Sunday, March 17, 2013

Bailen will not play tonight

   TROY -- It's official. Rensselaer will have to advance to the ECACH semifinals without Nick Bailen. The star senior defenseman tried to go but was not able to skate hard in warmups. He's replaced by freshman Phil Hampton, who hasn't played in two months.
   Bailen, RPI's leading scorer, was injured Saturday night while taking a kneeing penalty from Brown defenseman Dennis Robertson.
   If the Engineers don't win the game, Bailen's college career will be over.

Bailen highly questionable tonight

   TROY -- Rensselaer star senior defenseman Nick Bailen, injured when taking a kneeing injury from Brown's Dennis Robertson on Saturday night, is skating gingerly in warmups for Game 3 tonight in the ECACH quarterfinals.
   He skated for a while, then spent the past 10 minutes leaning against the sideboards of the RPI bench. The Engineers have dressed a seventh defenseman, Phil Hampton, in case Bailen can't go.
   More in a while.

From start to finish, Engineers were in control

   TROY -- Brown University hockey coach Brendan Whittet was asked after Saturday night's 6-2 loss to RPI in Game 2 of their ECAC Hockey quarterfinal-round series, at what point he felt the game was slipping away from the Bears.
   He wasn't totally joking when he said, "the first shift.
   "I don't think we were very good from the get-go," Whittet said. "I just thought we were a little off. When Matt Lorito, who's a very skilled kid, misses a lot of passes, that's not a good thing.
   "And they played great," Whittet said of the Engineers, "but it's still a 3-2 game going into the third (period), so it's a one-goal game on the road but I thought they took it us in the third and they got a big win, which is what they deserved."
   The Bears (14-13-6) lost star defenseman Dennis Robertson to a game misconduct, added to his major kneeing penalty late in the second period with the score tied, 2-2. Not only did Jacob Laliberte score the go-ahead goal late in that penalty, but his presence was missed in the third period when the Engineers scored three times to break open the game.
   "He's our best defenseman, one of the best in the league," Whittet said of Robertson. "So to lose him was a hard thing, but other guys have to step up and I don't believe they did. I thought we played soft hockey.
   "When they (RPI) have control of the puck for long stretches and are able to pin us or spin us on the offensive side and the defensive side ... we didn't compete hard enough."
   Brown forechecked well in Game 2 as the Bears did in Game 1 but their intensity wasn't Friday night. They puck movement and stick-handling wasn't nearly as sharp. They didn't win as many puck battles.
   Meanwhile, the Engineers, desperate, clearly outplayed the Bears over the final 35 minutes.
   Rensselaer players and fans can expect more for tonight's deciding Game 3.
   Engineers coach Seth Appert calls the Bears a "good defensive and hard, physical team.
   "Brown makes it tough on you," he said. "There's a reason that they've won so many games in the second half of the year and (goaltender Anthony) Borelli's numbers are what they are; because they they defend hard and they defend the front of the net well."
   Whittet said despite being soundly beaten in the third period, the Bears won't be "nervous or scared" for tonight's decisive Game 3.
   "We'll bring it (tonight)," he said.
   Bubela's major elbowing penalty a clean hit?: The Engineers lost freshman right winger Milos Bubela to a major elbowing penalty and game misconduct penalty at 17:11 of the first period.
   The Engineers' killing of that penalty was a major factor in the outcome, even a turning point in the game. Appert agreed.
   "Well, yeah, especially since it was a clean hit," he said. "It was a heavy hit ... I don't have issues with the officiating at all. I was a heavy hit but his shoulder was down, his elbow was down when he hit him."
   Appert said, "generally speaking, it's weird how that works. Your team usually kills off the good penalties (or poor calls?), for whatever reason, but when you take dumb, selfish penalties, you (often) get scored on. So, even though we took a few penalties tonight of the hard-hitting variety, they weren't bad penalties and I thought we did a pretty good job of killing them."
   Lorito did have a power-play goal for the second straight night but the Engineers killed the other seven minutes of Brown's power-play time.
    Juggled lines: With Bubela out for more than two periods, Appert had to juggle his forward lines.
   All six goals came with different combinations of forwards on the ice from the four sets on the line chart.
   "It keeps you on an edge on the bench ... and it certainly tested my wits, which doesn't take much," Appert said. "You know, we've scored a lot of goals this year with juggled lines and that's something we need to keep in mind (tonight) if need be."
   Appert said he had "no idea" on what tonight's lines would be.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Backs to wall, will Engineers respond?

