube Bjorkman's Engineers won an 8-0 game in Ithaca the first time RPI played against Harkness' squad, the Engineers had lost five straight to the Big Red, including 7-2 and 8-1 showings during Cornell's previous two monster years. With senior Ken Dryden and four other All-Americans on the team, one could be forgiven for thinking RPI's second game of the season was a hopeless encounter.

As it turned out, the Engineers were able to keep it close for much of the contest as the Big Red appeared to be experiencing a bit of an off night. Even so, the visitors were able to maintain a 3-2 lead late. With time growing short, senior Dale Watson managed to put one past Dryden to give the Engineers an improbable tie against the supposedly unbeatable Big Red.

Now, in today's game, this game would have ended as a 3-3 tie, because it wasn't until 6:09 of overtime that Doug Hearns took the most memorable shot since Gordie Peterkin, beating Dryden low to give the home team an impossible 4-3 victory. It was RPI's very own Miracle on Ice, just over 11 years before the real thing.

Ken Dryden made 81 starts in net for Cornell during his incredible collegiate career (which fed into a Hall of Fame NHL career that included six Stanley Cups). He won 76 times and tied once. Two of those four losses came in the NCAA tournament... but one of those extremely rare losses took place in Troy at a sleepy little school that had been a laughing stock on the ice for several years. After that, people weren't laughing much anymore - and in the afterglow, few were talking about RPI's need to play with schools their own size.

Given how heavily favored the Big Red were in this game, just getting them to overtime would have been considered a moral victory by itself - but say Cornell had won, or had waltzed through as they were supposed to? Are we psyching ourselves up for a weekend against Middlebury and Williams today?

Probably not. Although Hearns' goal is most frequently pointed to as the moment the program was saved - and it may well have been the moment the doubters disappeared - one has to consider what the Engineers were able to put together for the remainder of the season and into the 1970s before presuming that the program was bound for lesser competition without the David-slays-Goliath victory.

Three days after the big win, the Engineers came back to earth with a 7-3 loss against Clarkson, a team they hadn't beaten since well before Harkness left Troy dating back to 1961. A week later, a 5-4 loss at Northeastern left RPI 1-2 in the ECAC. But things would turn around later in the season. In mid-January, RPI put up a shocking 7-0 victory over Boston University, one of the league's better teams.

Then on February 14th, RPI achieved the unthinkable - they went to Potsdam and beat Clarkson, 5-4, the first time the Engineers had taken down the Golden Knights in almost a decade. The following night, the team skated to a 5-5 tie with St. Lawrence in a game, legend tells it, that was supremely biased against RPI, as the Engineers had been heavily (and apparently unjustifiably) penalized, leading to four power play goals for the Larries.

Returning home, RPI put up an 8-5 win over Boston College, which led John "Snooks" Kelley to declare that RPI had "played the best game of any team [they'd] played all season." (And they'd already played Cornell.) A win over ECAC-II team Merrimack and a 5-2 victory over St. Lawrence (on apparently more equitable terms) followed, helping RPI qualify for the ECAC playoffs. Boston University drew their revenge in the one-game playoff, winning in Boston 4-2, but by the season's end, the Engineers were playing such good hockey that the only question on anyone's mind was how well the team would perform in the 1970s.

The BU game was Garry Kearns' final contest behind the RPI bench, but in many ways, it represented what he accomplished - he put the Engineers back in contention. The next season, under new coach Leon Abbott, was not one to write home about, but the 1970-71 Engineers started their season 9-0-1, and by then the question had been completely put to rest.

The win a Cornell team that counts as one of the greatest in the history of college hockey cannot be diminished. Perhaps without it, the Engineers would not have had the belief in themselves necessary to claw their way to the huge victories they put up late in the season. At the end of the day, RPI proved themselves more than just a one-hit wonder that season. Watson and Hearns set the table, but Garry Kearns and his charges already had what it took to have a successful season, and save a program's legacy. It's likely that even without Hearns' memorable goal (or the one from Watson that helped it happen), we'd still have Division I hockey at RPI.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What If: Bjorkman's Conundrum

Summer 1964: Rube Bjorkman leaves RPI abruptly for New Hampshire

The Animals - House of the Rising Sun

Long-time Engineer fans, and those newer ones familiar with the history of the program, know that the mid-to-late 1960s were among some of the worst of times for RPI hockey.  Many attribute the struggles of that time period to Ned Harkness' immediate replacement behind the bench - Minnesota native Rube Bjorkman, who would eventually go on to be awarded the Kelley Founders Award by the American Hockey Coaches Association for his contributions to the growth and development of hockey in the United States. Bjorkman's single season at RPI was his first as a college coach and produced the best post-season results of his eventual 15-year college hockey coaching career, but his tenure also nearly ruined hockey at RPI.

