Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Know Thyself: RPI

The start of the season is upon us, and it's time once again to apply the "Know Your Enemy" treatment to our own team and see just how well the Engineers stack up. Last year was one of the most disappointing in recent memory for RPI, in part because expectations were so high coming into the season. A team that was expected to possibly top the ECAC standings for the first time since 1985 instead limped through much of the season, struggled late in games, and were once again beaten at home in three games in a playoff series. This year's Engineers have some challenges to overcome, but remain full of potential.

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 (9th season)
2012-13 Record: 15-16-6 (8-9-5 ECAC, 7th place)
All-Time Record: 1012-897-125 (987-824-119 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 Luke Curadi, sr.; G Scott Diebold, sr.; F Jacob Laliberte, sr.; D Curtis Leonard, sr.; F Mark McGowan, sr.; F Matt Neal, sr.; D Chris Bradley, jr.; F Milos Bubela, jr.; F Mark Miller, jr.; F Zach Schroeder, jr.; G Jason Kasdorf, so.; D Parker Reno, so.; D Bradley Bell, fr.; F Kenny Gillespie, fr.; F Drew Melanson, fr.; F Louis Nanne, fr.; D Michael Prapavessis, fr.

Key losses: F Ryan Haggerty, F Brock Higgs, F Mike Zalewski, F Matt Tinordi, D Bo Dolan, D Guy Leboeuf, F Johnny Rogic

(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.)

Any team with a player being whispered in the same breath as "Hobey Baker" in September that loses that player for the season in October is bound to be drastically changed by the loss - and such was the case for the Engineers when Kasdorf was sidelined for the year with what was, in all honesty, a freak accident off the ice.

But that alone was not what doomed the Engineers to a mid-table finish instead of the summit for which they'd been pegged. Offense quickly became a concern for RPI once they got into the ECAC schedule. Even without Kasdorf, they'd looked good against teams like BU and UNH in October, but if you remove the savage beatings the Engineers put on poor old Sacred Heart, the Engineers were at a -8 goal differential for the season. Against some of the best teams in the nation in January, the offense appeared non-existent, and for large stretches of the season, the only offense came from too few people.

The bad news coming into the season is that a good chunk of those "too few people" are now gone. The names that repeatedly appeared on the scoresheet in the middle of the season were Haggerty, Higgs, Laliberte, and Neal. From a goal scored by McGowan against Colgate on November 9th through a Bubela goal against Ferris State on January 3rd, those four forwards were the only ones able to score goals for the Engineers, an 8-game stretch that relied on only four of 12 forwards starting on any given night to put the puck in the net, a dry-spell of 551:38. RPI went 2-4-2 in that stretch.

Neal (27 points) and Laliberte (26) are indeed back as the team's top returning scorers, the only two from the top six that are back. Bradley, Schroeder, and Leonard are tied for the third highest scorers from last year with 12 points each, two of them being defensemen (and not exactly offensive-minded defensemen, either).

The key to success on offense this year: three to four guys are going to need to step up and help Neal and Laliberte. Schroeder, Bubela, and McGowan are high on this list, but freshmen like Melanson and Gillespie are probably going to need to be part of that mix as well.

Defensively, the Engineers do look strong. Leonard, Curadi, and Bradley are upperclass anchors for what should be a talented blueline, especially with the addition of Prapavessis to add some offensive spark from up top that used to be provided by Nick Bailen but was sorely missing last season.

How Kasdorf plays behind them coming back from his injury will play a big role on defense. If he's back to where he was as a freshman this year, it'll give the Engineers a huge boost. The offense, two seasons ago, was stronger when he was in net - partially because it gave the team the opportunity to take more chances on offense when they knew Kasdorf was on top of his game. If he can have a similar effect on this year's team, the forwards are experienced enough to take this team to the coveted top-four. If he struggles and the offense doesn't find people to step up, it's going to be a very long season.

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