Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Know Thyself: RPI

We did this last year - applying the Know Your Enemy rule to our own side. It seemed to work out OK, so as we get ready to roll on the 2013-14 season, let's take a closer look at the Engineers and what their outlook is for the upcoming season. Spoiler alert: They're probably going to be pretty decent. Which you knew, since you've already seen the WaP preseason ballot in which we pegged RPI as the top team in the league (as did 17 others in the media poll).

RPI
Nickname: Engineers
Location: Troy, NY
Founded: 1824
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 2 (1954, 1985)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2011
Last Frozen Four: 1985
Coach: Seth Appert (8th season)
2012-13 Record: 18-14-5 (12-7-3 ECAC, 2nd place)
All-Time Record: 997-881-119 (972-808-113 in the modern era)
First Game: January 25, 1902 (Cohoes, NY)
First Win: February 26, 1904 (Albany, NY)
First Modern Era game: January 7, 1950 (Clinton, NY)
First Modern Era win: February 3, 1950 (Plattsburgh, NY)

Key players: D Bo Dolan, sr.; F Brock Higgs, sr.; D Guy Leboeuf, sr.; D Luke Curadi, jr.; F Ryan Haggerty, jr.; F Jacob Laliberte, jr.; D Curtis Leonard, jr.; F Mark McGowan, jr.; F Matt Neal, jr.; D Chris Bradley, so.; F Milos Bubela, so.; G Jason Kasdorf, so.; F Mark Miller, so.; F Mike Zalewski, so.; F Riley Bourbonnais, fr.; D Parker Reno, fr.

Key losses: D Nick Bailen, F C.J. Lee

(I know, I know, I'm missing this potential impact freshman or that upperclassman primed to break out... I only assembled it the way I assembled the KYE teams, just to be fair. I'm sure I've left out some of the same for other teams.)

Your eyes are not deceiving you - RPI's third win in this upcoming season will be the 1,000th in school history. They could have reached the mark last season by winning the ECAC championship, which would have been extra special. Instead they could potentially hit the mark, at the earliest, on October 18 against Boston University at Agganis Arena. Assuming (and it's not a stretch) that RPI can at least beat Sacred Heart twice if not BC and BU, the Engineers would have two early chances to achieve the mark at home, against New Hampshire and Harvard.

Let's get the semantics out of the way - the Engineers lose their top scorer from last year, and he was a defenseman. That's really the biggest hurdle the second place team has from last season. Losing the top scorer to graduation is pretty common, though - half the league is in the same boat. But honestly, that's the only major element RPI's losing. Bailen was a unique player and an All-American, but the Engineers have so many options for filling his skates, which is good considering that no one player is probably going to be able to do what he did.

RPI brings back 9 of its top 10 scorers from last year. Only a handful of other teams can claim that: Clarkson, UMass-Lowell, Providence, Vermont, Nebraska-Omaha, Bowling Green, Michigan Tech, Army, and Bentley (Ohio State and Merrimack bring back all 10). With the obvious exception of Frozen Four alums UML and their Hockey East counterparts in Rhode Island, we don't recall seeing many of those teams sniffing at NCAA bids last year. But then again, there's a reason those two teams are considered to potentially be among the best in the nation - as should RPI.

We've already run down the list of the other departures - Lee provided solid leadership and a hard-nosed edge in the corners, but there are plenty of other candidates there. Bryce Merriam wasn't playing down the stretch. Marty O'Grady saw just a handful of games due to a career-ending concussion syndrome. Greg Burgdoerfer filled Matt Tinordi's role well while the latter was hurt, and Tinordi is back.

Bailen's exit does leave some work to be done for the Engineers, especially on the power play, but with this roster that skates into the Houston Field House, there will be any number of candidates to replace his power play presence, his defensive play, and his sniper ability.

Jason Kasdorf's numbers from last year are light-years ahead of what any other returning goaltender put up. That's not enough for him or the Engineers to rest on laurels, and there will be goaltenders who could put up just as strong numbers this year, but he presents RPI with an edge that along with a seasoned core of contributors who have proven themselves on both sides of the puck, makes the Engineers, top-to-bottom, the most dangerous team in the conference at the outset.

Where does that leave us in terms of goals for the season? The ultimate goal should be that of any team that suits up - the national championship. If you aren't shooting for that, from Yale on down to Sacred Heart, you're doing it wrong. But for the Engineers, this season the goal represents a stretch objective that should not be considered completely out of the question at the outset, a position which only about 12-15 teams at the very most can usually claim at the start of the season - and one that RPI really hasn't been in since the turn of the millennium.

On a more subdued level? This is a team that should have three must-hit earmarks for this season to be considered successful. First, another first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs, something they achieved last year. That is very basic. Second, at least a trip to Lake Placid, a round that has eluded the team for over a decade, and a goal that would represent growth from last season. Finally, an NCAA bid, which should be a fait accompli if the first two can be accomplished, so let's up the ante - at least a goal in the NCAAs for the first time since George Servinis.

The outlying goals from here are ECAC hardware, be it the regular season crown (ultimately meaningless but a step up from last season) or the league championship (obviously, more meaningful), and an NCAA tournament victory for the first time since the 1985 national championship game. These are reachable goals that any team, no matter how talented, could fall short of with the wrong bounces of the puck, but they hardly far-fetched. Further out, a Frozen Four berth, which seems all the more closer for the success the league had last season. We can confirm that it's still possible for an ECAC team to get that far, and then some.

This is a team capable of great things, and RPI fans are justified in being excited for this season, especially given the long stretch of disappointments that we've seen in the past 15 or so years.

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