Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Denver

The Denver series in Troy last year was a watershed moment for an RPI team that was about to go through some difficult times. The offense seemed to go into a serious funk starting with the two games against the Pioneers that started a stretch of six straight games in which the Engineers, pegged to be offensively capable, failed to score three goals. Against DU, they managed just 42 shots in 125 minutes of gameplay and scored only twice, but some of that was attributable to a strong Denver defense, one which will return largely intact in 2014.

Nickname: Pioneers
Location: Denver, CO
Founded: 1864
Conference: NCHC
National Championships: 7 (1958, 1960, 1961, 1968, 1969, 2004, 2005)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2014
Last Frozen Four: 2005
Coach: Jim Montgomery (2nd season)
2013-14 Record: 20-16-6 (10-11-3-2 NCHC, 6th place)
Series: DU leads, 12-1-1
First Game: January 29, 1954 (Denver, CO)
Last RPI win: October 20, 2006 (Denver, CO)
Last DU win: December 13, 2013 (Troy, NY)

2014-15 games: October 17-18, 2014 (Denver, CO)

Key players: D Josiah Didier, sr.; F Daniel Doremus, sr.; D Joey LaLeggia, sr.; F Zac Larraza, sr.; F Ty Loney, sr.; F Matt Tabrum, sr.; F Grant Arnold, jr.; F Gabe Levin, jr.; F Quentin Shore, jr.; D Nolan Zajac, jr.; D Will Butcher, so.; G Evan Cowley, so.; F Matt Marcinew, so.; F Trevor Moore, so.; D Nick Neville, so.; D Matt VanVoorhis, so.; F Tariq Hammond, fr.

Previous KYE installment:
Toward the end of the season, it appeared a number of Denver streaks were in serious jeopardy: a streak of 20-win seasons dating back to 2002, a streak of seasons over .500 dating back to 2001, and a streak of NCAA tournament appearances dating back to 2008. As the regular season concluded, the Pioneers had a record of 16-14-6 and were headed on the road for the NCHC playoffs.

After losing Game 1 of their series with Nebraska-Omaha, things looked bleak. But then, DU rattled off four consecutive wins - two over the Mavericks, then a victory over Western Michigan in the NCHC semifinals and a 4-3 victory over similarly upstart Miami (who'd actually finished last in the NCHC during the regular season) to guarantee that all three streaks would stay intact as the Pioneers earned the NCHC's first automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. There they fell 6-2 to Boston College to extend another streak - DU's fourth straight NCAA loss.

Unlike other years, where the NCAA difficulties piled up and led to George Gwozdecky's ouster, this was a loss that came on the end of a season in which DU's fortunes went from rough to golden in a two-week span, a much better turn of events than the opposite (as any RPI fan can tell you these days).

The biggest blow to the Pioneers in the upcoming season is the loss of goaltender Sam Brattain, who was a key figure in Denver's success last year, but the presence of one of the nation's best blue line corps in the nation in front of him was an important element as well, and basically all of that will be at the disposal of a team brimming with seniors and juniors. Brattain's replacement will be one of three options - two sophomores and a freshman - but count on Cowley, an NHL draft pick who started three games last season, being the likely starter.

Offensively, the Pioneers bring back 100% of the scoring output they got from their forwards last season, a unit now chock full of juniors and seniors. Overall, it makes Denver a well seasoned team from top to bottom with the exception of their net, an issue mitigated by the strength of their defensemen.

DU had a young team last year that congealed at the end to pick up some hardware and gain some additional NCAA experience. As RPI found in Troy, they still presented a very strong challenge mid-season against a team with offensive concerns, which means the concerns the Engineers still have coming into the year are going to need to be addressed quickly or it's likely to be a rough weekend for Seth Appert's homecoming in the second weekend of the schedule.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Minnesota-Duluth

When we put together this Know Your Enemy series, typically the longest ones to do are teams that the Engineers haven't played in a while (or at least haven't played since the 2010-11 season, when we first started doing these), because our first time visiting a specific team we like to talk about the full history of the program, how it got started, its glory years (if they exist), its tough stretches (if they exist), and how they've been doing recently. This year, RPI's schedule only has three teams we haven't touched on in the past here at WaP, and this week is our first of those three, the second potential opponent of the second game of the Icebreaker.