   TROY -- Many Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey fans were more than a but surprised that the Engineers lost Game 1 of their ECAC Hockey playoffs quarterfinal-round series to Brown on Friday night, 3-1.
   The Engineers had put together one of the best runs in league history to vault all the way to second place, then drop the opener to the seventh-seeded Bears, whom they had routed, 5-1, at Houston Field House just one month earlier.
   It was the seventh loss in the past nine homeice playoff games for RPI, dating back to 2006. More on that below.
   "It's better than losing the first game on the road (rather than at home)," RPI coach Seth Appert said when asked after the game.
   Appert said the Engineers, in addition to being more aggressive in the offensive zone for tonight's Game 2, also said they should "be an angry group."
   And he's confident they'll bounce back and force a deciding Game 3 on Sunday night.
   "This group has responded to adversity. They've been thrown a lot of tough situations this year and we've come out well. This team's shown a real good ability to learn from mistakes and we need to show that again (tonight)."
    Appert said the Engineers need to be tougher around the net front, where Brown is so effective defensively.
   "We need to need to have a tougher offensive mentality, a lot of those guys on those top three (forward), especially, because our best line tonight was the Mark Miller (fourth) line. That's good for them but them (Johnny Rogic, Travis Fulton and Miller) but we need to have more balance."
    Both Jacob Laliberte, who scored RPI's only goal, and Ryan Haggerty, who assisted, both agreed, each saying in exact words, "we need to be tougher (tonight)."
   And, as good as he's been since taking over as Brown's No. 1 goaltender, senior Anthony Borelli can be unnerved a bit, if the Engineers can put a good number of quality shots on him early.
   Can't win postseason games at home: It's puzzling. It's frustrating. It's maddening.
   Rensselaer is seeded seventh, can beat a 10 seed (Quinnipiac, 2006), the Engineers, a six seed, get taken out by an 11 (Brown, 2010) and even, worse, being seeded fifth, 12th-seeded (last place) Colgate shocks the fifth-seeded Engineers (2011).
   Now -- as the No. 2 seed, the Engineers are beaten, and clearly outplayed, by the seven-seeded Bears. Appert has been RPI's head coach for the latter two of those postseason series upset defeats.
   During that time, the Engineers did win preliminary-round series on the road -- at Dartmouth in 2009, at Clarkson last season.
   That's of little solece, especially if the Engineers don't come back and win this series.
   Is there a trend there? No. And only Lee played in the Brown series -- Game 1 only -- three years ago, so those failures have nothing to do with this season's team.
   These players, though, are the only ones who can end the frustration. That's the challenge they face tonight and, hopefully, Sunday night. Will the meet -- and overcome -- that challenge?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Was there really no turning point to RPI's season?

