Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Cornell

Last year was what you would call an "outlier" in Ithaca. At least, that's what it looks like right now. Plenty of teams have seasons like Cornell had last year and shrug it off fairly easily, but when you finish with a sub-.500 record for the first time since the Clinton Administration, it can be a little jarring. How does the follow-up season look for the Big Red? Well... it's safe to say that this year's team is going to look a lot like... well, Cornell.

Nickname: Big Red
Location: Ithaca, NY
Founded: 1865
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 2 (1967, 1970)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2012
Last Frozen Four: 2003
Coach: Mike Schafer (19th season)
2012-13 Record: 15-16-3 (8-11-3 ECAC, 9th place)
Series: Cornell leads, 60-33-7
First Game: January 31, 1908 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: January 19, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last CU win: February 22, 2013 (Ithaca, NY)

2013-14 games: November 8, 2013 (Troy, NY); February 15, 2014 (Ithaca, NY)

Key players: D Kirill Gotovets, sr.; G Andy Iles, sr.; F Dustin Mowrey, sr.; F Cole Bardreau, jr.; F Brian Ferlin, jr.; F Joel Lowry, jr.; D Jacob MacDonald, jr.; F John McCarron, jr.; D Joakim Ryan, jr.; F John Knisley, so.; D Reece Willcox, so.; F Matt Buckles, fr.; D Clint Lewis, fr.; D Patrick McCarron, fr.; D Eric Sade, fr.

Key losses: F Greg Miller, D Nick D'Agostino, F John Esposito, F Erik Axell, D Braden Birch

Previous KYE installments:
To say that Cornell had an all-around terrible season last year is actually very false. The team did, however, have a beyond dreadful six-week period from January into the middle of February that was absolutely atrocious and completely sunk the team's season.

Before falling to Maine in the Florida College Classic championship game on December 29, the Big Red had a rather Carnellian record at 7-3-2. Within those wins were home sweeps of Colorado College and the North Country teams, and a win over Michigan at Madison Square Garden. Heading into the Maine game, they'd won four games in a row, so it wasn't like there were big, flashing warning signs on the side of the road.

The Maine loss kicked off an 11-game stretch that saw Cornell go 1-10-0, an unbelievable run for a program whose streaks are practically always positive ones (and for those who claim that the streak was due to Bardreau's season-ending injury against RPI, that game was the fifth of that stretch, and he finished that game). During the streak, offense and defense were hard to come by in Ithaca. By the end of the season, the Big Red were a mind-numbing 6-5-2 at Lynah Rink and were under .500 at home coming into the last home weekend of the year against the Capital District, salvaging a winning record with a sweep.

What's more striking looking at Cornell from the current vantage point is what they did at the end of the season. Although their historic drought put them in 11th place for much of the late season run, the Big Red almost salvaged a home playoff series late with a 4-1-1 record in the last three weeks of the regular season. Having to hit the road for the playoffs, they then won three games straight and came within a goal in a double-overtime Game 3 at Quinnipiac of going back to Atlantic City anyway.

Bottom line? Just because Cornell was elsewhere for six weeks last season doesn't mean they've gone away.  Far from it. Although they lose two solid NHL-draftee defensemen in D'Agostino and Birch, they gain a number of talented blue-liners this season to compliment a still-strong defensive pack.

Iles was not as strong last season as he has been in the past, but his numbers were far from being terrible. Now in his senior year, he remains one of the top netminders in the ECAC despite being largely forgotten come awards time last year in light of some of the performances of other goaltenders, most of whom are now out of the league.

Offensively, Cornell has to do better than they did last year, as too much of the scoring was bottled up in a few players. Fortunately, two guys with 10 or more goals return with Ferlin and Lowry, while classmate John McCarron netted 7 himself last year. Bardreau, it should be noted, appeared in only 13 games last season due to his injury and the World Junior Championships - expect far more offensive output from him this season.

One problem that needs to be improved in Ithaca this season is the discipline - the Big Red were the nation's most penalized team last season (although in part, taking 100 penalty minutes in Game 2 against Quinnipiac pushed them over the edge on that). Special teams needs to be improved, too: Cornell was 42nd in the nation on the power play and 47th on the penalty kill, the latter being a real problem considering the high number of penalties the team took last year.

Cornell remains a team without a great number of flaws. Provided they straighten out the special teams, this should end up being a Big Red team that the ECAC is used to seeing - one without a lot of holes that plays its style of hockey well enough to be in every game they suit up for. So if you're hoping that these are going to be a couple of pushover games for RPI, you're sadly mistaken.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Dartmouth

Poor Dartmouth. It has to be absolutely maddening how many halfway decent seasons the Big Green can put together and still, they remain on the outside looking in for the NCAA tournament. In December, it seemed to be obvious that the 32-year drought, the longest in the nation, was going to come to an end. By March, a 33rd year had been added as inconsistency on both sides of the puck dogged Dartmouth out of a first-round bye, almost into a first round loss, and out of the playoffs after being dominated by Union in the quarterfinals.


