Sunday, October 14, 2012

Solid weekend for Engineers

TROY --Seth Apart doesn’t like to deal with hypothetical questions. Sometimes he’ll answer one, though He’s also quite competitive -- even during hypotheticals -- so his answer Saturday night, when this writer asked him, if two weeks ago, someone could have guaranteed his Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey team a victory and a tie in their season-opening weekend against 11th-ranked Ferris State, would he have taken it, his answer didn’t surprise me.
“No,” he said, adding he rather play and go for the sweep. “Three points against a very good team like Ferris is great for us, a very good start, but ... no.” Funny, Appert’s captain, C.J. Lee, a player he loves, disagreed with Appert. “Yeah,” Lee said to the same question. “Any start where you get three of out four points is a good start for us.” Most probably wouldn’t admit to it, but many RPI fans likely would have taken that guarantee as well, thinking back to last season when the Bulldogs shut out the Engineers twice. Bottom line, the 1-0-1 start against a quality team has to be encouraging to the entire RPI hockey community. Ferris State is no offensive juggernaut and perhaps much of the Bulldogs’ No. 11 ranking was based on last season’s march to the NCAA championship game but Ferris still has skilled forwards, solid defensive play and a top-notch goaltender.
"There were a lot of positives from this weekend. This will help us going forward, said junior winger Matt Tinordi.
“We can do even better,” said senior defenseman Nick Bailen. Looking ahead, the Engineers have a pair of road games that they should have an excellent chance to win at Minnesota State next weekend. After dropping a 1-0 decision to the Mavericks last season, the RPI beat them, 4-1.
We all remember too well what came next -- the long-range scoring drought and just two victories in RPI’s next 18 games (2-15-1).
A repeat of all that is highly unlikely.
Minnesota State (Mankato) opened its season with a 4-1 victory and a 2-2 tie with independent Alabama-Huntsville. The Mavericks went 12-24-2 last season and have question marks in goal.
   Appert trusts them both: Speaking of goaltenders, Appert admitted to starting sophomore Scott Diebold (29 saves) on Friday night and senior Bryce Merriam (22 saves) on Saturday.
Diebold was brilliant in the third period on Friday night and Appert was asked when he made the decision to go with the veteran Merriam on Saturday.
“Probably about the same place in my gut that told me to go with Scotty the day before,” Appert said. “At the end of the day, I believe in both of them. Bryce has been out No. 1 goalie (in the past). Scotty may have outplayed him a little bit (in practice) for the first month, but I don’t think that anoints somebody as the No. 1 (everyday starter).
“We don’t play people because they deserve it, that’s not what it’s about it,” Appert said. “We play people because they’ve earned it earned it and earned that start tonight with everything he’s meant to our program for the past three years and I thought he performed very well.”
Laliberté shines: Sophomore center Jacob Laliberté came to RPI with much fanfare after a 160-point season in the Canadian Central (junior) Hockey League. He scored just five goals last season, when he wasn't totally in shape and suffered a broken finger early-on.
  He scored three goals over the weekend (both of the Engineers' Saturday tallies) and some RPI fans are visibly excited, others more cautious. Laliberté will put up decent or better numbers this year if he remains healthy.
 Appert offered these thoughts on several occasions.
“I was more pleased with his freshman year than our fans and media were,” Appert said, “because I saw a buy-in and a work ethic and I knew he had the talent and the mind. I knew there would be real good things to come.
 “He’s going to score ... he’s got a gift and he’s a goal-scorer,” Appert said.
 ‘D’-zone puck decisions must improve: Appert mentioned after both games that the Engineers played well but still “have a lot of work to do”, “still have a long way to go.”
He elaborated Saturday night.
 “Sometimes our puck decisions get pretty crazy,” he said. “It’s funny, sometimes we try to make too many plays and other times, like the first period, we didn’t try to make enough plays. We knew Ferris was going to come out hard and they did. I had told our guys that we need to take real good care of the puck in the first and maybe my message was too strong, and all we did was throw the puck off the glass and it was like a game of ping pong. So, we’ve got to clean up our puck decisions.
 “And I thought in the second period (both nights) our defensive habits were poor. I thought we started coasting and letting guys in behind us to the front of the net. We've got to clean up our habits. We’ve got to keep coming to the rink every day to get better. We’ve done that for the most part the past six months but now we have to keep fighting that.”
Appert lauds old coach: Appert spoke kind words to this reporter for his old coach, Ferris State’s Bob Daniels, for whom Appert was a backup goaltender from 1992-96. “I know I’m biased,” Appert said, “but I believe what Bob Daniels does at Ferris State is the equivalent of what Jerry York does at Boston College. That’s how good a coach he is, that’s how great a program he runs. With what they have to work with and how successful that program has been, the championships they've won, the Frozen Fours (appearances), he's one of the top five coaches in the country. “And you feel it coaching against him because of how well-coached that team is, how tenacious they are and the adjustments they make and it was a real honor to get a chance to play for him.”
NOTES: Freshman left winger Zalewski came within inches of his first collegiate goal in the second period Saturday night but Ferris goalie C.J. Motte robbed him from close range. … Laliberté scored on all three shots he put on net. Haggerty leads the team in shots on goal with seven. Tinordi (four), McGowan (four) were the only players with more than three. ... Laliberte, Bailen and Guy Leboeuf are the plus-minus leaders at +2. Several players are+1. ... Engineers will be off Oct. 26-27, then host Union on Black Friday, Nov. 2, the ECAC Hockey league opener. The rivals will meet at Messa Rink the following night.


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