Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Seat Warms

I intentionally waited until some of the clamor over the way RPI went out of the playoffs to die down a little bit to offer my insight on the whole situation.

Let's get one thing straight from the start. Seth Appert is not going anywhere. To argue for his immediate termination is simply a waste of time and breath for a couple of reasons. First of all, he's on the books at RPI through the end of the decade. That's an investment that was made less than a year ago - they aren't going to throw it away this quickly, it just doesn't make sense. Second, you may have forgotten through the understandable disappointment of two consecutive home playoff losses, but the Engineers did have their highest finish in the ECAC in 20 years in 2013, just a season ago.

Yes, this season was disappointing. Expectations were high and those expectations simply were not met. The team did not reach any of the goals that we laid out at the beginning of the season.

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.
If you'd told us that Jason Kasdorf was going to be lost for the season after the first weekend, a lot of this would have been downgraded for sure. A lot of the high expectations that were placed on this team revolved around having the best goaltender in the league between the pipes, including the expectations by the media and coaches in the preseason polls, which tabbed the team to finish 1st and 2nd in the standings respectively. We'll never know just what this team could have achieved had that freak injury not happened.

That said, there was a lot more that this team could have accomplished than it did. Time and time again this season, especially in league play, the Engineers settled for fewer points than they could have earned thanks to blown leads. 14 times in ECAC games, RPI did not take both points. They had leads in fully half of those games. Some turned into ties, others became losses. Each team that finished ahead of RPI except for Colgate was an opponent in one of those contests - which underlines just how much better the Engineers could have placed had they been able to hold some of those leads.

The home playoff losses are certainly becoming a concern, too. To be fair, the Engineers under Seth Appert have repeatedly drawn teams at home for the playoffs that were hitting their stride at the right time. Brown in 2010, Colgate in 2011, and Brown in 2013 all went on from their 2-1 series wins in Troy to knock the #1 team in the ECAC out of the tournament (Yale in 2010, Union in 2011, and Quinnipiac in 2013). While Dartmouth didn't go on to do the same this season, they were easily the least desired of the four teams that hit the road for the first round given the way their late season went.

Despite this, RPI was very much a part of all four of those series. All four series went to a third game. Why can't they win that third game? There's absolutely a trend now, and it is becoming more and more of a concern. You can point to the tough draws all you want, eventually, good teams overcome difficult opponents.

It has been 12 years since the Engineers played in the ECAC semifinals. Every other team in the league has been there at least once since 2007. If Clarkson had scored the OT winner in Game 3 instead of Cornell, it would have been every team having had an appearance since 2009. It's getting kind of tiresome to be done by this time every single year (2011 being the exception, but even then it was two weeks off before getting throttled by UND).

Next season, the expectations are unlikely to still be there with the early departures of Ryan Haggerty and Mike Zalewski for bigger and better things in the professional ranks. It is what it is. But the ECAC being the ECAC, every team, every season should be able to set at least a home playoff series as an attainable goal.

Given the circumstances, there isn't a hot seat in Troy, not yet at least. But if next year's team can't win a home playoff series, that seat that's already warming is going to get a little bit toastier, and you can bet the farm that Seth Appert's already well aware of that.

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