Thursday, January 23, 2014

Goals and Turning Points

We laid out a number of goals at the beginning of the season that we expected were reachable goals. Three of them were considered "must-hit."

  • First-round bye
  • A trip to Lake Placid
  • An NCAA berth
Two of those are looking very, very unlikely right now. The trip to Lake Placid, all that takes is a good weekend or two in March, and we've seen teams from all over the final table in the ECAC, up to and including 12th place, reach the ECAC semifinals in recent years. But you'd be mocked, and rightly so, if you thought the other two were even within reach right now.

Those were the goals. In our world, you come to terms with whether your goals were a success or a failure before you start deciphering the why in either case. It is not a stretch to say that at the rate the Engineers have played since the middle of November, these goals will not be reached. That constitutes a failure.

Then, you can go in and start picking out the why. Two words for you: Jason Kasdorf. The Engineers were night and day with and without him last year, in practically every facet of the game. Solid goaltending can sometimes win games on its own, and even when it isn't, it can be the foundation that raises other aspects. Teams with outstanding goaltending will frequently take more risks offensively in order to score goals.

On November 9, the Engineers beat Colgate 6-2 in order to reach a record of 6-2-2. Their record since is 2-7-2. They've dropped below .500 for the first time since early February 2013.

And that's worth mentioning. The Engineers were below .500 coming into the final month of the regular season. They finished 2nd in the ECAC. There shouldn't be any quit. But this isn't the same team as last year's squad - no two teams are the same.

We'll never know how much better the Engineers would have been with Kasdorf in net. But it's irrelevant. Much as we'd like to see him, he's not in net.

That leads us to this coming weekend. Dartmouth on Friday is an absolutely, positively, 100%, without question, don't listen to anything in the contrary, must-win game. It's at home against the 12th place team, which will be missing its leading scorer. It's a league game. Without both points, the Engineers will only continue to fall backwards in the standings.

That said, the Saturday game in Albany, a non-conference game, could very well be a turning point.

You're tired of losing to Union. We're tired of losing to Union. We get it. It hasn't been much fun lately (which is why we tried to spruce things up with the #HateUnionWeek hashtag back in November - at least get your laughs in while you can).

There honestly shouldn't be any pressure at all. Union has the longest unbeaten streak in the nation. RPI hasn't won in over a month. Nobody expects the Engineers to win.

That's why, if they do... what a game-changer it would be.

Perhaps the worst thing is that Union's certainly "in their heads," those men in cherry and white. They want to win and they know they haven't in a while. If it was Princeton or Harvard running this streak, who'd even notice? But it's not, and it's noticed. It's a mental struggle that has to be won in the locker room before they do battle on the ice.

Just know this when the Engineers and Dutchmen are skating at the Times Union Center on Albany - just as much as it could be another embarrassing defeat to that glorified community college up the road, it could just as well be the start of a rebirth. Keep that in mind.

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