Nickname: Big Green
Location: Hanover, NH
Founded: 1769
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 1980
Last Frozen Four: 1980
Coach: Bob Gaudet (17th season)
2012-13 Record: 15-14-5 (9-9-4 ECAC, 5th place)
Series: RPI leads, 42-32-5
First Game: January 17, 1908 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: February 2, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last DC win: November 9, 2012 (Hanover, NH)

2013-14 games: November 2, 2013 (Hanover, NH); January 24, 2014 (Troy, NY)

Key players: D Taylor Boldt, sr.; G Cab Morris, sr.; F Eric Robinson, sr.;  F Jesse Beamish, jr.; F Brandon McNally, jr.; F Charlie Mosey, jr.; F Eric Neiley, jr.; D Rick Pinkston, jr.; F Tyler Sikura, jr.; F Nick Bligh, so.; D Ryan Bullock, so.; D Geoff Ferguson, so.; G Charles Grant, so.; F Tim O'Brien, so.; F Brett Patterson, so.; F Brad Schierhorn, so.; D Josh Hartley, fr.; F Kyle Nickerson, fr.

Key losses: D Mike Keenan, F Dustin Walsh, F Matt Lindblad

Previous KYE installments:
Conventional wisdom had Dartmouth and Quinnipiac heading off to the races as December wound down. The Big Green had a 5-0-1 record heading into mid-November, and were 8-3-2 as champagne corks popped for New Year's 2013. Unfortunately, the team picked up just seven more victories in the two and a half months that followed, two of them coming in the ECAC First Round against last-place Harvard, but only after dropping Game 1.

By January, Dartmouth had become a team that lived and died with its offensive output as the Big Green's defense, which had been solid in the waning months of 2012, began to falter a bit. All season, Dartmouth won just one game in which they didn't score at least three goals (a 2-1 win over Brown at home in early November), but it became far more pronounced in the second half of the season as the team started putting up a number of one and two goal outputs that simply didn't get the job done.

Although Morris put up some decent numbers in net overall - .915 save percentage, 2.14 GAA - by the end of the season he was splitting time with Grant, and heading into this season both goaltenders appear to be vying for the top position, especially given that Grant backstopped the come-from-behind series victory over Harvard before being lit up by Union. Numbers-wise, although Morris' save percentage could be better, only Jason Kasdorf returns to ECAC play this season with better overall numbers than him in league play.

Offensively, a bit of a gut-punch followed the end of Dartmouth's season as Lindblad bolted for the Boston Bruins with a year of eligibility left in Hanover. The junior was second on the team in scoring and would have been a likely candidate to reach 100 career points this season had he stuck around. Walsh (3rd) and Keenan (6th) were also among the top scorers on the team.

Fortunately, there's still plenty of talent that powered the Big Green's early-season successes. Sikura led the team in both goals and assists, Robinson had a breakout season, and Dartmouth enjoyed eye-opening successes from O'Brien and Schierhorn in their freshman campaigns. With Lindblad's departure, things might open up more for McNally, who hit a touch of sophomore slump last season after an outstanding freshman year.

The incoming class isn't huge, but like the Engineers, the Big Green should have an outstanding core of juniors and sophomores to power the offense. The question comes on defense - Dartmouth has a mostly young d-corps and question marks, albeit with some good available answers in net. Although both Morris and Grant offer decent options between the pipes, this team is going to need stability there quickly to back the offense.

RPI should expect a Dartmouth team closer to the one that breezed past them last November in Hanover rather than the disorganized one that was turned aside in last year's Freakout for sure, but with Dartmouth, it's a matter of reaching a high level and staying there throughout the season, something they've just been unable to do despite a decade that has seen more successes than failures overall.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Harvard

It's time to get familiar with the teams RPI and its fans should already be the most familiar with - the ECAC teams, which the Engineers will play twice each during the league schedule. Today's entry represents the first team the Tute will face off against for league points - and if you blink this year, you're going to miss them, because both games against one of the oldest teams in the nation will take place almost right away.


Nickname: Crimson
Location: Cambridge, MA
Founded: 1636
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 1 (1989)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2006
Last Frozen Four: 1994
Coach: Ted Donato (10th season)
2012-13 Record: 10-19-3 (6-14-2 ECAC, 12th place)
Series: Harvard leads, 47-36-5
First Game: December 27, 1951 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: February 1, 2013 (Troy, NY)
Last HU win: November 10, 2012 (Boston, MA)

2013-14 games: October 29, 2013 (Troy, NY); November 1, 2013 (Boston, MA)

Key players: D John Caldwell, sr.; D Danny Fick, sr.; D Dan Ford, sr.; G Raphael Girard, sr.; F Colin Blackwell, jr.; F Tommy O'Regan, jr.; F Petr Placek, jr.; F Kyle Criscuolo, so.; F Greg Gozzo, so.; F Brian Hart, so.; F Jimmy Vesey, so.; D Kevin Guiltinan, fr.; F Sean Malone, fr.; D Victor Newell, fr.; D Wiley Sherman, fr.; F Devin Tringale, fr.

