Friday, December 12, 2014

The Walking Dead

The first half of the season is coming to an end following tomorrow night's home game (the first in a month), and it couldn't come at a better time.

Let's recap the situation in the infirmary, shall we?

Chris Bradley suffered a shoulder injury in early November, which kept him out of five games, including four ECAC contests.

Luke Curadi missed four games, including three ECAC contests, with a concussion picked up in the Harvard game. Curadi has been playing at forward since his return due to other injuries - he hasn't seen the blue line in over a month.

Milos Bubela has been in and out of the lineup with concussion issues. He missed three games in October (and basically four, since he didn't see much ice against Notre Dame), and another two in mid-November. He's currently tied for second in goals for the Engineers.

Matt Neal had an illness that kept him sidelined during the last league home weekend in November.

Travis Fulton separated his shoulder, either against Brown or in practice this week (it wasn't made clear). Either way, the spark plug who has played an important energy role for the Engineers is out tomorrow.

Zach Schroeder hurt his ankle against Quinnipiac and missed the next four games because of it. Now word has come out that the injury was re-aggravated against Brown and he'll now miss a fifth game tomorrow.

Mark Miller, according to reports, is playing hurt with injuries to his ribs and shoulder and has been for the last month. He has yet to miss a game this season but has been very limited in practice for the last several weeks - and obviously, playing hurt makes any player more susceptible to picking up an injury they can't play with, no matter how tough you are.

Lou Nanne hurt a shoulder against Quinnipiac, which has been a recurring injury issue for him - he had double-shoulder surgery last year. Nanne was the team's leading scorer before being sidelined. He's missed the last six games and and is expected to miss his seventh tomorrow.

Drew Melanson has mononucleosis and will miss his third game in a row tomorrow night. Following linemate Nanne's departure from the lineup, he became the team's leading scorer. That role is now held by Riley Bourbonnais.

Miller, Nanne, and Melanson made up what was arguably the team's most dynamic scoring line, full of speed and with just the right combination of passing, scoring, and physical play. That line was just beginning to look very dangerous when it was broken up by the injuries and illnesses.

Last and certainly not least, Jason Kasdorf missed time as a freshman with a shoulder injury, missed basically the entire season last year with a shoulder separation that required surgery to keep it from recurring, and now has an undisclosed lower-body injury that he picked up against New Hampshire on the 25th of November. He wasn't removed from that game immediately upon injury, instead coming out during the first intermission for what was then deemed a "precautionary measure." He's since missed the last four games, all losses for the Engineers. He's not expected to play against BU, either.

Add it all up, and 10 injured and ill players have lost 27 games to injuries, mostly within the last month. That number is expected to reach 32 tomorrow, and that doesn't even take into effect the loss of defensemen like Curadi, Craig Bokenfohr, and Phil Hampton who have occasionally had to play forward because of the ongoing injury concerns.

RPI is a team that was expected to have scoring struggles to begin with, and when you have seven forwards that have had injury and illness concerns in a very short amount of time, especially when three of those seven have proven to be very important to helping the team score, you're going to have problems.

It's no secret, either, that Kasdorf has been this team's most valuable player practically since he arrived in Troy. Scott Diebold is a decent enough goaltender - and before him, Bryce Merriam - but over the last three seasons, it's been very apparent that the team simply is better (and plays better) with Kasdorf in net over Diebold or Merriam. Last season may well have been a lost season if only because of the freak injury Kasdorf suffered very early on.

The bottom line is that this all seems to add up to the last month basically being lost because of the mounting and unrelenting injuries this team has had to deal with. Every squad in the nation has to deal with injuries over the course of a season, but rarely does it get this bad, where you have so many important players unable to contribute. The best team in the nation would be struggling without its top goaltender and two of its most important scorers, to say nothing of losing so many other key elements. For RPI, which wasn't likely to be in the discussion as one of the best in the nation, it hurts even more.

If there's anything to be thankful for with all of this, it's that the lion's share of the games during this difficult time have been non-league contests. At the end of the day, this isn't a team that's going to be banking on its overall record to reach the NCAAs, it's Lake Placid or bust, baby. In that light, the brutally difficult non-league schedule, made even more difficult by these injuries, are little more than exhibition outings preparing the team for more crucial games in league play. That's what tomorrow night's game against BU is going to end up being, unfortunately.

The Engineers have 17 days after they play BU before they get back into things with a game that matters at Harvard - arguably, the best team in the ECAC right now, a team that steamrolled RPI at the Field House in November. Bradley was the only major component missing for the Engineers in that game. It's part of a continued grueling schedule facing RPI when they come back from break, many in league play, so let's hope 17 days is enough to get healthy.

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