Rensselaer Still Struggling to Gain Traction
BELFAST, Northern Ireland As Rensselaer struggled through a rough campaign last year, it became increasingly clear a new voice was going to be called on to right the ship. Enter Dave Smith.
One of the things that was clear to Smith on arrival in Troy from Canisius, was the need for a large culture shift within the program.
It is a task that has proven a bit bigger than expected.
"We are working our tails off to fix some fundamental flaws in our consistent environment and how we play," Smith said after the Friendship Four Tournament in Belfast last weekend. "The definition of chemistry is really difficult to define. When we find our groove in games we can be really good, which is what you see in the late game pushbacks. Right now, that groove is a very narrow groove. When we get out of it we can get down."
Although the results haven't come, the change and shift is evident on the ice. In spurts, RPI is playing good hockey but in the end the lack of consistency is haunting the Engineers.
Friday night, RPI trailed longtime rival Clarkson, 1-0, late in the third period. It was actually the better team for much of the third period but was just unable to find the back of the net. Saturday it was much of the same, as the Engineers got behind, 3-1, to Maine only to provide a pushback in the third. Jacob Hayhurst scored on a great give-and-go early in the third cutting the deficit to one. The goal swung the momentum but the equalizer just didn't come.
"We believe we have enough talent to win that game (Maine), but we didn't," Smith said. "That part can be frustrating, that part can be challenging and that part will never be quick enough for me or for the guys in that dressing room."
Unlike last year, the Engineers are largely in games and have shown constant improvement. Clarkson defeated RPI a month ago, 6-0, and in Belfast it was in it to the final whistle.
"We have good players and good guys that are trying to be a big part of a culture shift that is more difficult than they had hoped and we had hoped," said Smith. "We have skill, we can make plays and we are learning how hard to work together."
There is also the fact that in a given game, the Engineers have nine underclassmen in its forward ranks and five freshmen.
"(Being) young is a piece of it," Smith said. "It is critical (to insist consistent play) with those young guys. We have some terrific young players, like a lot of teams in the country. Right now, some of our decisions are positives for the short term and others are for the long-term. What we are trying to establish is proving very difficult with so much youth in our squad."
As Smith notes, the question of how that change has come about is multi-layered. Not only are there changes within the team, on the ice, but there is a major focus on what goes on off the ice.
"The first layer (of the change) is how it has effected my family and me personally," said Smith. "It has been a large move and a major life change."
A 2-9-3 record doesn't exactly scream change has happened at RPI, but it often takes a longer time to change what happens off the ice than on it.
"The next layer has been the off-ice change (in the team) and the high character of the kids," Smith said. "The commitment of the kids (to the project) has been a positive one because they want to be the agent of change and they want to be remembered as the team that helped set us back on the right path that where RPI followers and believers feel we should be.
"I am not sure there is one word or phrase to some all it up. We have an AD and an athletic department helping us to push forward and people in the know realize just how challenging this is. Putting it in a nutshell, we are moving a really big ship in a really small harbor. Every turn we make the waves go back and forth and it is hard to turn it around."