Nickname: Bulldogs
Location: Duluth, MN
Founded: 1895
Conference: NCHC
National Championships: 1 (2011)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2012
Last Frozen Four: 2011
Coach: Scott Sandelin (15th season)
2013-14 Record: 16-16-4 (11-11-2-2 NCHC, 4th place)
Series: UMD leads, 6-3-0
First Game: December 30, 1964 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: January 3, 2003 (Troy, NY)
Last UMD win: January 4, 2003 (Troy, NY)

2014-15 game: October 12, 2014 (South Bend, IN - possible)

Key players: F Justin Crandall, sr.; D Derik Johnson, sr.; F Adam Krause, sr.; F Tony Cameranesi, jr.; F Cal Decowski, jr.; F Austin Farley, jr.; G Matt McNeely, jr.; D Andy Welinski, jr.; F Alex Iafallo, so.; F Kyle Osterberg, so.; D Willie Raskob, so.; D Carson Soucy, so.; F Dominic Toninato, so.; F Brett Boehm, fr.; F Karson Kuhlman, fr.; F Blake Young, fr.

Interesting little tidbit before we get started - RPI fans may remember that the Engineers had a defenseman named Matt McNeely, Class of 2005. He was from Ontario, UMD's McNeely is from Minnesota. Ultimately, just another item that links RPI and UMD, as you'll soon see.

Hockey at Duluth got underway in 1931, at a time when many college teams around the country were folding or suspending due to the Great Depression. Duluth State Teachers College, as the school was known at the time, began fielding teams under the tutelage of Frank Kovach, who was also the school's football and men's basketball coach. These teams competed entirely against local high schools and junior colleges in 1931 and 1932, losing their first eight contests before winning their final two in 1932 against a pair of Duluth-area high schools.

The sport went dormant after those two wins in 1932 as the realities of the Depression took hold. As with other schools, the end of World War II brought with it a surge in enrollment at the school, and in 1947 Duluth State Teachers College was added to the University of Minnesota system, gaining its present name a year after the moribund hockey program at the school was re-established. After a few seasons as independents, the Bulldogs joined the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in 1950, a lower-level conference that today competes in Division III.

Throughout the 1950s, UMD was frequently one of the top teams in the MIAC. They scored league titles in eight of nine consecutive seasons from 1953 through 1961, frequently playing top-level teams as part of their non-conference schedule. By 1957, the Bulldogs were notching victories against established programs like Michigan Tech, Harvard, and Dartmouth, among others.

The relative ease with which UMD was winning titles in the MIAC and the competitiveness they showed against top-level programs resulted in the team going independent in 1961 under head coach Ralph Romero, and compiling schedules that included some of the very best teams in the nation, including Minnesota, Michigan State, and Denver. Those schools would eventually be opponents in the WCHA when the Bulldogs joined the conference as its first expansion program in 1966.

UMD struggled early on in their new conference. After season after season of domination in the MIAC, the Bulldogs failed to notch winning records in 11 of their first 13 years in the WCHA. With the exceptions of 1972 (5th of 10) and 1979 (4th of 10), UMD never finished in the top half of the league prior to the arrival of Mike Sertich behind the bench in 1982.

During that stretch, the team did earn a few bits of fame. In 1974, UMD won the first (and only) College Hockey NIT tournament. The four-team tournament was hosted in Duluth, and ended with the Bulldogs defeating Vermont 7-4 to cap the program's first ever 20-win season. The 1979 team, meanwhile, started the season 11-0-2 and was tabbed in January of that year as the top team in the nation in an early media poll. However, the Bulldogs could not keep up their hot streak and proceeded to finish the year 11-14-2, missing out on NCAA glory. That team was lead by All-American Mark Pavelich, who would go on the next year to star on the US Olympic Team that won the gold medal in Lake Placid.

Sertich's arrival changed things quickly for the Bulldogs. In the 1982-83 season, UMD finished just 4th in the eight-team WCHA, but absolutely tore through its non-conference schedule, going undefeated outside of their league to earn the school's first ever NCAA bid. The Bulldogs fell in a two-game series at the ECAC's Providence, but bigger things were right around the corner.

The 1984 Bulldogs stormed through their conference, capturing its first ever WCHA regular season title by a comfortable margin over North Dakota, then winning the WCHA championship for the first time, annihilating the Fighting Sioux 8-1 in the first game of the two-game championship series to make the second game practically meaningless (they lost 5-4, but easily won on total goals). After squeezing by a game Clarkson team 9-8 on total goals in the first round of the NCAA tournament, UMD qualified for its first Frozen Four, held in Lake Placid that season.

