Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Two More For 13

News reports say that RPI has invited four finalists to interview for the open head coaching position this week.

Two of the names, we covered in our previous look at potential candidates: Ben Barr and Bill Riga. Go ahead and click on their names if you'd like a refresher.

Two of them weren't ones that had previously come up. Fortunately, that possibility was covered at the beginning of that long screed:

"It is not meant to be exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination, in fact, if the ultimate new coach was not even on this list, I would only be mildly surprised (when I did this 11 years ago, Seth Appert wasn't on the list)."

So it's really not that unexpected. Anyway, let's have a look at the two other finalists.

Ed Gosek (Oswego '83)
Oswego (SUNYAC) - 1990-2003
Oswego (SUNYAC) - 2003-present

Want a track record of success? How's a .755 winning percentage over 14 seasons as a head coach, complete with six Frozen Fours and a national championship strike you? That's what Gosek brings to the table from the Division III level.

Oswego has had nothing but success under Gosek, who took over from George Roll when Roll took the open job at Clarkson. 13 of his 14 seasons have featured winning percentages over .650, the lone exception being in 2016 (14-11-2). RPI hasn't managed that over the course of a season since 1985 (which was a good year). That's not something that's likely to carry over easily into Division I, but it's proof positive that he's got a great system that wins hockey games.

The Lakers moved into a new arena in 2006, a bright and vibrant 3,000 seater, huge for Division III. They won the national championship in their first season there (Gosek's fourth as head coach), and have missed the NCAA tournament only three times since then.

Gosek's overall record at Oswego is 288-85-25, and his trophy case includes eight first-place finishes in the SUNYAC regular season, three SUNYAC titles, eight NCAA tournament appearances and six Frozen Fours, including five in a row from 2010 through 2014, and that national championship in 2007.

The question with Gosek is this: here's a guy who played at Oswego, and then has been coaching there for the past 27 seasons straight. That's more than three full decades of association with one place. Why leave now? Is it time for a new challenge at a higher level? Is he looking for contract leverage at home?

From RPI's perspective, Gosek offers a résumé that is difficult to top as long as he can transfer that level of success to the Division I level. He's renowned as a strong recruiter (especially in RPI's usual Ontario stomping grounds), regularly putting together teams that could probably run with a few Division I teams (the Lakers memorably knocked off RIT in 2006, the last time they played a Division I program).

In many ways, Gosek projects a bit inverse to Bill Riga, both of whom have reputations for being able to assemble championship level teams. He's older than Riga and has the head coaching experience, but lacks the Division I résumé. Riga, on the other hand, has loads of Division I experience, but lacks the element of having been the man in charge. A lot of it depends on determining exactly what someone's looking for in a head coach. Is it playing safer to go with the guy who already knows Division I, like Barr or Riga, or the guy who has the record of getting it done at the helm?

Dave Smith (Ohio State '92)
Miami (CCHA) - 1998-2000
Bowling Green (CCHA) - 2000-02
Mercyhurst (AHA) - 2002-05
Canisius (AHA) - 2005-present

Smith offers something that only two of the names from the original 21 had: actual Division I head coaching experience (Paul Pearl and Don Vaughan were the names, and neither were really ever serious candidates). For over a decade, he's headed up the program at Canisius. In some ways, that makes him the blend of Barr/Riga and Gosek - the Division I experience, and the head coach experience.

He's got some very recent success, too. This year, Canisius finished atop the Atlantic Hockey standings for the first time (in a year where the Golden Griffins were picked to finish 9th out of 11) after rattling off a 17-game unbeaten streak from January through March (14-0-3). It marked the Griffs' first 20-win season in 17 years and earned Smith Coach of the Year honors in Atlantic Hockey.

It all came to an unsatisfying halt in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals, where the Griffins were beaten 6-2 (two of the six were empty-netters) by Robert Morris, bringing an end to both the unbeaten streak and the season in general. While eventual AHA champs Air Force were on pace for a potential at-large bid even if they hadn't won the AHA crown, Canisius was not on a similar pace thanks to a 1-7-1 record outside of the conference.

Smith did guide the Griffins to their first ever NCAA appearance in 2013 after a Cinderella run through the AHA tournament ended with Canisius' first AHA title. In Providence, they held a 3-1 lead over eventual national runners-up Quinnipiac with 12 minutes left in regulation, but fell 4-3 after Quinnipiac's trademark third-period comeback.

Canisius just finished their third season playing in their new home at HarborCenter, the downtown Buffalo arena opened in 2014 as the Sabres' practice facility and the Griffins' first home of their own, having spent a quarter-century playing second fiddle in Buffalo State's D-III digs.

There's a lot of baggage with Smith's record, though. His overall tally at Canisius is 172-223-59, only slightly better over the same exact period of time as the man he'd be replacing in Troy, but accrued playing in a weaker conference.

This season's high water mark is also largely in part thanks to one player: senior goaltender Charles Williams, who led the nation in save percentage (.943), shutouts (6), and was second in GAA (1.82). That helped backstop the nation's fifth best defense, but the offense was almost perfectly ordinary at 37th out of 60. If there's one thing RPI needs imminent help with, it's with the offense. And, of course, as mentioned, the 17-game unbeaten streak meant nothing as soon as the Griffs were upset in the AHA tournament.

It's not surprising that Smith would look to strike while the iron is hot - he's being rightly feted for the work he's done this season. The question from RPI's perspective has to be whether that's enough to warrant taking him on as the new head coach in Troy.

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