Key losses: F Alex Fallstrom, F Luke Greiner, F Marshall Everson, D Danny Biega, D Brendan Rempel, F Conor Morrison, F Max Everson, G Stephen Michalek, D Patrick McNally

Previous KYE installments:
The Engineers' two games against the Crimson are practically back to back - they are Tuesday and Friday of the same week, and represent the team's first two ECAC games of the season. The Tuesday game will be RPI's first ever ECAC league contest to take place in the month of October.

Harvard is a hurting team, there's no doubt about it, but they're also a team that has more than a few question marks flying around it, not the least of which relate to the cheating scandal which rocked the school in 2012. Four players left the team - and the school - last season in December. Two, Patrick McNally and Max Everson, appeared in games last season for the Crimson.

Their status is kind of up in the air. Both McNally and Everson will have used up their sophomore season of eligibility due to appearing last season, but an Ivy League rule, according to the Harvard Crimson newspaper, seems to indicate that if these players return to school, they will be ineligible to compete this year and would have to wait until 2014-15 to suit up again.

Before December, perhaps not coincidentally, the Crimson seemed to be doing kind of OK. Nationally ranked in the preseason, they started the year off 4-3-0, including wins over Cornell and RPI (albeit against a shorthanded RPI team that was going through a "message sending" game). But after a 20-day layover between a 1-0 loss at Colgate in November and a 2-2 tie at Merrimack in December, Harvard was just plain awful.

Following their 4-1 win at Cornell on November 16, the Crimson went 1-13-2, scoring three goals just twice during that 16 game stretch and allowing three or more 13 times in a row. The Harvard power play during the team's 3-0 loss at RPI on February 1 was bad on an epic level, resulting in easy kills for the Engineers.

All of it combined to place Harvard in last place in the ECAC for the first time ever. To make matters worse, the team now loses its top two scorers from last season, Fallstrom and Greiner, one of its top goal scorers in Marshall Everson, and two top defensemen in Biega and Rempel.

Fortunately for the Crimson, there's a definite youth movement on in Cambridge. While the losses of solid talent in Max Everson and McNally to the scandal hurt, there is lots of young talent on hand led by Vesey, whose 11 goals tied Marshall Everson for tops on the team last year as a freshman despite missing time for the World Junior Championships. Hart matched Vesey with 18 points on the year and paced the team in assists.

Harvard's incoming class of freshmen boasts talent as well, led by a pair of 2013 draft picks with Sherman and Malone. As long as Vesey and Hart get a little help offensively - probably from names like Criscuolo, O'Regan, and Blackwell, the Crimson will not be the pushovers they were last season.

Defensively, having three seniors on the blueline is big, but Girard is going to have to be more solid in net than he was last year in his first go-round as the top choice netminder. He had fared much better as a regularly-used second option during his sophomore season, if his numbers can get closer to those, it'll keep the Crimson in more games that under similar circumstances, they were way out of last year.

Merrick Madsen, a highly touted goaltender, arrives in 2014, which may dovetail with the potential return of Michalek, which would present a very daunting goaltending duo - just a little more evidence that while Harvard's down, they're not likely to stay there for long.

All of this adds up to a net benefit to the Engineers that both Harvard games will take place at the start of the season. A team that fell as far as Harvard last year pretty much always takes some time within a season to get themselves up. It will be important for RPI to strike quickly in both games and keep Vesey and Hart bottled up, but these should still be two games that the Engineers should be favored in.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Your 2013-14 RPI Engineers

The official recruit announcement for the Class of 2017 was released today - five new skaters will be arriving on campus next month, giving the Engineers a total of 26 players on the roster for the upcoming season.

The names are ones you've heard and seen before, especially if you've been following recruits here at Without a Peer (and elsewhere). So without further ado, we present to you the team's preseason outlook for the 2013-14 season, now that we know with confidence what the roster will look like.

Gone: Greg Burgdoerfer, Andrew Commers, C.J. Lee, Marty O'Grady.
Returning: Milos Bubela, Travis Fulton, Ryan Haggerty, Brock Higgs, Jacob Laliberte, Mark McGowan, Mark Miller, Matt Neal, Johnny Rogic, Zach Schroeder, Matt Tinordi, Mike Zalewski.
Arriving: Riley Bourbonnais, Jimmy DeVito, Jake Wood.

At the end of the season, we thought we'd see 17 forwards on the 2013-14 Engineers, and now it turns out we'll have 15, down one from last season. Why the change?