   TROY -- Seth Appert says there wasn't really a discernable turning point to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's hockey season, a turnaround which saw the Engineers win 11 of their final 13 games after winning just six of their of their first 21 (6-10-5). In ECAC Hockey play, they won 11 of 12 after a 1-6-3 start.
   Appert says there's never a turning point to any team's season, no matter how dramatic of a turnaround there may be within that season. Fans and the media enjoy looking for such pinpoints.
   Rensselaer captain C.J. Lee agrees with Appert.
   "I really can't pinpoint a moment that really changed everything," Lee said. "I think we just bought into the way we needed to play, that is wasn't always going to be pretty and maybe it wasn't the most fun way to win but the alternative is losing, so we just bought into it."
   Well, perhaps.
   I would suggest there was a clear turning point to the season. It came on Nov. 10 at Harvard, a game the Engineers lost, 4-0, one night after they lost at Dartmouth by the same score.
   Appert has described in great detail that the Dartmouth game was the low point of the season.
   The next night, he benched top line right winger Ryan Haggerty and veteran Matt Tinordi. Jacob Laliberte, one of the team's leading scorers, was out injured and Appert benched Lee and fellow veteran Brock Higgs for the entire first period. Defenseman Curtis Leonard was also a scratch and the Engineers dressed just 16 skaters, rather than the usual 18.
   The result of that game wasn't important to Appert, the long-term good of the team was.
   The Engineers then posted two victories over Mercyhurst, a team fom the weaker Atlantic Hockey conference. The won just one of their next six league games (1-2-3) but .their play improved and they beat 9th-ranked St. Cloud State.
   And during that six-game span, the Engineers lost a game at Princeton, 4-1, that they should have won. They came out unready to play and fell behind, 2-0. After nearly 58 minutes, they had held Princeton to just 11 shots on goal before the Tigers added two empty-net goals.
   Princeton rarely could get the puck through the neutral zone for most of the final two periods. And 11 shots on goal? You have to win such a game -- every time -- holding the opposition to 11 shots.
   I'd never seen Appert so angry and that was 15 minutes after the game ended. I can only imagine how he was when he walked into the locker room. 
   That night accentuated the night at Harvard and the only game RPI lost over the next five weeks was a non-leaguer against Union. The Engineers won eight straight ECACH games and 11 of 12 to rise all the way to second place in the league.
   To me, the message Appert sent that November night at Harvard is what motivated the players to turn their season around. They needed a 'friendly' reminder at Princeton on Jan.12. After that, a season saved, and then some.
   But that was the regular season.
   Tonight, the Engineers host an ECAC quarterfinal round series for the first time in more than a decade.
   Against a good Brown team, the deeper Engineers should prevail in the best-of-three series and advance to the league semis, if they stick to their physical, tough philosophy.
   When the Engineers beat Brown 5-1 at Houston Field House last month, they put four pucks past Brown goaltender Anthony Borelli, jacking up the goals against average of who had been one of the nation's hottest netminder.
   That fact could benefit the Engineers tonight. They could get into Borelli's head -- could -- but only if they come out focused and intense and put plenty of rubber on Borelli, who, amazingly, didn't win the starting job until well into his senior year.
   Live chat today: Log on to, or Twitter, for a live chat to discuss the Engineers and this series at 5 p.m. today.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Appert deserves Coach of Year honor

 TROY – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey coach Seth Appert has been named a finalist for ECAC Hockey Tim Taylor Award as the league’s Coach of the Year.
 He certainly deserves the award. After a 0-5-1 start to league play, Appert guided the Engineers to a second-place finish with a 12-7-3 record. They were 17-12-5 overall.
 Rand Pencknold, who led Quinnipiac to a runaway regular season championship with a 17-2-3 mark and a No. 1 national ranking (and 24-5-5 overall record) is another finalist, as is Yale coach Keith Allain.
Parochial or not, the vote here is Appert.
A blogger also mentioned as a possible candidate to replace legendary Boston University coach Jack Parker, who recently announced that this season, his 40th at BU, will be his last.
Although BU will almost certainly College Hockey News blogger mentioned that Appert “would be an interesting interview” for BU.
“I know nothing about it, I didn’t hear about it,” he said after today’s practice.
As for the position, Appert said, “not interested.”
The blogger also mentioned that former Union head coach Nate Leaman (now at Providence College) and current Dutchmen coach Rick Bennett might be considered, as well as longtime Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold.
Both Boston newspapers, the Globe and the Herald – as well as CHN -- reported that the leading quartet of candidates for the heavy task to replace Parker are David Quinn, former BU star and an assistant coach with the National Hockey League’s Colorado Avalanche; Former BU player Mike Bavis, who’s spent the past 15 years on Parker’s staff; Mike Sullivan, another former BU star, currently an assistant with the NHL’s New York Rangers; Shawn McEachern, another former Terriers standout, NHL player and assistant coach at but Northeastern and UMass-Lowell.
Boston U. is one of those schools which heavily prefers alumni when filling coaching vacancies.
Parker is six victories short of 900 entering this weekend’s Hockey East playoff series against Merrimack.
Schroeder gets fifth year: Rensselaer sophomore Zach Schroeder had his application for a red-shirt eligibility addition approved by the NCAA.
Schroeder played in only nine games this season – just six healthy – before incurring a serious, recurring wrist injury. He had one goal, one assist.
“It came through,” Schroeder said. “I expected it (would), coach (Appert) told me it was probably a sure thing but we weren’t really sure, so it was nice to hear. I was glad to be back (with) a fifth year.”
Schroeder has been practicing with the Engineers for the past week wearing a no-contact orange shirt.
“It’s great, even though it’s not in games,” he said. “It feels good to shoot around, stick-handle and stuff. It feels like I’m back on the team.”
Schroeder says he’s just as excited as the active players for the Engineers to begin the ECAC Hockey playoffs with their quarterfinal-round series against visiting Brown this weekend.
“Oh, definitely,” he said. “It’s the first time we’ve gotten a top-four seed (and a first-round bye), so I’m real excited for the guys. Hopefully I can get ‘em going and they’ll have a good run.”
Slumping ‘A’ line: The Engineers’ top forward line has been in a slump lately, with just one goal over the past four games – and that was scored by a defenseman.
 The unit’s previous four goals all came on the power play.
 When a reporter summoned center Jacob Laliberté, left winger C.J. Lee and right winger Ryan Haggerty together, Lee said, only half jokingly, “why because we’re awful?”
Despite the fact that the unit has just one equal-strength goal in the past seven games, RPI has been winning.
The line was put together for a non-league game against Union at the Times Union center, which the Engineers lost, 3-2, but they’ve won nine of 10 since.
 Other lines, centered by freshman Mark Miller, junior Brock Higgs and sophomore Mark McGowan, have all stepped up.
 That relieved some pressure from Laliberté’s group.
 “We’re not scoring but we’re winning,” Lee said. “It’s good to know other lines are rolling.
 “It’s a good thing about our team that any guy can put the puck in the net,” Laliberté said, “and the offense is well-balanced.”
Haggerty had a stretch of 18 points (9 goals-9 assists-18) in 18 games but has just one assist in four games since.
 “It’s been a little frustrating for C.J., Jacob and me,” Haggerty said. “Obviously we’re not producing but the other guys are and we’re winning. That’s what’s most important.”
Now that the playoffs are here – the second-seeded Engineers host seventh-seeded Brown in a best-of-three quarterfinal series this weekend, RPI backers will be expecting Laliberté’s line to return to its scoring duties, equal-strength as well as power play. (Matt Neal replaces Lee at left wing on the first power-play unit, Lee plays on the second unit).
“We just have to be on our game,” Laliberté said. “Last game, we had a lot of chances and if we keeping working, (goals) will come for sure.”
“We’re not going to put any added pressure on ourselves, but yeah, we would love to score some goals and contribute offensively,” Lee said.
“Obviously, we need to start putting some pucks in the net,” Haggerty added. “But we’re winning right now, from all four lines and I’m pretty sure everybody trusts everyone to put the back of the net from defense to offense. We just need to keep going, keep pushing, get pucks deep and play our game.”
Senior defenseman Nick Bailen leads the Engineers in scoring with a line of 12-19-31.
Neal, who usually plays on McGowan’s third line at equal strength, is second, 8-19-27, followed by Laliberté (9-17-26) and Haggerty (12-13-25).