Meeting back up with a North Dakota team that had ridden a hot goaltender to a first-round upset of RPI, UMD required overtime to advance to the national championship game with a goal off the stick of sophomore Bill Watson. The next day, senior defenseman Tom Kurvers became the first of five Duluth players to win the Hobey Baker Award - more than any other school in the nation.

Bowling Green was the opponent in the 1984 national championship game, which turned into two games when one considers that the contest went well into the Adirondack night, going four 10-minute overtimes for what was at the time the longest game in the history of the NCAA tournament, a title it would hold for over a decade. Gino Cavallini broke the deadlock at 97:11, crushing Duluth's national crown hopes.

Despite the setback, the Bulldogs were not done. As dominant as their 1984 team had been, their 1985 team had seemed to be a team of destiny. With the addition of freshman Brett Hull, son of NHL legend Bobby Hull, the Bulldogs demolished the WCHA (and Hockey East, as the leagues had interlocking schedules that season) on their way to a second consecutive regular season and tournament sweep and a third straight NCAA bid. That team ended with 36 victories, still the most in any season by a UMD team by seven.

After quickly dispatching Harvard in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Bulldogs found themselves drawn with the team from the east that had been doing largely the same thing they'd been doing in the west: RPI. Hours before the teams clashed in Detroit, Watson was awarded the Hobey Baker - UMD's second in as many years. Legend has it that the ceremony provided a bit of additional motivation for the Engineers, who felt that their own Adam Oates had been unjustly snubbed (Watson did have 108 points on the season at the time, then an NCAA record), and RPI's Pierre Langevin got the team going by putting Watson into the boards early in the contest.

But like the previous season, UMD's quest for a national championship would end following a lot of extra hockey. The 1985 edition of Gino Cavellini came in the form of John Carter, whose goal in the third overtime propelled the Engineers to what would eventually be the school's second national title, and forced UMD to ponder another Frozen Four of "what if."

The 1985 team was the pinnacle of the Bulldogs' success under Sertich. With "The Golden Brett" hanging around for one more season, UMD completed their fourth straight 20-win season in 1986, but brought home no hardware and missed the NCAA tournament. Following Hull's departure at the end of the season, the good times ended in Duluth for quite some time. Five of the next six campaigns saw the Bulldogs finish under .500, and back in their previously "usual" position in the bottom half of the WCHA standings.

In 1993, with a team that featured eventual Hobey Baker winner Chris Marinucci, UMD returned to the top of the WCHA with a 27 win season, but were upset in the WCHA tournament by Northern Michigan and stopped short of the Frozen Four with a loss to defending national champions Lake Superior State.

The rest of Sertich's squads in the 1990s were middling to mediocre, putting up 20-win seasons in 1996 and 1998, but bottoming out in 1999 with a 7-win campaign that was the fewest UMD had managed since a 6-win year in 1969. After tough campaign in 2000, Sertich's tenure in Duluth ended after 18 seasons with his resignation.

Scott Sandelin replaced Sertich in 2000, tasked with returning the Bulldogs to competitiveness within the WCHA. His first season was the team's second 7-win campaign out of three, but UMD began to show improvement in his second and third years, breaking out in 2004 with 28 wins and the team's first NCAA bid in 11 years. After a somewhat surprising 5-0 whitewash of Michigan State (in Grand Rapids, MI no less), the Bulldogs upset Minnesota 3-1 to advance to their first Frozen Four in 19 years.

In Boston against WCHA rivals Denver, UMD led 2-0 after one and 3-1 after two, but suffered a 3rd period collapse in which the Pioneers scored four goals, including an empty netter, to come back for a 5-3 win en route to the national championship, the third time in as many Frozen Fours that the Bulldogs had lost to the eventual champs. Still, Duluth forward Junior Lessard nabbed the school's fourth Hobey Baker Award the next day.

The heartbreaking manner in which the Bulldogs were ushered out of the Frozen Four in 2004 solidified UMD's reptuation for being unable to get over the hump, especially after four losing seasons that followed Duluth's loss in Boston. Amid rumors in 2009 that Sandelin's job may soon be in jeopardy, he and his team spearheaded an impressive, never-before-seen run to the WCHA championship, becoming the first team in the history of the league's Final Five tournament to win the Thursday play-in game, then knock off the top team in the tournament on Friday and win the title on Saturday, downing Minnesota, North Dakota, and Denver by a combined 9-1 score after sweeping a road series at Colorado College to reach the Final Five. After a 5-4 win over Princeton, UMD fell 2-1 against Miami, but Sandelin's job was no longer in question.