Well, we thought Drew Melanson was bound for Troy a year earlier than originally expected after it was learned that he'd signed a Letter of Intent. Apparently, he'll be back in the USHL instead. That's certainly not bad, especially if he can continue to learn on the pace he did last year as a 17-year-old, but it does deprive the Engineers of his more raw services for the upcoming season.

Commers has also departed a bit unexpectedly, although it had certainly become obvious that he was going to have a hard time cracking the lineup in the near future. He'll likely do very, very well at St. John's in Minnesota, where he's off to, and best of luck to him.

That leaves the Engineers with a little less padding for injuries up front - although, realistically, the competition for ice time and the talent depth is improving even if the roster depth isn't. O'Grady had functionally been replaced midway through the season last year due to his injuries, and Commers played only sparingly, usually because of injuries. Burgdoerfer and Lee are the only roster losses that played key roles for most of the season.

Adding Schroeder back into the mix off a season that saw him injured long enough that he retains his sophomore season eligibility through use of a medical redshirt, and really, you're adding four players to replace two from last season. To some extent, Tinordi's return from injury is also a boost over the end of last season. There are plenty of players returning that are going to be on the ice more often than not - even Fulton grew enough during his freshman season that he was not only one of the most improved players on the team, he was somewhat indispensable down the stretch even before considering injuries. Add to that mix a couple of very talented scorers in Bourbonnais and Wood, and we can expect to see some very good players as healthy scratches if the injuries are few.

That's a good place for a team to be.

Gone: Nick Bailen.
Returning: Craig Bokenfohr, Chris Bradley, Luke Curadi, Bo Dolan, Phil Hampton, Guy Leboeuf, Curtis Leonard.
Arriving: Parker Reno.

This is kind of cut and dried, and yet, at the same time, not. You'd have to look far and wide to find someone who wouldn't consider Bailen the Engineers' biggest loss to graduation, and if you found that person they would probably need to be slapped. He was in the top three in scoring on the team in each of his  three seasons in the Cherry and White, and he actually led the team in scoring in 2013 - the first defenseman to do that at RPI since Jake Luthi in 2007 (tied with Kirk MacDonald), the first to do it on his own since Al Jones in 1966. With 31 points, it was the most by a defenseman since... well, his sophomore season (36), which was the most since Mike Dark's own 35 in 1986 and Ken Hammond's 39 in 1985. If the point hasn't been hammered home quite yet, offensive defensemen like Bailen don't come around frequently.

That said, Bailen's replacement on the blue line promises a solid amount of talent, if not a similar kind of offensive firepower. While Bailen's offensive output will almost certainly need to be made up more by the forwards, Reno enters as one of the top players in Minnesota high school hockey last season, a finalist for the prestigious Mr. Hockey award. We know Lincoln in the USHL made a big play for him to stick around for a full season this year, but RPI certainly needs him as soon as possible and he's basically college hockey ready as it is. We had expected to see Reno taken in the late rounds of this year's NHL Entry Draft, and it was a light shock to see that he was not taken. In the evolving college/professional atmosphere, that could be a blessing in disguise for the Engineers.

The defensive corps certainly began to gel late last year, and now is becoming solidly experienced, with four juniors and seniors expected to be regular starters - with one battle-tested sophomore and a highly-touted freshman rounding things out. All that is missing, really, is a major offensive presence which was lost to Bailen's graduation.

Gone: Bryce Merriam.
Returning: Scott Diebold, Jason Kasdorf.
Arriving: Jake Soffer.

Goaltending is always the easiest position to take a look at just on a sheer numbers level. Merriam made some outstanding contributions to Engineer hockey during his four years in Troy (becoming the first RPI goaltender to defeat Clarkson in a playoff series, and he especially gave BU fits when he played them), but was the No. 2 man for the second half of his senior year as Kasdorf firmly positioned himself as the top man. Much as with O'Grady, at the end of the day you're talking about a guy who had essentially already been replaced in real terms late last season.

His physical replacement on the roster is a guy that we don't know much about yet, but the fact that we even knew his name before the end of the 2013 season was a little surprising. Expecting a walk-on goaltender that we'd learn about just before the start of the season and who would probably see all of his work in practice, Soffer's name cropped up in February. Playing for the Boston Bandits in the EJHL, the Maryland native put up some pedestrian numbers in a weaker junior league. He comes into RPI firmly in the #3 spot, but potentially as a more useful #3 than we are used to from the average walk-on/practice goaltender.

Meanwhile, Kasdorf will enter the 2013-14 season as the top returning goaltender in the ECAC - there were only four goaltenders in the conference who could be put up against him from last season statistically, three of which have graduated and the fourth signed a pro deal. That leaves Kasdorf as the pre-season favorite for the Dryden Award, although Cornell senior-to-be Andy Iles has put up far superior numbers in the past than he did last year, so it's not cut and dried.

