Engineering Success: Polacek Leads RPI
by Timothy O'Donnell/CHN Reporter
Five years ago, Seth Appert’s first year as head coach, Rensselaer won just 10 games. The next year the Engineers won 11 games, and then 10 again.
But last year the Engineers broke out, winning 18 games and having their best season since 2003-2004. And the resurgence can be traced back to Appert’s first recruiting class and Chase Polacek.
When Polacek entered RPI the team was not very good, Appert said. And because of the lack of talent, according to Appert, Polacek was given the opportunity to play.
“His freshman year, he had more opportunity to succeed than other young men at other programs,” Appert said.
That opportunity, with Polacek’s skills, brought success. And Polacek pounced on the opportunity, putting up 28 points (seven goals and 21 assists).
“I was put in a lot of situations that allowed me to succeed,” Polacek said. “I just tried to help the team any way I could and those things just worked out for me.”
But it wasn’t just the skill that brought Polacek success. He had to work at it.
“Opportunity doesn’t mean success,” Appert said. “Opportunity plus work ethic and drive equals success.”
While Polacek has never scored more goals than assists, it’s not something that he looks to do.
“I’m more of a shooter,” Polacek said. “I’ve gotten assists off rebound shots or guys driving to the net off my shots.
“I don’t like to think of myself as a pass first player. I like to shoot the puck myself and take the puck to the net myself.”
Which he has done consistently since he arrived at RPI. And Polacek has worked hard over four years to be consistent.
“He really demands a lot from himself,” Appert said. “His work ethic and consistency of preparation Monday through Thursday has lead to success Friday and Saturday.”
That includes work off the ice and in the offseason.
“I worked on getting stronger in the weight room over the years,” Polacek said.
And his work ethic has carried over to the rest of the team.
“He’s such a great example for our players,” Appert said. “There’s our best player out there 30 minutes before practice, shooting pucks and working on his game.
“He’s become more competitive every year, tougher every year. He’s become more willing to go to hard areas, be physical and play winning hockey verses just skilled hockey.
“He’s evolved into a very complete hockey play.”
This is especially true in the defensive zone. As a sophomore, Polacek had a career worst plus- minus of minus 20. This year he is up to plus-10.
“I was young and not as mature as I am as a senior now,” Polacek said. “I’ve learned a lot from the mistakes of the past couple years.”
And this year it is showing. With Jerry D’Amigo and Brandon Pirri, the second- and third-leading scorers for the Engineers last season, leaving after their freshmen year, Polacek is now the opposing teams’ center of focus.
“He’s had that for three and a half, four years, so he’s used to it,” Appert said. “He’s been our go-to-guy since the middle of freshman year.”
It also helps that Polacek hasn’t missed a single game since he arrived at RPI.
“I want to be out there in every situation and every game,” Polacek said. “I just want to be out there to give my team the best chance to win every night.”
Now, as a senior, Appert trusts Polacek to play in every situation.
“I trust Chase now as much from a defensive element and a physical element as I do playing him on the ice trying to create offense for us,” Appert said.
“He’s our first guy over the wall for the penalty kill. He’s out there taking important face offs at the end games. I can play him against team’s top line and expect him to outplay them.”
While Polacek was named a Top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award last season, he’s not thinking about that.
“I’m not worried about the Hobey Baker or All-American,” Polacek said. “I came back this year in pursuit of a national championship.”