The 2010 Bulldogs completed a second straight 20-win season, but saw their season end in the WCHA play-in game. That set the table for what would prove to be a magical 2011 campaign. In December, the team moved into a new arena in the middle of another solid season. Though WCHA honors would again elude UMD, they did enough to earn an NCAA bid, though they had a rough draw having to go through top-ranked Yale and ECAC regular season champions Union in Connecticut. The Bulldogs proceeded to shutout Union 2-0 and use a 2nd period surge of goals to grab a 5-1 edge against Yale that turned into a 5-3 win.

The 2011 Frozen Four was being held on friendly turf at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, but the path to glory was hardly easy. Against Notre Dame in the semifinals, UMD had to fight back from two first-period deficits and then hang on in the third-period in which they were badly outshot to pick up a 4-3 win and advance to their second national championship game. There against Michigan, the Bulldogs went into the dreaded overtime period, but there would be no Cavellini or Carter redux this time - Kyle Schmidt scored the biggest goal in UMD history 3:22 into the first overtime to bring Duluth its very first national championship.

The Bulldogs went back to the NCAA tournament in 2012, but were taken down by eventual champions Boston College just one step away from the Frozen Four. That season, Jack Connelly became UMD's fifth Hobey winner. In 2013, the school's final year in the WCHA, the Bulldogs finished with a losing record for the first time in five years, then last season in the new NCHC improved to an even .500 as a mid-pack team in the stacked conference.

Last year's UMD squad was quite young - in fact, it graduated just four seniors, only one of whom was among the team's top 10 scorers. Those seniors were the last remnants of the national championship team, they were freshmen when the Bulldogs won it all. They bring back five NHL draft picks this season and three of four of its players from last season who notched 10 or more goals - Crandall, Osterberg, and Iafallo. The biggest change is in net as McNeely takes over as the top choice netminder from the graduated Aaron Crandall, but this won't be a new assignment for him as he played the majority of UMD's minutes between the pipes during his freshman year.

As mentioned last week, the Bulldogs are, all things being equal, RPI's more likely opponent on the Sunday of Icebreaker weekend and they too present a solid challenge. They have the scoring ability to challenge the RPI defense, and they return enough solid defensemen and a well-seasoned goaltender to cause problems for an offense that didn't have a lot of parity to it last season. Expect a strong season for UMD and an entertaining, well-matched game should the Engineers and Bulldogs do battle once again.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2014-15 Women's Hockey Schedule

RPI has released the schedule for women's hockey in the 2014-15 season. The Engineers kick off the year with a highlight roadtrip of the season to the midwest to take on North Dakota and Bemidji State. Home non-conference games feature Vermont, UConn, St. Cloud State, RIT, and Providence.

The Engineers kick off the season with four road games in their first five, then have a nine-game homestand from the November 28 through January 10. That is immediately followed by five of six on the road.

There are three weekends in which the women and men are both at home: October 24-26 (Men against Bentley Fri-Sat, women against UConn Sat-Sun), November 7-8 (men against Harvard/Dartmouth, women against SCSU), and January 2-3 (men against Miami, women against Princeton/Quinnipiac).

Friday games start at 7pm and Saturday games start at 4pm unless otherwise indicated. All times Eastern.

Fri, 26 September - OTTAWA JR. SENATORS (exhibition), 7:30pm

Fri, 03 October - at North Dakota, 8pm
Sat, 04 October - at Bemidji State, 8pm
Sat, 11 October - VERMONT, 3pm
Sun, 12 October - at Vermont, 2pm
Fri, 17 October - at New Hampshire
Sat, 25 October - UCONN, 3pm
Sun, 26 October - UCONN, 2pm
Fri, 31 October - at Harvard

Sat, 01 November - at Dartmouth
Fri, 07 November - ST. CLOUD STATE, 3pm
Sat, 08 November - ST. CLOUD STATE, 3pm
Fri, 14 November - at Quinnipiac
Sat, 15 November - at Princeton
Fri, 28 November - RIT
Sat, 29 November - RIT

Fri, 05 December - YALE
Sat, 06 December - BROWN

Fri, 02 January - PRINCETON, 3pm
Sat, 03 January - QUINNIPIAC, 3pm
Tue, 06 January - PROVIDENCE, 4pm
Fri, 09 January - DARTMOUTH
Sat, 10 January - HARVARD
Fri, 16 January - at St. Lawrence
Sat, 17 January - at Clarkson
Fri, 23 January - at Union
Sat, 24 January - UNION
Fri, 30 January - at Colgate, 3pm
Sat, 31 January - at Cornell, 3pm

