Rensselaer Roller Coaster Peaking Again
by Bryan Lipiner/CHN Reporter
On Jan. 12, Rensselaer hit rock bottom. Following a 4-1 loss to Princeton, the Engineers dropped to 1-4-1 in that six-game span, and to 6-10-5 overall. Last place in the ECAC, Rensselaer was desperate to scratch together wins.
The very next weekend, everything started to click for the Engineers, beginning with victories against Colgate and Cornell. From the Colgate victory on, Rensselaer entered a stretch where it would go 9-2-0, rising to second place in the ECAC and knocking-on-the-door for a spot inside the NCAA Tournament bubble.
For a program that regained some old glory in recent years, then fell back hard a year ago, it was validation that things were on the right path all along.
“We’ve had a ton of confidence lately, winning lots of games. We’re a pretty tight knit group; it’s the RPI family,” freshman goaltender Jason Kasdorf said. “We’re winning games now. Since the start of the year, we’ve been putting in hard work. We’re just sticking to what we’ve been doing, and we’re seeing results.”
The beginning of conference play in early November put a dismal face on the Engineer’s young season. On Nov. 2 and 3, Rensselaer dropped a home-and-home series to cross-town rival Union, falling to the Dutchmen 4-2 and 7-3. The next weekend, the Engineers were shut out twice on a road trip at Dartmouth and Harvard.
“We had a miserable first couple weekends in league play, and we had to do some soul searching about what we wanted to be about,” Rensselaer head coach Seth Appert said.
Rensselaer would not find its first ECAC points until Dec. 7 at Yale in a 6-1 victory. The Engineers did not win another conference game until Jan. 18 against Colgate; their first of eight in a row.
Led by the young netminder Kasdorf, who has recorded a goals against average of 1.68 and a save percentage of .938 in 2012-13, Rensselaer rattled off nine wins in its next 11 contests, the only losses coming to Union and Cornell. During the stretch, the Engineers blanked Harvard and Dartmouth in a two-game home series; the same teams that shut out Rensselaer earlier in the season.
Kasdorf, who was drafted 157th overall by the Winnipeg Jets in the 2011 NHL Draft, missed a few games with an injury, further setting back RPI's season at one point. But Kasdorf returned and has started the Engineers' last 11 games, allowing just 18 goals in the process. His goals against average and save percentage rank fourth and sixth in the NCAA, respectively.
“We had high hopes for him coming in,” Appert said. “As September, October, November started to wear on, he started to gain ground on the other goalies on our team. He earned himself a start, and he ran with it.”
The turnaround season, however, leaves Rensselaer in an all-too-familiar spot. In 2010-11, the Engineers produced a 9-6-2 second half record, later finishing 20-10-5 overall before the ECAC playoffs. After being granted a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1995, the Engineers fell to North Dakota in the Regional semifinals.
Senior captain C.J. Lee, who has played on both teams, believes the 2012-13 squad is more well rounded, currently 16th in the Pairwise.
“That year [2010-11] we relied on just a few guys to carry us,” Lee said. “This year, it’s more of a team winning, rather than just a few guys carrying the team. That’s what’s been helping us win a lot of games the last couple months.”
Appert believes likewise, and that although 2010-11 may have been one of the best seasons in recent Rensselaer history, there is no reason it can’t be topped.
“[I’ll] always have a special spot in my heart for that team because of what they did for our program,” said Appert, who is in his seventh year as head coach in Troy. “This team is deeper. This team wins as a team, through tenacity, our toughness, and our discipline. Our third line center has six goals; our fourth line center has seven goals. I think that’s a good example of how we win this year.”