RPI Makes Case For National Spotlight
by Jason Klump/CHN Writer
TROY, N.Y. Boston University came into Saturday's national TV matinee appearance ranked much higher than Rensselaer, but the home team won in such clear and convincing fashion that one has to wonder: either the Terriers are grossly overrated, or just maybe the Engineers are terribly underrated.
"Well, I don't know about that because BU was 8-3-5 coming in," said RPI coach Seth Appert of the former suggestion. "(But) I think that our league doesn't get enough credit. I'm not saying that other leagues get more credit than they deserve because I think BU has a lot of talent in that locker room, but I think our league is underappreciated."
In fact, the ECAC is off to a good start out of conference, with a 4-4-4 record against Hockey East and a rare winning record against the WCHA. Yale recently defeated Vermont and Colorado College, Princeton just throttled Massachusetts-Lowell in two games, and Brown has those two ties against BU and New Hampshire.
Meanwhile, these two teams continue to keep their old ECAC rivalry alive by alternating home games nearly every year and RPI is now 2-1-1 against BU under Appert, with wins in each of the last two seasons.
The last time the Terriers came to the Houston Field House was Appert's first game as a head coach in 2006-07. The teams tied that game, 4-4, and it was an indicator that change was coming to Troy. And Saturday afternoon's 4-1 Engineer victory was a statement, for those not already in the know, that RPI has arrived back in the national picture.
"It's a good win," said Appert. "We've had other good wins. Again, BU's got a heck of a hockey team, but Yale and Union are as good of teams as we've played all season long. We've beaten BU before, we beat Michigan last year, we beat New Hampshire, so it's a good win, but I don't want to get too overblown at the significance of it. We beat a good team in our building, but we think we're a pretty good team too."
While Appert is probably right about a win over BU being no more special than a win over Union right now, RPI understands that the BU name and history makes it that much bigger, just like the same probably helps the Terriers' ranking.
"They've been a college hockey powerhouse for a long time," said Chase Polacek, who scored one of RPI's three power-play goals. "Everyone in the country knows who BU is, and people are just starting to hear about RPI again. Beating them like that is going to be good for us. We wanted to play our game and not be in a one-on-one, cute, skilled game that they wanted to play. We wanted to play hard, fast, and physical."
"It's huge national ranking-wise, so huge for us," goalie Allen York said. "[We don't talk about it] too much, but we pay attention. It's a good way to get in the tournament."
And the Engineers looked very comfortable in the win. After killing a 5-on-3 in the first seven minutes, getting a Joel Malchuk shorthanded goal on the next BU power play at 11:58, and then taking a 2-0 lead on a Tyler Helfrich power-play goal with 10 seconds left in the first period, RPI never led by less than two.
"Our guys were ready," said Appert. "As I've said, I think there have been games we've played big name teams where we've come out and hoped we could win and then kind of tip-toed into the water to see what was gonna happen first. Tonight, we came out to attack. To use that metaphor, we went up to the top of the high dive and just jumped right in and we didn't worry about the temperature.
"Our seniors have seen the other side of this, where we're getting beat up in games like this and we're not near strong enough, competitive enough, or talented enough to be able to play with teams like this. So I was happy for our seniors tonight."
RPI stumbled a little at the end of the second when overly aggressive mistakes led to two clean BU breakaways. But York was equal to the task each time, stopping Joe Pereira with a kick save and Matt Nieto with the body.
"Some people will say he was special," said Appert. "I think he's just Allen and he was doing what Allen does."
York is his own toughest critic. After allowing his only goal of the game late in the second, he broke his goalie stick in half against the bar. And that was with Rensselaer still leading 3-1.
"I gave up a bad rebound," was his explanation. "So I was pretty mad at myself."
While they may be willing to call it a signature win, Polacek wants to make cleer that the Engineers did not upset anyone.
"We expected to win," he said. "Probably in the past, in my first couple years, the team would have looked at it as an upset. But I think all week we prepared and expected to win. We weren't looking at ourselves as underdogs. We looked at is as they had to come into our rink and beat us. And it kind of showed out there."
While Appert generally speaks very candidly regarding other teams rankings, he does not like to talk about his own team. So instead, he talks about "Union" or "the league" and when he does, he might as well be saying RPI.
"Our league's gotten better every year and I hope and I believe that our non-conference record overall will speak to that at the end of the year," he said. "I have a tough time believing that Union is not a top ten team right now after playing some other teams that are pretty elite in the country."
Really, there is only one game that separates RPI and Union. With each team winning Saturday, Union is 10-3-3 and RPI is 9-4-3. Each has lost to Yale, each has lost to the other, and each has dropped a non-conference road game to a solid opponent in October (RPI to Colorado College and Union to Alaska). The only difference is that RPI lost to Harvard, 1-0, on a goal in the last 10 seconds of the game. So if Appert has a hard time believing that Union is a top ten team, he is kidding himself if he believes his Engineers deserve any less.