March 15, 2013

ECAC Journal: Appert has RPI peaking at right time

By Dan Guttenplan

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) hardly looked like the biggest threat to Quinnipiac in ECAC Hockey at the end November, when the Engineers looked remarkably similar to the team that finished 12-24-3 last season.

This year's Engineers started 0-4-0 in ECAC Hockey games, falling to their four opponents by a combined score of 19-5. On the whole, RPI was 3-6-3 after a December 1 loss to Quinnipiac, seemingly destined for another disappointing season.

Unlike last year when the Engineers started 3-16-0 before finishing the regular season with a record of 6-4-2 over the last 12 games, this year's team turned the season around just in time. The Engineers rallied to win nine of their last 10 games and 11 of their last 13.

“They're different years,” says RPI coach Seth Appert. “This year, really we had two very poor weekends in league play. We were 0-4, and we were a mess with our play and maturity. I didn't do a good job of getting the guys in a mind set to handle the challenges. Since then, it's been a steady march to a good hockey team.”

RPI (17-12-5 overall, 12-7-3 ECAC) rallied to climb all the way to second place in the ECAC standings, behind only Quinnipiac, the No. 1 ranked team in the Pairwise rankings since January 19. The Engineers earned a first-round bye in the ECAC tournament and will open their postseason at home against No. 7 Brown (13-12-6, 7-9-6) this weekend.

“We want to be playing our best hockey in February, March and hopefully April,” Appert says. “We don't worry about the standings or our position in the conference. We want to be a tough team to play against, and that start in practice. When it happens over an extended period of time, it inspires confidence.”

One key to RPI's success has been freshman goalie Jason Kasdorf, who is 13-3-2 with a 1.51 goals-against average in 20 games this season with a.940 save percentage. The draft choice of the Winnipeg Jets is third in the nation in winning percentage (.778), fourth in goals against average, sixth in save percentage and 11th with three shutouts. RPI is 4-9-3 in games in which Kasdorf is not the goalie of record.

Appert does not believe Kasdorf will have to elevate his game in the postseason in order for RPI to go on a run.

“I disagree with that,” Appert says. “I don't think you need that. Most people get consumed by high pressure moments in games and during the season. If you have the belief, the will, and the discipline ingrained in your daily habits, you'll go out and perform at the highest level. We don't need anyone to run around and start trying to do things outside of their skills.”

The Engineers are 16-7-3 since mid-November and 11-3-1 since January 11. Coaching the hottest team in the league, Appert says is not worried that the bye week might cause some rust to form on the skates of his players.

“You always take the bye,” Appert says. “Having a week off won't prevent you from playing well. Our performance against Brown will come down to mental and physical readiness. It will have nothing to do with the bye.”

FIRST-ROUND (Friday, March 8 to Sunday, March 10 -- Best-of-three games)
No. 12 Harvard at No. 5 Dartmouth (Dartmouth won series, 2-1)
No. 11 Colgate at No. 6 St. Lawrence (St. Lawrence won series, 2-0)
No. 10 Clarkson at No. 7 Brown (Brown won series, 2-0)
No. 9 Cornell at No. 8 Princeton (Cornell won series, 2-0)

QUARTERFINALS (Friday, March 15 to Sunday, March 17 -- Best-of-three games)
No. 9 Cornell at No. 1 Quinnipiac
No. 7 Brown at No. 2 Rensselaer
No. 6 St. Lawrence at No. 3 Yale
No. 5 Dartmouth at No. 4 Union

Power Rankings

1. Quinnipiac (24-5-5, 17-2-3) – Quinnipiac was the first team since ECAC Hockey adopted the current point system to win the league by double-digit points. The Bobcats do not have a strong history against their quarterfinal-round opponent, Cornell. Quinnipiac is 7-13-2 all-time against the Big Red, with five of its seven wins in the series coming at Lynah Rink.

2. RPI (17-12-5, 12-7-3) – The Engineers average 2.85 goals, while allowing 2.35 per contest. They gave up two goals or fewer in nine of their last 14 games.

3. Yale (16-10-3, 12-9-1) – Yale took the season series against its quarterfinal opponent St. Lawrence by sweeping 4-2 and 5-3 decisions in November and January. The Bulldogs have played 77 ECAC playoff contests since 1967 and are 25-47-5 overall.

4. Union (17-12-5, 10-8-4) – Union has played 15 ECAC Hockey postseason series since joining the conference in 1991-92, and has won three of them. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, the Dutchmen have a 31-6-7 record in their last 44 regular-season home games at Messa Rink.

5. Dartmouth (15-12-5, 9-9-4) – The Big Green had played every other ECAC Hockey program at least one time in the postseason with the lone exception being Union prior to this season. The Big Green are just 3-7-3 in road games this season with two wins coming at Brown. One of the three ties did come at Messa Rink, however.

6. St. Lawrence (18-14-4, 9-9-4) – The Saints are making their 34th quarterfinal appearance in 40 tournaments and are at Yale in the quarterfinals for the second time in the last three years. The Saints are 3-5-2 in ECAC Hockey tournament games at Ingalls Rink with all three wins coming by a score of 4-3 and in overtime.

7. Brown (13-12-6, 7-9-6) – Brown goalie Anthony Borelli helped lead Brown to a series sweep over Clarkson, recording 65 saves on 68 shots in two games, as the Bears recorded their first weekend sweep of the season and first since February 25-26, 2011. The series win also helped Brown advance to the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals for the first time since 2010.

8. Princeton (10-16-5, 8-10-4) – The Tigers were the lone home team to fall in the opening round of the ECAC tournament, putting the finishing touches on a disappointing season.

9. Cornell (14-14-3, 8-11-3) – Cornell is 6-1-1 in its last eight games, including a two-game sweep of eighth-seeded Princeton last weekend in a first-round playoff series at Hobey Baker Rink. The Bobcats have scored just three power-play goals in their last 48 chances (6.3 percent) against the Big Red.

10. Clarkson (9-20-7, 8-11-3) – The Golden Knights closed out the season with losses in their last five games, including last weekend's sweep at Brown.

11. Colgate (14-18-4, 6-13-3) – The Raiders won only one of their last 12 games. The common theme is that the teams that were eliminated in the opening round had been playing below the median in the ECAC for a while.

12. Harvard (10-19-3, 6-14-2) —  Crimson goalie Raphael Girard struggled in the series against Dartmouth, eventually getting the hook after allowing three second-period goals in the decisive Game 3 – a 6-3 Dartmouth victory. 

Twitter: @Dan_Guttenplan