Rubin "Rube" Bjorkman arrived at RPI in 1963 after Harkness left Troy to take the reins at then-unfancied Cornell. He was a distinguished replacement for the man who was essentially the modern founder of RPI hockey, arriving with an exceptional resume. A hero in his hometown Roseau, MN where he helped the school win its first state championship in 1946 (the small town in the state's extreme north is still known for outstanding high school hockey), Bjorkman graduated from Minnesota in 1951 as one of the squad's top stars of the NCAA tournament era. While still at Minnesota, he played on the US Olympic team at the St. Moritz Olympics in 1948 and just after graduation was a key member of the silver medal team at Oslo in 1952.

He began coaching ten years later, at Greenway High School in Coleraine, MN. In his first season behind the bench, Greenway reached the Minnesota state tournament for the first time. A year later, he was on his way east to become the second coach in RPI Hockey's modern era.

The team Bjorkman inherited in Troy was a talented one. It featured senior Bob Brinkworth, the reigning ECAC player of the year who had also been ECAC rookie of the year in 1962, and junior Jerry Knightley, who, like Brinkworth, had little problem scoring at will.

In those days, the ECAC had been a very informal collection of eastern teams and little more than an invitational tournament at the end of the season that would help determine which two teams would earn the eastern bids to the NCAA tournament. As such, the 29 teams that made up the conference played wildly varying "conference" schedules (as many as 25 games by New Hampshire and as few as 8 by UConn and Vermont). RPI under Bjorkman finished with a respectable 12-6-0 record in the league, which earned them an invite to the ECAC tournament.

After defeating Boston College in Chestnut Hill to advance to the semifinals, RPI was knocked off by a cinderella team from St. Lawrence, 3-1, but the Engineers bounced back to a surprising 7-2 victory in the consolation game over a Clarkson team that had beaten them twice before earlier in the season, including a 13-4 whitewash in Potsdam. That win over Clarkson earned RPI a ticket to their fourth-ever NCAA tournament apperance.

The 1964 tournament took place in Denver at the University of Denver Arena, and as fate would have it the Engineers were drawn against the homestanding Denver Pioneers, falling 4-1 to end RPI's national championship hopes. The Engineers drew a respectable 2-1 victory over the ECAC's regular season and tournament champions, Providence, so they were able to end the season with a legitimate claim as one of the best teams in the east. Knightley's return, along with that of junior goaltender Bill Sack, should have pegged the Engineers as a team to watch in 1965.

Instead, Bjorkman left RPI late in the summer following the season after the sudden death of New Hampshire coach "Whoop" Snively. Suddenly needing a coach, RPI alum Garry Kearns, who had stayed in the Troy area after graduation, took over the program, and soon found a listless organization.

The reasons Bjorkman left the cupboard bare at RPI have not been well established, but all signs have pointed to problems with recruiting. Some recruits who had committed to RPI during Harkness' final season appear to have not ended up matriculating, leaving a weak class of incoming sophomores (in those days, freshmen were ineligible for varsity play). That was an immediate problem for Kearns' first season, which was middling thanks to the presence of Knightley and Sack.

Longer term, Bjorkman had his own recruiting failures that would haunt the program. It has been said that, coming from Minnesota, he had lacked the connections Harkness had in Ontario, which had been the school's most rich recruiting grounds. Also, of the recruits Bjorkman had been able to attract to RPI, few or none were able to withstand the school's difficult entry requirements. The combination of geographic and academic difficulties were apparently more than Bjorkman was prepared to handle, and the change of venue to Durham likely helped his own career immensely.

Meanwhile, back at RPI, Kearns was forced to throw teams together as best he could. The 1966 team, which suffered the most from Bjorkman's inability to draw quality recruits, won only three games, none in the ECAC, and most of the losses were by lopsided margins. The following season was little better in league play, as RPI skated to a 1-14 record in the ECAC, with a one-goal win over Army the only bright spot in league play, and a tie at home against Michigan the high point of the year.

