Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Hibernation Mode: Active

In case you haven't already noticed, we're into our usual April/May slumber here at WaP. We push posts 10 months a year around here, which surpasses a lot of other blogs which basically just operate from September as the season ramps up until March or April when their team's season ends.

We try to stay on top of all news RPI, most news ECAC, and the big news on the national level. In order to keep the batteries charged, we typically don't post much from the end of the Frozen Four until late May unless something huge happens.

Now that Seth Appert has another contract extension and is definitely staying for what we hope should be a very exciting 2013-14 season for the Engineers, it's time for hibernation. While yearly renovations get underway on the secret underwater lair, we're going to be incommunicado here for the next few weeks, as per usual.

We'll still have updates on Twitter - and, if you're not following us there yet, get with the program - as they are warranted. Unless a post is warranted sometime in the next month or so, we'll see you again on May 22 as we crank up our yearly summer cooler series, "Know Your Enemy," a weekly look at the RPI men's 2013-14 opponents. From time to time during the summer, we'll have other stuff as it comes up.

Friday, April 12, 2013

2013: The Year of the Nerd

On August 6, 2012, an ECAC Hockey alum - RPI's Kobie Boykins, a forward on the team in the mid-1990's - was part of the team at NASA that landed the groundbreaking rover Curiosity on Mars.

It was another tale of ECAC alums doing what ECAC alums do - those that don't go on to play in the NHL (and even many who do) go on to become movers and shakers in fields from finance to industry, from science to small business.

But that's not to say that the league doesn't have its history of getting things done on the ice. We waxed eloquent over the summer at the addition of Adam Oates to the Hockey Hall of Fame, the announcement coming on the same day he was named head coach of the Washington Capitals.

That legacy, some said, was a relic of a bygone era. The ECAC, it was told, had been lapped by the power conferences, and was an afterthought on the national stage. Routinely written off, even as this tournament got underway. Even as the Frozen Four got underway with half the participants being members of the conference.

Today, the afterthoughts are... everyone else.

Quinnipiac and Yale place the conference in its brightest spotlight since the Hockey East split tomorrow night as they do battle to determine which of them will win the conference's first national championship since 1989, but this season, the ECAC went far, far beyond these two schools from southern Connecticut.

(And we proudly mention that we semi "called" Quinnipiac being good this year, pointing out just how stacked they were at pretty much every facet and how many seniors they had. True to Quinnipiac fashion, they just had to find a way to surpass even those expectations - something they've done in every season they've been in the ECAC. They did that during the regular season alone, and now they've kicked it up to a new level.)

In addition to winning the national championship, the conference also was responsible for the dethroning of last year's national champions, via a 5-1 demolition by the conference champions, Union.

We're never afraid to toot our own horn here at WaP - if the Bulldogs win tomorrow night, RPI will have defeated the eventual national champions twice this season, by a combined score of 10-2 (we've mentioned it a bit on Twitter, where more than a few people yesterday proclaimed that RPI was the best team in the conference at the end of the season). The Engineers finished in 2nd place in the conference, and despite an upset in the first round, were still in the national tournament picture until a wild finish to the conference tournaments bumped them out.

Brown was in that picture too, by their own doing. They gutted out a hard-fought series with the Engineers to give themselves a shot, and put themselves on the cusp with a masterful performance against that same team that you just saw humiliate the WCHA regular-season champs on the biggest stage of all.

Dartmouth had a tremendous first-half of the season in which they looked unstoppable. St. Lawrence had a tremendous second-half of the season in which they too looked unstoppable at times. And we haven't even talked about the league's perennial beasts - it wasn't Cornell's finest season by any stretch of the imagination, but they certainly finished strong.

Guess what? That's more than half the league mentioned just right there.

The last month has made this season property of the ECAC - the league will finish with an incredible 8-2 record in the NCAAs, with the only two losses coming at the hands of a fellow league member. The power conferences, they tried to take down Quinnipiac, Yale, and Union, and they went 0-for-6 for their troubles.

Now they can sit back and watch the newest hot rivalry in the ECAC take center stage, and put on a show. Yale has the tools to do this again next year (they'll have questions in net, but what else is new), while Quinnipiac's senior-heavy roster means they're more than likely going to have to take care of business this weekend.

