Goaltending Steams Engineers
by Tim Rosenthal/Staff Writer
One of the more overlooked early-season stories in college hockey has been the resurgence of RPI. Eleven games into the 2007-08 season, the Engineers are off to a 6-3-2 start.
After letting up 130 goals in 2006-07 (dead last in the ECAC), RPI's defense, in particular its goaltending, is significantly improved. The team has only let up 21 goals. Stingy goaltending has been the key ingredient.
"The goaltending has been very good so far," said second-year RPI head coach Seth Appert, a former goaltender at Ferris State. "Every game we have had good starts and the goaltenders (Jordan Alford and Mathias Lange) have allowed very few soft goals."
Both goaltenders have only allowed 10 goals.
"It is a defense-first team," said senior goaltender Jordan Alford, who has three shutouts in six games in net. "You really have to focus in on the first shot and not let up any rebounds."
The Engineers schedule so far has been brutal out of conference and it doesn't get any easier. On the other hand, it helps the Engineers gear up for future opponents by facing the likes of Minnesota and Boston College.
"Every game is extremely important," Appert said. "We have 12-to-14 non-conference games and sometimes you have to play the best teams.
"The good thing is Notre Dame and Miami come to play in our building."
The tough out of conference games still remaining are against Miami, who has been ranked number one for the past few weeks, Maine, Colorado College and possibly Notre Dame twice or Massachusetts once.
"It is exciting to play them," said Alford about the tough schedule. "To win the NCAAs you need to learn how to play these teams."
One of the reasons that RPI struggled on defense last year was the fact that the Engineers had four freshmen defensemen. Now that they are now sophomores, the team has seen improvement, which has helped the goaltending so far this year.
"All four sophomores have improved," said Appert. "They have all made good steps."
One guy that Appert pointed to is Peter Merth.
"He [Merth] has played 25-30 minutes a night and is a rock."
"Just getting to know them a little more has helped," Alford pointed out about the defense. "They are a year older and are doing great."
Not only did the defense improve greatly, but both Alford and Lange have improved their abilities between the pipes. Whether it is controlling rebounds or moving from one post to the other, the improvements have been seen by many.
"Mathias is more of a thinker," Appert said about Lange. "At times he has been overloaded but he has had the ability to recover from last year. He worked extremely hard in the summer and has the potential to be a dominant player."
Alford, who did not see much playing time until Appert came in as head coach last season, has seen 23 games in Appert's one-plus seasons at the helm.
"Jordan has improved on his technique, his chest and his glove," Appert said. "He has settled himself down and has the ability to make more saves."
Some are surprised that the Engineers have been able to get off to this quick start, however, they shouldn't be, according to Appert.
"I am pleaded with the consistency," Appert said. "We have found ways to win."
Although RPI is tied for fourth in the ECAC standings, there are still teams out there who are looking to make their mark in the league including Clarkson, Harvard and Cornell just to name a few.
"Clarkson is the most dynamic, well-balanced team," Appert said. "One of their best players (Shawn Weller) left, but they were able to keep most of them. That is good for the league and college hockey and special things can happen when some of your best players stay all four years."
The Engineers are 11 games into their 36-game season. Although the team seems pretty content with the start of the year, there is still improvement that can be made.
"We have worked hard up to this point," Alford said about the start of the year. "The team is starting to come through, we need to work on our team goals and improve on them."
Although the goaltending combination is working out, it is not a guarantee that the combination of Lange and Alford will continue on an every-other-night basis as the season goes on.
"They care about the program," Appert said about the two goaltenders. "They support each other well. Their competitiveness with each other has been great and they are able to share the net but, if one separates them self from the other, we will go with one goaltender."