If Colgate, the consensus first-place pick this season following a scorching second half, needs any sort of warning, the Raiders only need to look at last year’s Rensselaer’s team.
Picked first in the media poll and second in the coaches’ poll last season after strong second half the previous year, the Engineers got off to a solid start before hitting a two-month slump that lasted into late January.
RPI played better over the final month of the season, but that wasn’t enough to avoid a seventh-place finish and failing to advance in the league playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.
“We need to be a team that has a chip on its shoulder,” Engineers coach Seth Appert said. “It wasn’t the season we wanted to have coming off a really good year the year before.”
It won’t be easy, however. Twenty-eight goal scorer Ryan Haggerty gave up his final year of eligibility to sign with the New York Rangers. Also gone are Brock Higgs (14-16–30) and Mike Zalewski (9-17–26), with the latter leaving after his sophomore year to sign with Vancouver.
“We’re going to have to score by committee,” Appert said, adding that he expected a “dramatic” amount of points from the Engineers defensive corps.
The good news for RPI is that goalie Jason Kasdorf, the 2012-13 ECAC rookie of the year and Winnipeg Jets draft pick, returns after missing all but two games last season due to shoulder surgery. Kasdorf was one of the top goalies in the league two seasons ago, although senior Scott Diebold (.916 save percentage) was a capable replacement last year.
Kasdorf is at full strength entering this season, according to Appert. After talking with the team doctors and the medical staff with Winnipeg, Appert said it was decided to have the surgery in November and get Kasdorf fully healthy in time for this year.
Regardless of who’s in goal, he’ll have the benefit of the best defensive group Appert said he’s had at RPI. The Engineers graduated seniors Bo Dolan and Guy Leboeuf but return a solid group including Craig Bokenfohr, Curtis Leonard and Chris Bradley.
“This is the most talented defensive corps since I’ve been here,” Appert said. “I don’t know if we moved the puck well out of the zone in recent years, although we defended hard. Our [defensive] corps’ puck moving and offensive ability is the best in the time I’ve been here at RPI.”
The Engineers also add freshman Mike Prapavessis, a fourth-round pick by Dallas in June’s NHL draft. The defenseman had 54 points in 47 games for the Toronto Patriots in the OJHL last season.
About the Engineers
2013-14 overall record: 15-16-6
2013-14 ECAC Hockey record: 8-9-5 (seventh)
2014-15 predicted finish: Ninth in the coaches poll, 10th in the media poll
Key losses: F Ryan Haggerty, F Brock Higgs, F Mike Zalewski
Players to watch: F Matt Neal, F Jacob Laliberte, G Jason Kasdorf
Impact rookies: F Louis Nanne, D Mike Prapavessis
Why the Engineers will finish higher than predicted: Kasdorf and Diebold give RPI the best goaltending duo in the league, while RPI gets more offensive production from its defensive group.
Why the Engineers will finish lower than predicted: The Engineers go from having a top-heavy offense to no offense, and struggle to score throughout much of the year.