Fri, 06 February - CLARKSON
Sat, 07 February - ST. LAWRENCE
Fri, 13 February - at Yale
Sat, 14 February - at Brown
Fri, 20 February - CORNELL
Sat, 21 February - COLGATE (Senior Night)
Fri-Sun 27 Feb-01 Mar - ECAC Quarterfinals (at higher seeds)

Sat, 07 Mar - ECAC Semifinals (at highest seed)
Sun, 08 Mar - ECAC Championship (at highest semifinal seed)
Sat, 14 Mar -  NCAA Quarterfinals (at seeded teams)
Fri, 20 Mar - NCAA Frozen Four (Minneapolis, MN)
Sun, 22 Mar - NCAA Championship (Minneapolis, MN)

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Shell Game

As recently as a couple of seasons ago, it was fairly easy to figure out which recruits were coming when. Sure, there was the long saga of Jacob Laliberte, who was originally expected to arrive in 2009 and didn't hit campus until 2011, but by and large it was relatively simple: X number of players departing, and the names replacing them were fairly easy to decipher based on a number of different criteria, including published reports.

Now? Not so simple. Now we're seeing more recruits committing two and three years in advance, plans changing, more current players leaving early, creating an ever evolving situation with available scholarships. We can still get a pretty general idea of who's coming when, but for the last couple of seasons it hasn't quite been perfect. In the past, announcements from the school of incoming freshmen were mostly notable for what the coaching staff had to say in their first official comments about players they'd recruited. Now there's quite a bit more drama as to just who is going to be listed for the upcoming season.

We do know the goaltending situation, pretty much - just one recruit (Alec Dillon) and he's not coming until 2015 to replace the graduating Scott Diebold. So we'll ignore that position, but there's plenty to ponder at forward and defense. Here's what we know and what we don't know.

Needed: 5
Recruited: 9

Sure Things
Drew Melanson: He's been on the books since early 2011, has two years in the USHL under his belt, and was for a time thought to be coming in last year. He'll be 20 in January and had a solid year in the USHL, Melanson is ready to go in Troy in August.

Evan Tironese: Numbers in Green Bay were down from his last season in the BCHL, but that is partially reflective of the separation that the USHL, now clearly the top junior A league in North America, is getting from the clear #2. Turning 19 in August with three solid junior seasons under his belt, Tironese is well prepared for the NCAA after two years as a committed recruit.

Louie Nanne: Committed on Thanksgiving 2013 (after having committed to Minnesota in 2011 and decommitting in September 2013), he was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in 2012 and turns 20 this month, so it's certainly time for him to be in Troy despite a rough season bouncing back from double shoulder surgery.

Kenny Gillespie: Only just committed to RPI in late April 2014 (after having committed to UMass in 2010 and decommitting two years later after Toot Cahoon resigned), likely as a replacement for Mike Zalewski. Already 20, he's the oldest known incoming recruit and given the timing of his commitment and his age, he's a lock to be on the 2014-15 Engineers. Previously played at Shattuck St. Mary's in Minnesota and got two years of USHL experience in before playing in New Jersey this year in what used to be the EJHL, so he arrives well-seasoned.

The Known Future
Jacob Hayhurst: Committed this past February and doesn't turn 18 until this coming January. He's doing great things with the Toronto Lakeshore Patriots, so he's certainly an exciting prospect for the future but as of now that future doesn't include Troy until probably 2016 - it's exceptionally rare to see anyone in the NCAA who hasn't yet turned 18 (Pat Koudys was such an exception in 2010, but he turned 18 before New Year's Day at least). Could be bound for Cedar Rapids in the USHL after they drafted him in the 5th round of this year's Futures Draft.

Viktor Liljegren: Our odds-on pick for the fifth incoming forward, Liljegren committed in mid-April and might be Ryan Haggerty's replacement on the roster. The native of Sweden had a solid season with Fairbanks of the NAHL in his first year in North America (in this case, "crossing the pond" more likely means the Arctic Ocean) and is a pretty big pickup considering how late in the game he committed. Given that he just turned 20, and wasn't drafted by a USHL team (which isn't necessarily an indication of what they think of him but instead an indication they know his plans, he'd also take up a coveted import spot), he's a good candidate to end up in Troy this year but another NAHL season wouldn't be entirely out of the question.