Given how thoroughly these teams dominated their semifinal matchups last night (Yale was the aggressor for 59 minutes against a fantastic UML team, which underscores how good the River Hawks are that the game made it to overtime), we are in for a treat tomorrow night.

All you Hockey East, WCHA, NCHC, and Big Ten fans can tune in if you like. They're bound to put on a show for you. And if you don't like what you're seeing... then you don't like hockey.

EZAC, eh?

How you like us now?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


So there it was, Easter night, and suddenly it dawned on me.

The national championship game could be a rematch of the ECAC consolation game.

Yeah. We're not in Kansas anymore, are we?

A couple of times this season, I've pooh-poohed some of the more excited suggestions about what the ECAC could accomplish on the national level. So far, I've been proven about right - three NCAA bids was about what I expected. So what is it to say that the ECAC now has two teams in the Frozen Four for the first time since 1983, and just a year removed from ending a nine-year drought without even a single team in the ultimate event of the college hockey season?

Some would say it was nothing but luck. Those people will point to the fact that Yale essentially backed into the tournament after failing miserably in Atlantic City (scoring a grand total of zero goals in two games), that Union could well have been out of the NCAAs themselves if they hadn't won the ECAC title (probably true), and that Quinnipiac had a lousy February and (of course) was never a deserving #1.

Ask Minnesota, North Dakota, and Boston College about what kind of year the ECAC had. Those three powerhouse programs can boast a single split regular-season title (the Gophers, with St. Cloud State earning the #1 seed in the conference tournament) between them while two ECAC teams do battle in Pittsburgh for the opportunity to claim the league's first national championship since 1989.

While I was trying to calm down the overly optimistic expectations of four or five bids, I also pointed to the upward trend the league has been experiencing in the last couple of years as a legitimate source of optimism, and this is certainly another sign of growth. In 2011, we saw the league picking up three bids for the first time in several years. In 2012, it was a Frozen Four berth. Now, it's both, plus an extra spot in the Frozen Four.

Now, we don't need to have Quinnipiac and Yale win tomorrow to make this a successful season for the league, and there are plenty of additional steps that need to be taken before we can really pound our chests. And, as I also brought up earlier this season, the ECAC is set to pretty much overtake the "new" WCHA starting next season in terms of stature.

So, what are the chances of an ECAC champion this weekend? I'd go with... fair. It sounds pessimistic to say that with half the teams being from the ECAC, but it's about as far as I'd be willing to go. UMass-Lowell, on their current seven-game win streak, has given up either one goal or none at all in six of those games. That's a defense that's dialed in. St. Cloud State played exceptionally well in the WCHA, and settled for a #4 seed based almost entirely upon non-conference stumbles against UNH, RPI, and Northern Michigan, plus a loss to Wisconsin in the WCHA tournament. They're good.

That's not to say that Yale and Quinnipiac don't have things going for them as well. The Bobcats may be as dialed in on offense as UML is on defense, and a matchup between the Q and the River Hawks could be very exciting - as could the actual Yale-UML matchup provided that the Bulldogs get the offense they had in Grand Rapids rather than the one they had in Atlantic City.

Overall, though? This is a weekend to enjoy if you're a college hockey fan. It's the Frozen Four, of course, and that's cause every year. But this year? It's an even bigger celebration of what makes college hockey special. It's borne out of Union beating Boston College and St. Cloud State beating Notre Dame. Name another sport where that result would be even remotely possible.

When the casual college sports fan looks at the Frozen Four and says "who the hell are these guys?", you can take pride when you say - these are four damn good college hockey teams, and they proved it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Things To Do In Denver When You're Red

12 consecutive 20-win seasons. Six consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Back to back national championship wins in 2004 and 2005. Three MacNaughton Cup titles for winning the WCHA regular season title. Four Broadmoor Trophy reigns as WCHA champions. A Hobey Baker Award winner. Just one losing record in 19 seasons.

Not enough for George Gwozdecky to keep his job at the University of Denver.

Now, the haters are going to point out that, while the Pioneers have consistently made the tournament, they haven't advanced to the Frozen Four since winning it all in 2005, and have won just one NCAA tournament game since then (beating Western Michigan in two overtimes in 2011 at Green Bay - the regional that included the Engineers). So, perhaps the bar is just that high in Denver.