Things got bad enough that fans started to leave in droves, and the school began to seriously ponder whether staying in the top level of the ECAC was truly in the best interest of the program. Ultimately, Kearns guided the program through the shallows, and by the time he left in 1969, the program was off life support and ready to continue in Division I.

The question of what would have become of the program had Snively not had a heart attack in the summer of 1964, opening the door for Bjorkman to leave RPI in the breach, is difficult to answer. Obviously, if Bjorkman had still been behind the bench in 1965, his recruiting problems would have been his own, and it's difficult to know how he would have dealt with them. The only real way to do this is to look at his career as a coach.

The Wildcats improved every season during Bjorkman's four-year tenure in Durham, but UNH was still playing outdoors in the mid-1960s, which basically killed any chance they had of winning championships. His last two years were the first in UNH's new rink, and both seasons were winning ones. Then in 1968, Bjorkman returned to western hockey, taking the helm at North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux had just come off a loss in the national championship game when he arrived, they would not return to that height until 1979 - the year after he left. In 10 years in Grand Forks, he compiled a record above .500 just twice. He is the only  North Dakota coach since 1957 that never took the team to the Frozen Four.

Suffice to say, Bjorkman's legacy behind the bench, with the exception of the Kelley Award, was somewhat less than stellar - and in light of his recruiting struggles at RPI and subsequent difficulties coaching at a school that was already a traditional western power, it might be safe to say that the Institute didn't quite make the right call when it came to replacing Ned Harkness.

So, what if he'd stayed? Perhaps he could have managed, eventually, to find the right student-athletes from the right places with the right heads on their shoulders, but would he have been able to duplicate the relative success of that one season behind the bench? The evidence suggests that he probably wouldn't have been able to do that at RPI if he couldn't manage it at North Dakota. If Bjorkman had stuck around, the decline of the late 1960s probably still would have taken place, and it would have taken place without the grit and determination of an alum at the helm in Garry Kearns.

For better or for worse, the guidance that Kearns provided during his tenure as coach helped save the program - and secured for him a much deserved spot in the RPI Hockey Ring of Honor for his contributions as both a player and a coach. As good as Bjorkman's one season was - led, remember, by two RPI legends recruited by Harkness - there's not much doubt that further seasons would be unlikely to have materialized. Looking back today, Bjorkman's abrupt departure, which allowed the school to make a good decision in place of a bad one, may have helped save the program from being moved to what is today Division III.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What If: Gordie's Goal

March 1954: Gordie Peterkin scores in overtime against Minnesota to give RPI its first national championship

Perry Como - Wanted

It is a testament to Ned Harkness that in just its fourth year, the modern version of the RPI hockey program was playing in the NCAA Tournament, and the following season was in the national championship game. The combined impact of Harkness, who would go on to establish himself not only with three Frozen Fours and a national championship at RPI but with four straight Frozen Fours and two more championships at Cornell, and the innovation of the RPI Field House created in the Engineers an early eastern powerhouse.

And yet, despite RPI playing in its second consecutive national tournament, the Engineers appeared something of an afterthought in Colorado Springs in 1954. Sure, RPI had finished third in the previous year's Frozen Four, but they certainly weren't going to be a match for Vic Heyliger and the back-to-back-to-back defending champions, the Michigan Wolverines, in the first round. They were from the east, and eastern teams simply couldn't match up well with the far better west. Besides, RPI wasn't even supposed to be there - everyone knew St. Lawrence, with its early season victory over Michigan State in its back pocket, was the more worthy team from the east. Only the Engineers' 4-2 victory over the Saints in Troy the previous week to earn a regular-season tie in the Tri-State League had sent them to Colorado - where they'd suffered twin 8-3 drubbings to Denver and Colorado College in late January.

But something funny happened on the way to the third place game - RPI handed Michigan, the only team to appear in all six previous NCAA tournaments (and four-time national champions), a 6-4 upset loss thanks in large part to Gordie Peterkin's hat trick. And despite their newly earned reputation as giant-killers, the Engineers were still huge underdogs to a Minnesota team that was physically bigger, had a larger roster, had been runners-up to Michigan the previous year, and had an extra day of rest following a 14-1 demolition of Boston College (a 13-point win that is still the largest margin of victory in the history of the NCAA tournament).