Carlos Fornaris: Pegged for 2014 since his commitment in February of 2013, it's starting to look like Fornaris may do another season in the USHL instead given the bumpy ride he had this season combined with the other options the Engineers have for the incoming class, especially Liljegren. Early on this year Fornaris got plenty of ice time in Cedar Rapids but wasn't putting points on the board. Later, his offensive output spiked but was accompanied by a couple of suspensions for checks from behind. Then in April, he was suspended by the team for an unspecified violation of team rules. Cedar Rapids has put Fornaris on their protected list for next season, opening the door to a return. The Miami native turned 19 in February, so another year of juniors is certainly something that could be in the cards here.

Alex Rodriguez: There has been a little bit of discussion as to the possibility that Rodriguez, who committed to RPI almost immediately after Ryan Haggerty signed an NHL contract, would be coming to campus right away but that has mostly been because of the timing. It's likely that Rodriguez may have simply been waiting for a firm scholarship offer from the Institute before making the commitment and Haggerty's departure just opened it up. Before that, he'd been planning to hit the BCHL with Surrey next season, and now he's been drafted by Sioux City of the USHL with a fairly high (3rd round) pick. That's an indicator that they think he'll play there next season. Either way, at age 18 he has options (as do the Engineers) so he's highly likely to be in juniors next year, either in British Columbia or (more likely) Iowa.

Todd Burgess: Liljegren's NAHL teammate committed to RPI on the same day, but is a couple of years younger as he only just turned 18 in April. Pretty much everything with Burgess points to additional time in junior hockey, including the fact that this season in Fairbanks was the first time he played outside of Arizona, a place that isn't exactly well known for high-level junior hockey competition. He wasn't selected in the USHL Futures Draft, which means another year in the NAHL at least if he does remain in juniors. About the only thing connecting Burgess with Troy in 2014 was a comment made that Liljegren and Burgess would come to RPI together, though it does seem like that might have been an incorrect extrapolation from their commitments coming at the same time.

Needed: 2
Recruited: 6

Sure Things
Jared Wilson: Based on everything we know about the blueline recruits, Wilson, who turns 20 in August, is pretty much the only absolute lock to be on campus in the fall. He's just finished a second season in the BCHL, and the Engineers are sure to need his 6'3" frame in the back. Just not much of a need for him to spend a third year in juniors.

The Known Future
Austin Cho: Won't graduate high school until 2015, which precludes him from coming to college before then, and given the number of defensive recruits and blueliners who will be graduating in the next two years, Cho is looking like a 2016 arrival. He was drafted by Lincoln of the USHL in the 6th round of the Futures Draft, but isn't a lock to be playing in Nebraska next season as he might remain at his Toronto-area high school, St. Andrews College, instead. If he does end up playing for Lincoln, he could be lining up for two good years of junior hockey before coming to RPI, but he'd also be taking one of Lincoln's import slots.

Meirs Moore: From the get-go, there's been very little to suggest that Moore wasn't coming in 2014 and even now he's almost certainly going to be arriving in the fall. The only element causing any concern with Moore is the dreadful 2013-14 season he had in the USHL, which to be fair doesn't seem to have really been his fault. First played on a team where he got very little ice-time and wasn't used as an offensive-minded defenseman (as he was in high school and projects at RPI), and then he went to a team that was simply awful overall. Moore is young enough (turns 20 in December) that RPI could afford to try and get him another season in the USHL, especially given other D options that are available, but chances are good that he'll be on campus instead, nothing concrete has indicated otherwise.

Charles Manley: After Melanson, no one has been on the Engineers' books longer than Manley, who committed in December 2011, and at that time he was thought to be the first confirmed candidate for 2014. Like Moore, however, this has been a rough year for him in his first year out of high school. Originally expected to be in the USHL, his team lacked space for him and he ended up playing in the NAHL instead. Once there, he was frequently in and out of the lineup. Although Manley got good experience at the Midget level playing in Connecticut before this season, another year in juniors might be in line. He doesn't turn 18 until July, so it wouldn't be a radical notion for him to get that second year in, hopefully this time in the USHL.