That leaves Diebold as RPI's firm #2 option right now, a step up from #3 where he was late last season, but he's a fine option that was not far removed at all from Merriam at any point during the year. He's already proven himself to be a capable Division I goaltender, so there's not much worry here for Diebold or the Engineers.

Overall outlook
In real terms, the Engineers lose only three pieces of a team that barreled down the January and February schedule as a very tough team to beat - Bailen, Burgdoerfer, and Lee. The rest of the team will be a year older now, more experienced, hopefully a bit bigger, and with a taste of success in their mouths tempered by the bitterness of an early defeat.

A healthy Tinordi had already been doing largely the same job Burgdoerfer performed down the stretch. The potent junior and sophomore forwards are in line to perhaps collectively replace the offensive elements of Bailen, and Reno should be able to come in and at least approach where he was defensively. As long as RPI finds the leadership and corner-grinding ability of Lee, they're likely to be starting off in the same place they were last season before considering the growth of players and the addition of offensive capacity through the freshman forwards.

It adds up to a very strong team in an increasingly stronger conference. Offensively and defensively, it looks like an outstanding group. If the special teams perform as admirably, the sky could be the limit for this team.

It's always worth taking a look at the longer-term picture as well, so here's quick look at where we stand with recruiting down the road.

Out: Higgs, Rogic, Tinordi, Leboeuf, Dolan
In: F Carlos Fornaris, D Charles Manley, F Drew Melanson, D Meirs Moore, F Evan Tironese, D Michael Prapavessis(?)

As has become the norm in terms of recruiting for seasons two years out, the 2014 class is rounding into shape nicely - the bottom line is that if you don't at least have a general idea of who you've got coming in two years, you're in trouble these days. Fortunately, the class of 2018 is quite possibly set, with only one or two more forwards possibly left to be recruited.

Defensively, the Engineers are set for this season, with three potential names ready to replace two graduates. Moore, a highly touted blueliner out of Duluth East High School in Minnesota who will likely play a role similar to that of Bailen at RPI, will almost certainly be coming this year. We've been projecting Manley to be arriving in 2014 for a couple of years now, and Prapavessis has been thought of as a potential 2014 or 2015 arrival since he committed in February, but Prapavessis is also about six months older than Manley, so anything's possible. As of now, it looks like Moore and Manley (both of which should be in the USHL next season) to replace Leboeuf and Dolan, as Prapavessis was not chosen to join Lincoln, the USHL team that holds his rights. That means he'll likely be back in Ontario this coming season, and could potentially join them in 2014.

Offensively, Tironese will be an outstanding addition, and it appears he'll be one of the top players in the BCHL this coming year. He's good enough that Green Bay, one of the top programs in the USHL, spent a first-round draft pick on him hoping to lure him south of the border for next season, though it appears he will stay in Alberni Valley. Fornaris has a lot of potential as well, but we'll have to see how he does in the USHL himself this coming year with Cedar Rapids, should he make the team. We've already discussed Melanson's potential at length. With Commers' departure to Division III, there could be another forward in order to bring the forward complement back to 16, and a second one would put it back to 17, where it hasn't been since the Pirri/D'Amigo/Watts departures in 2010.

Out: Haggerty, Laliberte, McGowan, Neal, Curadi, Leonard, Diebold
In: Prapavessis(?)

Much less is known thus far about the class of 2019 than we knew about the class of 2018 at this time last year, however, there's definitely still time for this class to fill out. We expect to see Prapavessis as part of this class, but there's going to have to be a number of forwards, hopefully in the coming months, that are added to this list, as well as a goaltender capable of being the top dog in this group. We'll keep all eyes peeled.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Minnesota

Our final "new" addition to the Know Your Enemy rolls this year is a program that is among the most respected in the entire nation from a school that's one of the major players in the college athletic scene by virtue of their association with one of the oldest and most respected conferences out there - yet had to wait 20 years for their first national championship in part because of a plucky group of engineering students from a small school in upstate New York.

Nickname: Golden Gophers
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Founded: 1851
Conference: Big Ten
National Championships: 5 (1974, 1976, 1979, 2002, 2003)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2013
Last Frozen Four: 2012
Coach: Don Lucia (15th year)
2012-13 Record: 26-9-5 (16-7-5 WCHA, 1st place)
Series: Minnesota leads, 9-2-0
First Game: March 12, 1953 (Colorado Springs, CO)
Last RPI win: December 10, 1988 (Minneapolis, MN)
Last Minnesota win: October 12, 2007 (St. Paul, MN)

2013-14 game: January 4, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN - possible)

Key players: F Nate Condon, sr.; D Justin Holl, sr.; D Jake Parenteau, sr.; F Tom Serratore, sr.; F Seth Ambroz, jr.; F Travis Boyd, jr.; F Christian Isackson, jr.; D Ben Marshall, jr.; F Kyle Rau, jr.; F Sam Warning, jr.; D Mike Reilly, so.; D Brady Skjei, so.; G Adam Wilcox, so.; D Mike Brodzinski, fr.; F Taylor Cammarata, fr.; F Hudson Fasching, fr.; D Tommy Vannelli, fr.