RPI jumped out to an 3-0 lead against the Gophers early in the second period, but Minnesota stormed back to take a 4-3 lead themselves. After Abbie Moore tied the game late in the third period off a pass from the great Frank Chiarelli, it was Peterkin's goal two minutes into the sudden death overtime that shocked the college hockey world and saw a little engineering school from upstate New York capture the east's second ever national crown.

Anyone who's watched an overtime game in the playoffs knows just how crucial every shift, every bounce of the puck can be. The sudden-death nature of overtime, and the requirement in the playoffs that there be a winner, makes every little detail so much more important. We've seen multiple overtime games in three of the last five years, none of which were won by RPI, so we ought to know just how devastating it can be to lose.

Several other teams know that pain on a larger level. St. Lawrence (1988), New Hampshire (1999), and Miami (2009) would all have national championships to celebrate today if they'd been able to get the bounce of the puck to go their way in the overtime period of a national championship. They couldn't - they don't. Michigan State (1959) and Minnesota-Duluth (1984) were in the same boat before they eventually won national titles, as was Minnesota following Peterkin's goal.

So the question is - what if the shoe was on the other foot? What if Minnesota's John Mayasich or Dick Dougherty had beaten Bob Fox rather than Peterkin putting the puck and Jim Mattson into the net?

Most immediately, Minnesota celebrates a national championship twenty years earlier than it actually did when Herb Brooks brought the Gophers their first title in 1974. Minnesota coach John Mariucci, who eventually helped start the Minnesota North Stars and for whom Minnesota's arena is named, would have a national championship on his record, perhaps the biggest thing that's missing from the Hockey Hall of Famer's resume.

Tangentially speaking, the 1959 Frozen Four may not have taken place at the RPI Field House if not for the Engineers' attention-grabbing national championship five years earlier, though the fact that the Field House was one of the nicer arenas in college hockey may have seen it end up there anyway.

For RPI, however, a loss in the 1954 national championship game could have had lasting repercussions, though there would have been little expectation of it at the time. The severity of those repercussions depends largely on how the lack of a national championship on his record would have affected the decisions of coach Ned Harkness. Overall, Harkness amassed a record of 176-96-7 during his time at RPI and brought the Engineers to the national tournament in 1953, 1954, and 1961.

Would that have been enough to pique Cornell's interest by itself when their coaching position came vacant in 1963? If not, it's possible Harkness could have stayed on at RPI longer, and the difficulties the team experienced in the late 1960s could possibly have been avoided. Perhaps, if Harkness had stayed long enough some of the same recruits he brought to Ithaca could have come to Troy, although given the differences in the academic offerings, it's almost certainly pie in the sky to suggest names like Ken Dryden would have appeared in the RPI history books. Ironically, a loss in 1954 - if it had led to Harkness staying in Troy - could have led to a boost in the program's pedigree during the 1960s and 1970s.

If Harkness had left for Cornell after all in 1963 - entirely possible, given the apparent problems he had in getting the players that he wanted due to academic restraints - the ensuing difficult years could have spelled disaster for the Engineers at the Division I level. The Institute struggled with the question of whether the program was to remain in the then-new Division I while it was limping to repeatedly poor showings, including a combined 1-17-0 ECAC record in 1966 and 1967, which had coincided with the departure of many of the smaller schools from the ECAC just a few years earlier into what was then called ECAC-II, soon to be called Division III.

As it was, one of the important elements encouraging the team to stay in Division I was the 1954 championship. Without that hardware and the legacy it created, it would have been easier for president Richard Folsom to fold the hand and bring the Engineers to the ECAC-II, where they would have been more competitive during the time period. RPI's hockey focus would be saved thanks to Harkness' success and the three NCAA tournament appearances, so the Engineers could well have become Division III powerhouses in the years that followed, but they'd forever be a quirk in the NCAA's record books - the only program to reach the NCAA tournament no longer playing in Division I.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What If: Liver's Dream

1944: Livingston Houston becomes RPI's first alum to be named school president

Louis Jordan - G.I. Jive

The modern era of RPI hockey began in 1950, when the Engineers returned after 12 years of dormancy caused by the Great Depression and World War II to a brand new facility, then known as the RPI Field House. "Liver" Houston, a 1913 graduate of RPI who had played on the hockey team when he had been a student, was one of the major forces behind the construction of an indoor arena to allow the school to restart its program.

