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.



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