February 17, 2014

From NEHJ: Haggerty is RPI’s marked man

RPI junior Ryan Haggerty is drawing a lot of attention - including from opponents, who are doing their darnedest to keep him from scoring at the same clip as he started the season. (Photo by Mick Neal)

After tormenting opposing ECAC Hockey teams for much of November and December, RPI junior forward Ryan Haggerty (Stamford, Conn.) drew the superstar treatment in January.

That didn’t prove to be a good thing for Haggerty or RPI. Haggerty was held without a goal in each of RPI’s first six games after Christmas break, and RPI saw its record go from 8-4-4 to 8-10-4 with six straight losses.

In postgame interview after postgame interview, opposing coaches and players credited their success to stopping RPI’s sniper, Haggerty, who opened the year with 18 goals in the first 15 games.

“He wasn’t going to stay on a streak like that forever,” RPI coach Seth Appert said. “Regardless of who you are, it’s tough to score in the second half of the season, and now every team is keying on him, as they should.”

Still, there’s enough of a history here for ECAC Hockey fans to take notice. Haggerty, a 6-foot, 200-pound right wing, was one of the top underclassmen in the conference last season when RPI earned a first-round bye in the ECAC Hockey tournament. But after a 26-point regular season, Haggerty faded down the stretch, posting a minus-4 in the plus/minus column in the quarterfinal series against Brown, which RPI lost. The Engineers were the lone team in ECAC Hockey to fall in a quarterfinal series on home ice.

As we head down the homestretch of the 2013-14, it’s possible no player means as much to him team’s fortunes as Haggerty, particularly since RPI’s starting goaltender, Jason Kasdorf, went down with a season-ending injury in November. Over a two-year period, it seems RPI goes as Haggerty goes. To wit, in RPI’s first 10 games this season, Haggerty scored 13 goals, and RPI went 6-2-2. The Engineers lost the only two games in which Haggerty was held scoreless.

“He didn’t have as much success down the stretch last year, but he’s like a lot of great players,” Appert said. “He’s starting to break out in his third and fourth year of college hockey. He’s scoring because he’s playing the right way. He’s had an increased commitment to two-way hockey. He’s more committed to puck battles, and that leads to him having the puck more.”

Haggerty has been dangerous with the puck almost since he started skating around Stamford rinks while holding on to egg crates at 1½ years old. He started playing juniors with the Seacoast Spartans at the age of 15. Pitted against players as many as four or five years his senior, Haggerty finished second on the team in scoring in his first season.

He went on to play at Trinity Catholic (Conn.) from 2007-09 and led that squad in scoring both seasons. From there, he was selected to the U.S. National Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. He eventually served as an assistant captain with the U.S. Under-18 Team in 2010-11. Serving somewhat of a complementary role, Haggerty was a member of the world championship American squad at the 2010 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Timmins, Ont.

“That was different for me,” Haggerty said. “Growing up playing hockey, I always remember being one of the best players on my team. That showed me that there are a lot of guys who can do the things I do in the offensive end, and I needed to round out my game for college.”

As a top-five scorer for the U18 national team, Haggerty began getting recruited by some of the top Hockey East and ECAC programs. For a time, his father, Roger, who was a two-sport star at Providence College in hockey and baseball, hoped his son would follow in his footsteps and become a Friar. But after seeing the way Appert made his son a priority, he was happy to let his son follow his heart.

“Seth did all of the recruiting himself, instead of what happens in most cases where coaches have their assistants start the process, and they come in later,” Roger Haggerty said. “That made Ryan feel very comfortable. I have nothing against (former Providence hockey coach) Timmy Army — I played with him in college. But we heard nothing from anyone at Providence.”

Another large part of Haggerty’s decision to attend RPI was the school’s commitment to the hockey program. The locker rooms at Houston Field House were updated after the 2008-09 season, and Appert was given a four-year contract extension just before Haggerty’s commitment. With national championships to its record in 1954 and 1985, RPI has proven it can compete at the highest level of NCAA hockey.

To do so this season, Haggerty will have to turn the clock back to November and December.

“I look it as a challenge when teams try to stop me,” Haggerty said. “I can feel it on the ice, teams have focused more attention on me. It makes me want to work even harder to create space for myself so I can get off my shot.”

Twitter: @Dan_Guttenplan

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