They don't call Minnesota the "state of hockey" for nothing. 182 Minnesotans played college hockey last season - including three at RPI among 22 in the ECAC. Given the state's size relative to other states with a high number of varsity college programs, the five D-I teams in Minnesota (with an additional 10 Division III programs) are pretty substantial, especially considering that all but one of those five have been to the Frozen Four in the last five seasons.

And when it comes to the "state of hockey," there's one school that certainly commands the majority of attention, and that's the Gophers. While they can no longer brag the state's only national championships following the 2011 triumph of Minnesota-Duluth, the five that they have ranks them among the most in the country.

How solid a program is Minnesota? Well, consider this: the last class to graduate without making even a single NCAA appearance was the Class of 1970. 15 classes since then never missed the tournament. They're regulars, and the program's history of regular success even predates the NCAA tournament's inception.

Varsity hockey at the "U" dates back to 1922, when a team under I.D. MacDonald put together a 6-3-1 record that included four victories over the school's arch-rivals from Wisconsin. Unlike many other schools, Minnesota continued to field a hockey program throughout the Great Depression and through World War II as well. The school claims a pre-NCAA national championship from 1929 (shared with Yale) and won the national AAU championship in Lake Placid in 1940 as part of an 18-0-0 season.

Minnesota's first eight seasons were above .500, and the program suffered just five losing seasons from its inception to 1951, when the team joined the Midwest Collegiate Hockey League, an early attempt at a college hockey conference today considered a forerunner of the WCHA. It was around that time that John Mariucci, who had captained the 1940 squad and played in the NHL, would start the team on the road to becoming NCAA titans as head coach of the Gophers for 13 seasons - though the ultimate national glories would elude him.

In his first season as coach in 1953, Mariucci led Minnesota to a 23-win season, shattering the school record of 18 and bringing the Gophers to the NCAA tournament for the first time, eking out a victory over an RPI team also making its first NCAA apperance, winning 3-2 before falling 7-3 to Michigan in the national championship.

The next season, a second straight 23-win campaign, Minnesota again returned to the Frozen Four and the national championship game, falling short once again as RPI pulled off a shocking 5-4 win in overtime thanks to Gordie Peterkin's game-winning goal.

Mariucci coached the US Olympic team to a silver medal in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy in 1956 (with a team stocked with Minnesotans) and helped establish Minnesota as one of the top western teams, but left the program in 1966, having played an immense role in the development of hockey both in Minnesota and on the national level but without having claimed a national championship.

The program struggled under Mariucci's replacement, Glen Sonmor (who maintained a long connection with the Gophers as a radio analyst until 2011), though he did bring Minnesota its first WCHA regular-season crown in 1970, and helped produce a Cinderella run through the WCHA playoffs and into the NCAA tournament in 1971 that saw the Gophers fall 4-2 in the national championship game to Boston University despite having an overall losing record.

Herb Brooks became Minnesota's head coach in 1973, building upon Mariucci's legacy by propelling the Gophers to the regular league hardware and NCAA appearances they're known for today. In just his second season as head coach, Brooks guided Minnesota to its first national championship as the first of three straight national championship games between the "U" and WCHA rivals Michigan Tech, winning 4-2 in Boston. The Huskies gained revenge in the 1974 championship, 6-1, but Minnesota earned its second crown in 1975 with a 6-4 win over MTU.

Minnesota was again at the intersection of Olympic glory in 1979, when Brooks' third national championship (4-3 over North Dakota) made him the top candidate to coach the 1980 US Olympic team, a team which needs little in the way of introduction. Nine Gophers were on that team, including Mike Ramsey and Rob McClanahan, starters against the Soviet Union.

The 1980s and 1990s featured a solid amount of league domination by Minnesota under coaches Brad Buetow and Doug Woog, but no more national championships despite six WCHA regular season titles, three playoff titles, 16 NCAA bids (including 13 in a row from 1985 to 1997) and eight Frozen Four appearances. The closest the Golden Gophers came during these two decades to wearing the crown were in 1981 under Buetow, a 6-3 loss to hated Wisconsin in the national championship, and in 1989 under Woog, as a team still considered one of the greatest in Minnesota history fell 4-3 in overtime to Harvard.

In 1999, after a second straight losing season that followed 20 winning seasons in a row, Woog stepped down as head coach. Minnesota hired Colorado College head coach Don Lucia, who had guided the Tigers to five straight NCAA appearances and two Frozen Fours, and under Lucia the ship was righted fairly quickly. Lucia's first eight seasons were of the 20-win variety, one of the more basic measures of success for a program as accomplished as Minnesota. In 2002, just his third season behind the bench, Lucia guided the Gophers to their first national championship since 1979, and a year later made the Gophers the first team to win back-to-back crowns since Boston University in 1971 and 1972.

