Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Know Thyself: RPI

So here we are, on the cusp of another season of RPI hockey. The litany of long waits as it pertains to the Engineers has been gone over pretty much ad nauseum at this point - suffice it to say that RPI fans have been waiting a long time for a lot of things. There's not a lot of faith in the Engineers from outside of Troy this season, but make no mistake about it - this year's RPI squad may have the widest range of "where might this team realistically finish" out of any team in the ECAC. They have the capacity to crack the top four. They have the ability to fall completely flat.

RPI
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 (10th season)
2014-15 Record: 12-26-3 (8-12-2 ECAC, 9th place)
All-Time Record: 1024-923-128 (999-850-122 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 Chris Bradley, sr.; F Milos Bubela, sr.; F Mark Miller, sr.; F Zach Schroeder, sr.; F Riley Bourbonnais, jr.; F Jimmy DeVito, jr.; G Jason Kasdorf, jr.; F Jake Wood, jr.; D Bradley Bell, so.; F Viktor Liljegren, so.; F Drew Melanson, so.; F Lou Nanne, so.; D Mike Prapavessis, so.; D Jared Wilson, so.; D Meirs Moore, fr.; F Jesper Ohrvall, fr.; F Alex Rodriguez, fr.

Key losses: D Luke Curadi, F Jacob Laliberte, D Curtis Leonard, F Mark McGowan, F Matt Neal

(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.)

Two years ago, the Engineers were picked to be one of the top teams in the ECAC, based largely on the presence of one Jason Kasdorf in net. Not even a month later, he was lost for the season, and the team struggled on defense despite an offense that was making things work led by Ryan Haggerty.

Fast forward two years. Kasdorf is now a senior (with junior eligibility), but the Engineers are picked to finish 10th in the ECAC by both the media and the coaches. That lost season, combined with last year's tough year, have soured the observers on RPI.

It seems extremely unfair to place so much weight on the shoulders of one person - but there's little doubt anymore that this team is likely to go only as far as Kasdorf can take them. But Kasdorf honestly isn't even the biggest concern that the outside observer has with the Engineers. It's the lack of scoring from last season - not so much depth, as much as just... width. The frequency with which the top players are able to light the lamp.

For RPI to have a successful season, they will need two things to happen.

First, Kasdorf needs to get through a season without injury problems. That's not exactly something that's under his control, but he's gained a reputation for being fragile - in fact, he has missed time to injuries in each of his seasons at RPI. This gets said ahead of his being able to put together numbers the way he did when he was a freshman, in part because he was so very good at the end of last season once he was finally healthy. Game 1 of the ECAC quarterfinals against St. Lawrence, despite being a loss, was one of the best performances ever put together by an RPI goaltender. If he stays healthy, we can expect more of the same.

Second, the Engineers need to get some production out of what looks to be a talented-enough freshman class to augment the scoring - but don't think that this lets the upperclassmen off the hook. Depth wasn't much of a problem last season, as RPI did manage to get at least five goals from nine different players last season (three of them now gone), but it would be better if they managed to get at least seven or eight from that many, and to get three or four into double digits (which none managed last season). Improving on a bottom-10 nationally power play is crucial here.

The options abound among the youngsters. Moore projects as a Nick Bailen-type two-way defenseman. Ohrvall was a stud in the NAHL, and Rodriguez by all accounts is a skilled puck mover. Evan Tironese was projected as the BCHL's top scorer before a shoulder injury shelved him early in the season.

Injuries and illnesses to Kasdorf, Nanne, Bradley, and Melanson, four crucial elements, really limited the team's effectiveness from game to game. If the Engineers are going to be competitors this year, simply staying healthy is going to get them a long way. If they can accomplish just that, there shouldn't be any reason why home ice for the playoffs (shut up, it really is an advantage) should be out of reach.

But if injuries mount once again and team cohesiveness against suffers because of it, 10th seems like a realistic floor for a program with just enough upside to be a real wildcard in the ECAC this season.

If you think this is just homeristic optimism - look what a healthy St. Lawrence team, picked to finish 11th in the ECAC last season, managed to do with a top-end goaltender and getting just enough scoring from a wide variety of places.

No comments:

Post a Comment