Even still... the resume in the first paragraph is pretty impressive. Apparently, the powers that be at DU want national titles and won't be satisfied with anything less. That has to be daunting for whoever it is that might replace the truly legendary Gwozdecky at Magness Arena.

Denver is certainly a high-profile opening - not the most high-profile opening we've seen this year, but the BU opening was open for about 40 seconds before they named David Quinn as Jack Parker's replacement.

So who is it? Denver's associate head coach, Steve Miller is almost certainly not it - he's been Gwozdecky's top lieutenant for all 19 years that he's been in Denver. You don't show that kind of loyalty for that long only to take the guy's job when he gets canned. The other assistant, David Lassonde, has been an assistant coach in college hockey since 1989, including 14 years at New Hampshire before spending the last two seasons at Denver. He could be a solid candidate.

Protégés are all over the rumor mill. Air Force associate head coach Mike Corbett is a former DU defenseman who played for Gwozdecky, he's been with the Falcons (conveniently, right there in Colorado) for 10 seasons. Derek Lalonde was an assistant in Denver under Gwozdecky from 2006 to 2011, when he took over the Green Bay Gamblers of the USHL and won a league championship in his first season.

Among the other names that have cropped up are two other Gwozdecky protégés - Miami head coach Enrico Blasi, who played for Gwozdecky in Miami between 1990 and 1994 and who was an assistant in Denver from 1996 to 1999 before taking the top job at his alma mater, and St. Cloud State head coach Bob Motzko, who served under Gwozdecky at both Miami and Denver before eventually taking the top spot at his alma mater.

Neither of these candidates seem likely based on what they have accomplished or are accomplishing in their current positions. Blasi has taken Miami to heights that even his predecessor did not achieve while he was in Ohio (namely, NCAA tournament victories to go with 9 NCAA tournament apperances in 10 years, including two Frozen Fours and very nearly a national championship in 2009). And I don't know if you've been reading the news lately, but Motzko's Huskies just reached the Frozen Four for the first time in school history, quite an accomplishment for a much maligned program that until Motzko took the reins, was a punchline for the number of times they'd tried and failed to win even one NCAA tournament game.

Throw in the fact that both of these gentlemen would be facing their former teams in the NCHC next year, and it's a good bet we won't see either of them in Denver next year.

But there's one other well known Gwozdecky protégé out there that people are talking about - in fact, he was the first name the Denver Post, among other outlets, brought up: RPI's Seth Appert.

As most RPI fans known, Appert was an assistant in Denver from 1999 through 2006, when he came to Troy as RPI's 9th head coach in the modern era, and he was considered an instrumental recruiter for the program during the Pioneers reign as back-to-back national champions. He's not currently at his alma mater like Blasi and Motzko, and he hasn't yet placed RPI on the same level that either of those men have done at their respective schools.

He refused comment when the Daily Gazette's Ken Schott asked him if he would be a candidate. Don't read too much into the refusal to say no - the question was asked mere minutes from the time Gwozdecky's firing was made public. That isn't enough time to consider anything, either way.

It has long been suspected that Appert might only consider leaving RPI for two places - Denver, his long-time home, and Ferris State, his alma mater. That's probably not entirely true, but it does make the Denver opening more intriguing from an RPI fan's perspective.

But don't count on a vacancy in Troy this summer. Why? A couple of reasons. First, alumni reaction to the firing at Denver has been almost universally negative. Whoever comes in now is going to have to deal with a fanbase that will have very little patience. Second, DU's interest could be tepid at best - who would fire a person and then hire someone that learned from him? It would be a different story, for sure, if Gwozdecky had resigned. Third, Gwozdecky's resume is going to be difficult to top. Fourth, the loyalty factor has to come into play: reports say that Gwozdecky's protégés tend to maintain a very close relationship with the man. Like Miller, who would want to be the one to succeed him?

Is it possible that Seth Appert could leave? Yes. Is it likely? Probably not.

Regardless, it will be very interesting to see how everything plays out, especially with the conference realignment about to strike the balance in college hockey.

We'll be keeping a close eye here as well, in part because the Pioneers will be coming to Troy next season as one of the non-conference opponents. Stay tuned.