Since then, there's been a lot of success for the "U" - 4 WCHA regular season championships and 2 more Frozen Fours - but the ultimate goal, one the team seems to start every year with a better-than-average shot at achieving, has been elusive.

One unique feature about the Gopher program is its tradition of recruiting either all or almost all native Minnesotans to the team. Last year's team had just four players not from the Land of 10,000 lakes, and as recently as 2008 the Gophers boasted an all-Minnesota roster. The program's tradition of recruiting the top players in the state is credited with helping to fuel the rise of the state's high school league as the best in the nation. For years, the Minnesota-only policy was in full effect, started by Mariucci and adhered to especially under Woog.

Perhaps not ironically, Minnesota's 2002 national championship, their first in almost a quarter-century, was won on an overtime goal scored by Grant Potulny, a North Dakota native who was the first non-Minnesotan to play for the Gophers in 15 years. Today, non-Minnesotans dot the roster, but the vast majority of Gopher players are still from Minnesota, frequently chosen from among the top high school players in the state.

This year marks the beginning of a new era for Minnesota, as they split from the WCHA for the first time since its inception to join the new Big Ten hockey conference, in correlation with their school-wide affiliation.

Minnesota is not a guaranteed opponent for the Engineers as it had been originally thought when it was first announced that RPI would play in the Mariucci Classic for the first time. Instead, fellow ECAC squad Colgate will draw the Golden Gophers in the first round. With the Raiders as the other potential opponent in the tournament, RPI stalwarts would probably prefer to get a game with the hometown team, since there are already other opportunities to see RPI and Colgate do battle this year (and any year).

Following the Gophers' upset loss in the NCAA tournament at the hands of a Yale team that would go on to win the national championship, the team experienced an outright exodus of underclassmen signing NHL contracts, losing five would-be seniors and taking a big bite out of the team's experience levels after a mostly-successful season last year with just one senior seeing any ice time at all. Now, four of the team's top five scorers from last year are gone with each leaving eligibility on the table.

But there's always talent at Minnesota, even in down years, and this probably isn't even likely to be a down year. 10 NHL draft picks remain from last year's squad, and more will join them in the fall. Wilcox had a tremendous freshman season that saw him put down a GAA of 1.88, Rau returns after scoring 40 points last year (and despite rumors that he'd join the rush to the exit). Condon, Warning, Ambroz, and Marshall all had at least eight goals each last year. Every freshman class at Minnesota has a number of blue-chip talents, and frequently freshmen are among the top players on the team.

It adds up to a team with few holes, but if the Engineers face off with the Golden Gophers, there will be at least a few in the lineup during the first weekend of 2014. Since the tournament falls during the World Junior Championships (held this season in Sweden), there's practically a certainty that the Gophers will be without some of their top younger players - Skjei, Cammarata, Vannelli, and Fasching have all been invited to the annual WJC prep camp in Lake Placid. They're also going to be missing their head coach - Don Lucia will be the head coach of Team USA in Sweden.

A matchup with Minnesota, regardless of who's not playing, would be another big test for an RPI team with big dreams this year. The Mariucci Classic games represent the Engineers' only experience with Olympic-sized ice before potential games in Lake Placid in March, and if they face the Gophers, that'll be something to be overcome - not to mention the 10,000 seat arena that should be almost full (students will be gone for winter break). It adds up to yet another difficult challenge for RPI, but like the Denver series, it would be a building block experience heading into the meat of the ECAC schedule in January and February.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Ferris State

This week's Know Your Enemy entry represents an opponent the Engineers should be quite familiar with when they face off against them in Minnesota come the first weekend in January. After all, it'll be the third consecutive season featuring a game between the Engineers and the head coach's alma mater after a 13-year separation between the teams' first meeting.

Ferris State
Nickname: Bulldogs
Location: Big Rapids, MI
Founded: 1884
Conference: WCHA
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2012
Last Frozen Four: 2012
Coach: Bob Daniels (22nd season)
2012-13 Record: 16-16-5 (13-12-3-1 CCHA, 5th place)
Series: Ferris State leads, 3-1-1
First Game: January 23, 1998 (Big Rapids, MI)
Last RPI win: October 12, 2012 (Troy, NY)
Last FSU win: October 15, 2011 (Big Rapids, MI)

2013-14 game: January 3, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN)

Key players: D Scott Czarnowczan, sr.; F Justin DeMartino, sr.; F Andy Huff, sr.; F Cory Kane, sr.; F Garrett Thompson, sr.; F Justin Buzzeo, jr.; D Simon Denis, jr.; G C.J. Motte, jr.; D Jason Binkley, jr.; D Brandon Anselmini, so.; D Zach Dorer, so.; D Connor Schmidt, so.; F Tyler Andrew, fr.; D Ryan Lowney, fr.