Houston was very closely associated with the school for much of his life. After starting out with Mobil shortly after graduating, he was back in Troy by 1919, and was elected a life trustee at the age of 34 in 1925, just 12 years after he graduated - by comparison, the most recent alums currently serving as trustees graduated in 1982. So by the time William O. Hotchkiss retired as RPI president in 1943, Houston had nearly 20 years of service as a trustee, and was by that time the chairman of the board of the Ludlow Valve Company in Troy.

Houston's selection as president made a great deal of sense, given his lengthy service to the school. When he took the presidency, America was in the midst of the Second World War. D-Day had not yet occurred, but he immediately began working toward the school's post-war future. Enrollment was down due to enlistments in the military, but once the war ended, RPI was ready to receive returning veterans in great number, due in large part to Houston's preparations, which included the construction of "Tin Town" where the Rensselaer Apartment Housing Project (RAHPs to students) are now located next to the Field House. Later, he spearheaded dormitory development at what is today called Freshman Hill.

As far as hockey is concerned, the Field House is Houston's rightful legacy, and the building now bears his name. A surplus Navy warehouse was brought in from Rhode Island, modified and reassembled, and after a year and a half, the school had a place not just to play hockey but for all sorts of public events, including commencement ceremonies.

But what if Houston had not been the school's choice to replace Hotchkiss? What if a less ambitious man had taken the office, one without a personal link to hockey or a desire to push for a project like the Field House? RPI as we know it today would be a very different place, and athletics would undoubtedly be part of that difference.

It's almost certain that hockey would not have flourished at the school as it did. Among schools that comprised the early Tri-State League which started in 1951, Clarkson had already been playing at Walker Arena since 1938, St. Lawrence and Middlebury were preparing to move indoors themselves. Meanwhile, Colgate and Williams dropped their programs after the first and second seasons of the Tri-State League respectively, due to their inability to compete with the schools that had indoor rinks.

Could RPI hockey have been restarted without the RPI Field House? It's possible, but it's likely that it would have suffered the same fate as Colgate and Williams, even if Ned Harkness had been at the helm. That would likely have left RPI, today, closer to the state of hockey at Williams - a Division III program without a great deal of distinction. Colgate, at least, can fall back on being a Division I school in all sports, which is why their current program exists at the top level (and eventually, became very competitive).

Ned Harkness, however, was at RPI as early as 1941 - predating Houston's ascension to the presidency - as the volunteer coach of the school's lacrosse team. In fact, he found wild success with the lacrosse team before the Field House had even been completed, completing an undefeated season in 1948 which culminated in a demonstration game at the 1948 Olympics in London where the Engineers represented the United States in a match against a British all-star team. He also led RPI to a de facto national championship in lacrosse in 1952, two years ahead of winning a de jure national crown in hockey.

Without the competition from a highly successful hockey program in the mid-1950s (including the fact that Harkness left the team in 1958 to focus on hockey), perhaps the Harkness-led lacrosse team would have gained the lion's share of the school's attention moving forward. Although the NCAA lacrosse championship was not established until 1971, it's possible RPI would today be known athletically as a lacrosse school similar to Johns Hopkins (a Division III school "playing up" in lacrosse), though the pedigree probably would not be on the level of the Blue Jays, who 35 de facto national crowns before the institution of the NCAA championship.

Meanwhile, the hockey program, if it still existed, would probably be playing in a smaller rink more suited for a D-III program. Union, without the impetus from Harkness to build its own rink, would either still be without hockey or would be in D-III alongside the Engineers, perhaps as part of NESCAC. St. Lawrence and Clarkson (and possibly Colgate), more outnumbered by the Ivies in the ECAC at the time of the league's split in 1984, would likely be in Hockey East today - if they were even still playing Division I hockey.

RPI's 1954 national championship represented not only a watershed moment for the sport at RPI, it also helped show that smaller schools could run with the big dogs in hockey. Without varsity hockey at RPI, Colorado College's two national championships in the 1950s could easily be written off as a bit of home cooking with the tournament taking place on their home ice for the first 10 years of its existence. Without the legacy of RPI's title, it's possible small schools in general would have opted to play small school hockey when the NCAA began making that distinction in the 1970s. No sure thing, of course, since the North Country schools are probably even more linked to the sport than RPI, and the relatively small number of schools playing hockey in the 1960s and 1970s probably would have favored keeping small schools even if they weren't as competitive... but a possibility nonetheless.

So it could be said that RPI's decision to make "Liver" Houston its post-war president had a lasting effect not only on RPI today, but its athletic department and perhaps even college hockey itself.