Michael Prapavessis: One of RPI's most awaited defensive recruits in years, it's possible that we could end up seeing Prapavessis in Troy even if Moore is still coming as well given the number of defensive recruits, whether that means RPI expects to lose an underclassman or simply wants to build the depth. Lincoln owns his USHL rights, and if he doesn't come to school this season he'd be practically a lock to be playing there, which is good news since it's a step up from his current league in Ontario. At age 18 he fits the same mold as Manley in that he has the luxury of another year in juniors if that's what RPI wants, but given the season he's just concluded and the increasing amount of attention he's getting from NHL scouts, he could be ready now.

Bradley Bell: Another well touted recruit in a similar vein to Prapavessis, the tea leaves may indicate an arrival this season rather than next season, although he could certainly use another year in juniors at a higher level. Committing to RPI last September, he's got two seasons in with his hometown Sudbury Nickel Barons, but the NOJHL that Sudbury plays in is a definite step down in quality from the OJHL where Prapavessis plays. He turns 18 next week so much like the previous two defensemen, the junior option for next season is very open. It's very unlikely that we'll see both Prapavessis and Bell. Hopefully an OJHL or BCHL appearance next season is in the cards if he's not incoming right away, as Bell was not taken in the USHL Futures Draft.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Minnesota

Our second entry for this year's Know Your Enemy is a team that RPI got the opportunity to face-off against last season in a game they weren't guaranteed in the Mariucci Classic. After losing to Ferris State, it looked like a matchup with the Gophers was likely gone, but Minnesota's shootout loss to Colgate produced an unexpected RPI-Minnesota matchup in the consolation game of the tournament that featured exceptional finishing by the Gophers in a 6-2 loss. This year, Minnesota looms once more as a potential second-day opponent in an in-season tournament.

Nickname: Golden Gophers
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Founded: 1851
Conference: Big Ten
National Championships: 5 (1974, 1976, 1979, 2002, 2003)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2014
Last Frozen Four: 2014
Coach: Don Lucia (16th season)
2013-14 Record: 28-7-6 (14-4-3-0 Big Ten, 1st place)
Series: Minnesota leads, 10-2-0
First Game: March 12, 1953 (Colorado Springs, CO)
Last RPI win: December 10, 1988 (Minneapolis, MN)
Last Minnesota win: January 4, 2014 (Minneapolis, MN)

2014-15 game: October 12, 2014 (South Bend, IN - possible)

Key players: F Seth Ambroz, sr.; F Travis Boyd, sr.; F Christian Isackson, sr.; D Ben Marshall, sr.; F Kyle Rau, sr.; F Sam Warning, sr.; D Mike Reilly, jr.; D Brady Skjei, jr.; G Adam Wilcox, jr.; D Jake Bischoff, so.; F Taylor Cammarata, so.; F Justin Kloos, so.; F Hudson Fasching, so.; D Ryan Collins, fr.; D Jack Glover, fr.

Previous KYE installment:
If there's one team that almost ritually gets slammed with early departures, it's the University of Minnesota. Regularly attracting some of the top talent in the west (and recently, beyond), the Gophers churn out NHLers like it's going out of style - and that frequently means losing top players before their college eligibility is exhausted. It's not uncommon to see Minnesota drop its four or five top scorers from the previous season regardless of their class year.

This season? Well, so far, the Gophers haven't lost a single underclassman, and their top seven scorers from last season (Rau, Warning, Reilly, Kloos, Boyd, Fasching, and Cammarata) are all set to return next year. For a program that is used to requiring significant contributions from freshmen - and three of those players were freshmen last season - they're going to have a wealth of college experience leading the way in the coming season off a year in which Minnesota very nearly captured their sixth national championship.

Yes, Minnesota has completed the Capital Region double in having now lost to both RPI and Union in the national championship game (albeit 60 years apart), but they essentially bring back everything that got them there this season. Goaltender Wilcox put up a GAA under 2.00 for the season, which made him one of the best netminders in the nation. Adding to the seven players mentioned above, Ambroz notched 14 goals as the team's ninth highest scorer. Ponder that for a second.

The Gophers captured the very first Big Ten regular season title in 2014, but were upset by Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament despite playing in front of what was essentially a home crowd at the Xcel Energy Center. They clobbered Robert Morris and St. Cloud State in the West Regional in the same building, then beat their arch-rivals North Dakota with a (literally) last-second shorthanded goal before simply being unable to match Union blow for blow in the title game.

