After a tough 3-1 loss to open the season on Thursday night, the Eagles return to the ice today to take on RPI in their home opener at Conte Forum. Without A Peer, one of many excellent websites covering RPI hockey, chatted with us to preview the matchup.
BCI: Overall, RPI's 18-14-5 record was good, but not great, last season. But there are some pretty high expectations this year thanks to the Engineers' solid performance in conference play, going 12-7-3 and finishing 2nd to Quinnipiac. How do you feel about RPI's returning talent this year? Is RPI ready to make a run at the NCAA tournament?
WaP: The good, not great result was due to the tale of two seasons last year - RPI was terrible in October and November, and practically unstoppable afterwards once Jason Kasdorf became a revelation in net. The Tute went 11-3-1 to end the regular season and if it hadn't been for an upset loss to Brown in the playoffs, probably would have been an NCAA team. Realistically, last season ended mostly quite well. The good news in Troy is that almost everyone who made last year's team successful is back. This is a team that's not going to overwhelm you in any facet of the game, but they're good at practically everything.
BCI: We haven't seen RPI at Conte Forum in quite some time. How would you describe their playing style?
WaP: If you remember watching Yale last year, the RPI style is highly reminiscent of that - up-tempo, goals-oriented - a solid departure from the boring defense-always, gum-up-the-works style that has plagued the conference for years (and, ultimately, contributed greatly to the conference's lack of success in the NCAAs). Defense isn't ignored by any stretch of the imagination, but this is a team that wants to transition quickly and score on counter-attacks.
BCI: Who in red should BC fans be keeping an eye on Sunday?
WaP: Kasdorf is the one player on the team that gets the accolades, and for good reason. He did for RPI basically the same thing Connor Hellebuyck did for Lowell - come on as a freshman goaltender and make a struggling team into solid contenders (and they're even drafted by the same team, Winnipeg). He's getting very good at making every save look routine, which is key for good goaltending. The rest of the team isn't full of individual standouts, but the tradeoff is that RPI will roll four lines this year that can score goals. It'll be a much more even spread than with teams who boast one or two lines of guys who will be relied on to do all the scoring, but I'd expect guys like Matt Neal and Mike Zalewski to have slightly bigger years.
BCI: What are RPI's biggest weaknesses going into this season? Don't worry, we won't forward your response to the coaching staff.
WaP: Honestly, at this point it's hard to gauge, but the team did look sloppy in its pre-season exhibition game. Discipline was rough and passing needed to be crisper. They still won 5-1 over last year's Canadian national runners-up, so take from that what you will. I wouldn't peg any element, be it offense, defense, or special teams, as being over-the-top amazing, but this team looks to be somewhere between better-than-average and very good in all of those areas.
BCI: With Yale winning the national championship and Quinnipiac being ranked #1 most of last season, should we all bow down and accept our ECAC overlords? Or do you think last year was an aberration?
WaP: I don't think the ECAC is suddenly ascending the outright throne of college hockey, but it's not the afterthought conference it became for 15 years. A lot of it has to do with the fact that teams like Yale and Quinnipiac (and RPI, for that matter) are breaking free of the "Cornell syndrome." For years, teams have been trying to emulate Cornell in order to run with them in the league, and then those teams that have been successful doing that (including Cornell) get run over in the NCAAs. The changing landscape is big, too. ECAC schools are attracting more talented players that are staying in school longer, which has been improving the level of play all around. We're not where Hockey East or the NCHC is, but we're at least better all around than the "new" WCHA, and getting better.
BCI: How do you feel about college hockey realignment? I can't speak for all BC fans, but I would have preferred to see RPI in Hockey East than Notre Dame. Would you have liked that?
WaP: It's been interesting to watch, and although I think there's a net benefit for the ECAC out of all of it, I would have liked to see RPI
end up in Hockey East as well. There were plenty of pro and con arguments over it, but I think the challenge would have been outstanding. Back in 2011, when all of the horse-trading was going on, we actually broke down the arguments (http://www.withoutapeer.com/2011/07/wagons-east.html
) and then eventually endorsed the idea (http://www.withoutapeer.com/2011/10/time-is-now.html
), knowing that UConn made the most sense as a 12th team but feeling like they weren't interested. Oops.
BCI: The last time Boston University visited RPI, RPI mercifully thrashed them 4-1 and BU gooned it up on the way out with shameless hacking, leading to three ejections in the final minutes of the game. That was great, and they are hacks. (This is not actually a question, I just wanted to point that out.)
WaP: I remember that game well. Jack Parker jawed at the referees all the way off the ice and he had a pretty good point, the officiating was horrible in that game - not that ECAC referees are ever outstanding, really (if you think Jeff Bunyon is bad, be thankful you never have to deal with Bryan Hicks). BU and RPI have had a kind of inter-conference rivalry since the '84 split, in part because Parker always had a spot in his heart for RPI as a program. We've played BU most years since then and the series has been pretty even. Not sure that it's necessarily going to continue now that he's gone, though.
BCI: Do you have any predictions for Sunday's game?
Be sure to check out Without a Peer or coverage of RPI's run for the ECAC title this year. Let's hope we put a dent in their season today, though!