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bailen never lacked belief

   I was chatting with Nick Bailen a couple months ago about if Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute could turn its season around after the holidays, much the same as the Engineers did the previous season.
   This was a couple days after RPI has posted a pair of one-goal victories over Colgate and Cornell in mid January. The Engineers had won only one of their previous six games and that came against woefully weak Sacred Heart.
   The two ECAC Hockey conference victories over Colgate and Cornell got the Engineers out of last place in the league but left them with a still unimposing 3-6-3 league record.
   Anyway, Bailen was mentioning a couple of the team's goals and was said "we're looking at how many points (will be) needed for home ice."
   Home-ice in that context usually means finishing among the top eight teams in the league so you'll be guaranteed of being at home for the preliminary round of the playoffs.
  "Twenty-four, twenty-five (standings) points, maybe 23," he said.
  I was confused. It took me a minute but I realized that with those high numbers, Bailen was talking about "home ice" in the quarterfinals, a bye for the prelim round.
  Union, as it happened, earned the fourth-place spot and final opening-round bye with 24 points (10-8-4 record).
   "Is he serious," I asked myself about Bailen. The Engineers, again, had just nine points with half the league season gone. Were the Engineers good enough to put together a streak that would bring their points total into the mid-20s, even low-20s?
   Obviously, they are that good. Oh, how they are!
   Bailen was dead-on right. The Engineers, sparked by the insertion of freshman goaltender Jason Kasdorf into the lineup, balanced scoring with the third and fourth forward lines making big contributions, much more maturity and disciplined and a monster, All-American type season from Bailen, ran that winning skein to 11 of 12 in league games. They finished in second place with a 12-7-3 record and will enjoy that coveted weak off.
   A victory over a lower-seeded team in a best-of-3 quarterfinal-round series at Houston Field House (March 15-17) will send the Engineers to Atlantic City for the ECACH Championship Weekend March 22-23).
   It's among the best finishes to a regular season in RPI history.
   "Yeah, I knew we were (capable of it)," Bailen said after Saturday night's 4-1 victory over St. Lawrence.
   Live-chat today: Want to talk about the Engineers' fine season, the past weekend, the upcoming playoffs, RPI hockey in general? Log-on to at 5 p.m. and put forth your thoughts.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Engineers answer call big time; Live chat Sunday at 5