Put very simply, this is a team that is stacked and ready to win now. Considering what they accomplished last year and what they bring back, we'll be hard pressed to find a team that'll be more likely to be favored for the national championship than the Gophers. They should be very solid favorites in the first round of the Icebreaker against Minnesota-Duluth, which means that if the Engineers are playing Minnesota, it's highly likely something has already cut their way against Notre Dame. That is fairly good news, but the Gophers would present an even bigger challenge. We saw last year the discipline that Minnesota displayed against RPI and the resilience that led them to answer quickly each challenge that the Engineers put forward. With a team that will essentially just be another year older, it'll be a tough hill to climb for RPI if they see the "U" across the ice in South Bend on the Sunday of the Icebreaker.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Know Your Enemy: Notre Dame

Welcome back to Without a Peer's annual exercise in opponent analysis, Know Your Enemy. As always, we'll spend every Wednesday from now until the season starts breaking down the teams featured on the Engineers' upcoming schedule, look at what they've done since we last saw them, and try to give some insight on what to expect when RPI faces off with them. We start as always with the first opponent the 'Tute will see in a competitive game, a program that has seen quite a few changes over the last few seasons but are still in search of an elusive national championship that would raise them another level as an elite program.

Notre Dame
Nickname: Fighting Irish
Location: South Bend, IN
Founded: 1842
Conference: Hockey East
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2014
Last Frozen Four: 2011
Coach: Jeff Jackson (10th season)
2013-14 Record: 23-15-2 (9-9-2 Hockey East, 7th place)
Series: Notre Dame leads, 4-3-0
First Game: December 29, 1988 (Troy, NY)
Last RPI win: January 1, 2005 (South Bend, IN)
Last ND win: October 21, 2011 (South Bend, IN)

2014-15 game: October 10, 2014 (South Bend, IN)

Key players: D Eric Johnson, sr.; D Robbie Russo, sr.; F Peter Schneider, sr.; F Austin Wuthrich, sr.; F Thomas DiPauli, jr.; F Steven Fogarty, jr.; F Sam Herr, jr.; F Mario Lucia, jr.; D Andy Ryan, jr.; F Vince Hinostroza, so.; D Jordan Gross, fr.; F Connor Hurley, fr.; F Andrew Oglevie, fr.; G Cal Petersen, fr.; D Luke Ripley, fr.

Previous KYE installment:
When last the Engineers encountered the Fighting Irish, it was a very special occasion - RPI had the honor of being the very first opponent for Notre Dame in their brand new cathedral of ice hockey, the Compton Family Ice Arena. This year, they return to that building to take on the home team in the first round of the annual Icebreaker tournament.

At the time the building opened, there was a lot of buzz not only about the sparkling new digs, but also the recent news that Notre Dame would move from the crumbling CCHA to join Hockey East in two seasons' time - and there was a bit of discussion at the time that RPI could be a potential 12th member, which would mean that the game featured two teams from different conferences that might have been league-mates in a third conference in the near future. That didn't end up happening as UConn stepped up to claim that 12th spot that they fit so well into.

As for the Irish, the remainder of the 2011-12 campaign was middling for them at best as they completed the first season in the new barn with a record just over .500, failing to take home any hardware. Since then, however, the Irish have seen a pair of NCAA bids, claiming the final CCHA championship in 2013 and then earning an at-large bid despite a rough go of things in their first season in Hockey East thanks in part to their three-game upset of arch-rivals Boston College in the Hockey East quarterfinals. Both seasons, however, Notre Dame fell to St. Cloud State in the first round of the national tournament.

Next year's edition of the Irish will undoubtedly be better accustomed to the more rigorous travel schedule required when all of your road games in conference involve trips to New England, but that will matter very little when the Engineers arrive in South Bend for what will be the first game of the year for both squads. Notre Dame is graduating their top two scorers, but they had four players with 30 points last year and two of them, Lucia (son of Minnesota head coach Don Lucia) and Hinostroza are part of the young core of the Fighting Irish, along with Herr who potted 14 goals last season.

The question marks for Notre Dame next season are mostly on defense, as they graduate three seniors who played in all 40 games last year along the blue line for the Irish, as well as a goaltender who started 99 games in his career and all but a little under 200 of his teams minutes last season. The only returning netminder appeared in only five games last season, but Petersen should probably be considered the favorite for the starting job and will likely see his first college action against the Engineers.

That may be the biggest opportunity that RPI will have in this game - although a similar situation arose last year against Boston College and Thatcher Demko, and the freshman easily made his way through that contest while being lifted by an offensive barrage. Since the offense isn't going to be in question heading into the coming year for the Irish, nothing short of a complete game on both sides of the puck is likely to be enough to keep the visitors in the game come October.