Previous KYE installments:
There's practically nowhere to go but down from playing in the national championship game - the only improvement in 2013 would have been an actual national championship. That wasn't in the cards for Ferris State, who finished off their 35th and final season in the CCHA with a respectable 5th place finish but featured a bumpy finish in February and March as they were unable to reach the last CCHA Final Five.

The Bulldogs now pick up and move to the radically changed WCHA, where they have the potential to be one of the top teams in the coming seasons. Although Ferris State had a positively middling season last year, their overall showing was better than anyone else in the "new" WCHA with the exception of Minnesota State, the only team from the reconstituted conference that reached the NCAA tournament last season.

A major factor in Ferris State's inability to build on their epic 2012 season were early season injuries to Czarnowczan and top-returning scorer Matthew Kirzinger, two players that were expected to be key cogs in the Bulldogs' game. Kirzinger has graduated, and Ferris additionally loses their top two scorers from last season, Kyle Bonis and Travis Ouellette. That puts pressure on guys like Thompson, Kane, and DeMartino to pick up some of the scoring slack.

A healthy season for Czarnowczan and the rest of Ferris State's defense - all of which returns - could bode well for the Bulldogs' defense, still backstopped by Motte, who had a couple of tough-luck outings against the Engineers last season after blanking them for his first collegiate shutout in his freshman year.

This is a Ferris State team that could have the chops to compete for a WCHA title if they find the scoring touch they'll need - and they have options on that front. This is still a team with half of its roster having the experience of playing for a national championship, and as they move to a new conference, they look ready to put in another solid season.

There are four dynamics that change things considerably from the last two seasons that the Engineers and Bulldogs met. First, it's a neutral site game. Second, it's just one game rather than two. Third, it's taking place in January rather than October, so both teams should at least be into the swing of things. Finally, Ferris State is likely to get a look at Jason Kasdorf for the first time if he's healthy.

Might just be homerism here, but lean toward the Engineers to be the favorite in this game - looking at it before the season gets underway, of course. They should be plenty dangerous on their own, but if the Bulldogs pick up the scoring they need early in the season, this could be a barnburner.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

2013-14 Women's Hockey Schedule

We pieced together most of this schedule on Twitter over the last couple of weeks, but the full official schedule was released last week. So here it is. This year's schedule includes just three non-conference games at home (eight are on the road), but there are a couple of earlier opportunities to see the team play non-ECAC squads with a pair of exhibitions in late September - the official opening of the RPI hockey season.

Friday games are at 7pm and Saturday games are at 4pm unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, 22 September - OTTAWA JR. SENATORS, 1pm (exhibition)
Monday, 23 September - BROCK, 3pm (exhibition)

Friday, 4 October - at Robert Morris
Saturday, 5 October - at Robert Morris, 3pm
Friday, 11 October - BOSTON UNIVERSITY
Saturday, 12 October - NORTHEASTERN
Saturday, 19 October - VERMONT, 3pm
Friday, 25 October - at UConn, 2pm
Saturday, 26 October - at UConn, 2pm

Friday, 1 November - HARVARD*
Saturday, 2 November - DARTMOUTH*
Friday, 8 November - at Cornell*
Saturday, 9 November - at Colgate*
Friday, 15 November - YALE*
Saturday, 16 November - BROWN*
Friday, 29 November - at St. Cloud State, 4pm
Saturday, 30 November - at St. Cloud State

Friday, 06 December - at Princeton*
Saturday, 07 December - at Quinnipiac*

Saturday, 04 January - at Providence, 7pm
Sunday, 05 January - at Providence, 4pm
Friday, 10 January - QUINNIPIAC*
Saturday, 11 January - PRINCETON*
Friday, 17 January - UNION*
Saturday, 18 January - at Union*
Friday, 24 January - at Dartmouth*
Saturday, 25 January - at Harvard,* 5pm
Friday, 31 January - ST. LAWRENCE*

Saturday, 01 February - CLARKSON*
Friday, 07 February - at Brown*
Saturday, 08 February - at Yale*
Friday, 14 February - COLGATE*
Saturday, 15 February - CORNELL* (Senior Night)
Friday, 21 February - at Clarkson*
Saturday, 22 February - at St. Lawrence*
Friday, 28 February - ECAC Quarterfinals Game 1 (at campus sites)

Saturday, 01 March - ECAC Quarterfinals Game 2 (at campus sites)
Sunday, 02 March - ECAC Quarterfinals Game 3 (if necessary, at campus sites)
Saturday, 08 March - ECAC Semifinals (at highest seed)
Sunday, 09 March - ECAC Championship (at highest semifinal seed)
Sat-Sun, 15-16 March - NCAA Quarterfinals (at campus sites)
Friday, 21 March - NCAA Frozen Four (Hamden, CT)
Sunday, 23 March - NCAA Championship (Hamden, CT)