   TROY -- Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's effort  on Friday night was as good as the Engineers have put forth all season.
    At a time when they needed it most, the were outstanding throughtout in their 5-0 victory over rival Clarkson. Not only did  the Engineers gain their first preliminary-round bye since ECAC Hockey opened the playoffs to all 12 teams in 2003, they also nailed down second place in the league.
   That's an amazing accomplishment -- and I mean a dictionary definition of amazing -- for a team that was in last place when it took the ice against Colgate on Jan. 18. January 18. Six weeks ago -- from 12th to clinching second with a game remaining.
    Regardless of what happens in tonight's game against St. Lawrence or how well (or not) the Engineers do in the postseason,  that meteoric shot up the standings is something for which they should draw pride all summer long.
   Rensselaer's forechecking in particular and physical play in general during the first eight minutes of the game set the tone. They broke down the Golden Knights with their forechecking and scored twice, with 4:55 and 43 seconds remaining in the first period. When freshman left winger Mike Zalewski scored his second goal of the game (and he had set up another score) just 1:31 into the second period, the Golden Knights were a beaten team.
   They didn't quit by any means but they seemed to realize that this was RPI's night.
   Rensselaer coach Seth Appert commented on the importance for a strong start for the Engineers -- and their effective forechecking.
   "We thought the first period was absolutely critical knowing how good they were coming out," Appert said, "and they did. They came out physical, they came out aggressive and we needed to try to plant some seeds of doubts in their mind that we even had more in us than we showed the last time we played them (RPI jumped to a 3-0 lead in 16:50 en route to a 6-2 win), in terms of our physical play, not skill, not goals, in terms of our will to be a nasty, physical hockey team and I thought our forwards did a real job puck hunting and finishing checks.
  "And I thought the (Brock) Higgs line (Zalewski, Milos Bubela) and the (Mark) Miller line (Johnny Rogic, Travis Fulton) really pestered them a lot in the first period and I liked that we stayed with it."
   Appert said another factor was the Engineers' hunger "at their net front.
   "If you look at the goals we scored and they were all on top of the crease, or shots from the (far) perimeter where we had multiple people on top of their goalie screening him. So, I thought our hunger at the net front resulted in us having success offensively."
   Zalewski makes big plays: Zalewski set up the first goal of the game, with a pretty behind-the-back pass to Milos Bubela, who was standing a few feet outside the crease on the right side.
   Appert referred to the pass as "a real high-end play" and Zalewski said he enjoyed it as much as the two goals he scored later.
   He rifled a blast from the right circle past goaltender Greg Lewis, then tapped the puck out of Lewis' glove and popped it in from two feet away.
   The three points gave Zalewski nine goals, nine assists for 18 points, good for sixth on the team in scoring. Fellow freshman and linemate Bubela is fifth at 8-11-19.
   Zalewski spoke about being recruited by Clarkson, where his brother Steve starred before signing with the New Jersey Devils and for the Albany farm club.
  He said it wasn't a case of him choosing RPI over Clarkson per se.
   "I spoke with them (Clarkson) early," he said. "I really get a good response and that was kind of it, which I was fine with. And I wasn't too excited about playing in my brother's shadow. I'm just happy ti have come here and pave my way."
   Keep the puck out of the net: With freshman sensation Jason Kasdorf doing most of the goaltending work, RPI has allowed just 24 goals in their past 15 ECACH games. Keep in mind, that Cornell scored four or those goals in a 4-1 victory, the only game RPI has lost among its past 11 league games. And, Princeton scored a pair of empty-net goals in the closing minutes after RPI had held the Tigers to just nine shots on goal in over 58 minutes.
   Take away those two games, and its 16 goals permitted in 13 games, 1.23 goals allowed per game.
   Twenty-four in 15 games -- 1.60 per game -- is also outstanding. That mark will win plenty of hockey games at any level. Rensselaer went 11-2-2 in those 15 games.
   Live chat Sunday: Let's talk about the Engineers' weekend, the winning skein, who you'd not want to see match up with the Engineers in the playoffs quarterfinals and RPI hockey in general Sunday at 5 p.m. Log on to