ECAC Hockey: Off to Hot Start, RPI is Aiming High

RPI and Harvard players warm up prior to their game at the Houston Field House on October 29, 2013. - Jeff Cox

Legendary head coach Ned Harkness led RPI to the 1954 NCAA Championship with a record of 18-5-0.

Look up at the rafters inside Houston Field House and there is no doubting the history and tradition of the RPI hockey program. Banners proudly display NCAA Championships, ECAC titles and NCAA Tournament appearances, and honor former players and coaches who left a lasting legacy.

The 2013-14 edition of the RPI hockey team has a lot to prove to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the great teams of Rensselaer past, but make no mistake: this is a team with the drive and capability of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

RPI is 4-1-1 after Tuesday's disappointing 3-3 tie against visiting Harvard. Crimson head coach Ted Donato was pleased with his team picking up a point on the road against a highly regarded opponent. "This is a good hockey team that we were playing against tonight. They're very well coached by [RPI head coach] Seth [Appert] and we knew it was going to be a tough environment [in this arena]."

Donato isn't the only opposing coach to come away impressed by the Engineers. Jerry York, the legendary head coach of Boston College, the only team to beat RPI so far this season, believes the Engineers are an NCAA Tournament team. "[RPI] will be a NCAA participant. I'd be very surprised if I wasn't accurate," said college hockey's all-time wins leader.

Seth Appert's team has looked impressive in three outings against upper echelon teams from Hockey East. The Engineers outlasted both Boston University and New Hampshire in the past two weekends.

Junior Ryan Haggerty has been a major reason for the early success of the boys from Troy. His nation-leading nine goals account for over a third of the team's total. The Milford, Conn. native and USNTDP alum has a knack for being in all the right spots at the right time to utilize his laser shot.

"Obviously the puck is going in for me right now. We have a great power play. We're zipping the puck around well and getting some good looks. Some good shots are being taken and finding the back of the net," said Haggerty.

An early season obstacle that RPI has had to overcome is the loss to injury of its starting goaltender and reigning ECAC Rookie of the Year Jason Kasdorf. Junior Scott Diebold has filled in admirably for Kasdorf who went down in the Boston College game. The Buffalo native has gone 3-0-1 with a .934 save percentage since coming in midway through the BC contest.

Diebold has taken the attitude that he needs to perform well in Kasdorf's absence. He has taken responsibility, and knows he needs to work on his rebound control in order for the team to have success. "We want to win every night," said Diebold. The winning mentality and desire to improve is something Appert has continuously driven home to his players.

"We need to learn our lesson. Really good teams learn their lessons. We learned our lesson earlier in the season against Boston College and we did a good job responding to that against Boston University and UNH the next couple weekends," said Appert.

Although RPI has struggled to put a solid 60 minutes together in some recent games, the potential for this team to be really good is obvious. There were spurts in the first period Tuesday night and in the first period against Boston College earlier in the season where it seemed RPI got to every loose puck first.

The key will be maintaining that drive no matter what the score is and never letting the foot off the gas according to Appert. "No matter the score we need 100% commitment to playing the way we value. If we have that, we have a chance to be a really good hockey team."

There is a very talented and committed, albeit small, senior class that will be the nucleus of the team going forward the rest of the year. Forwards Brock Higgs, Matt Tinordi and Johnny Rogic and defenseman Guy Leboeuf were all part of an NCAA Tournament team as freshmen.

"I thought our senior forwards were tremendous tonight," said Appert after the game Tuesday. "It's no surprise to see guys like Higgs, Rogic and Tinordi play well because they practice so well. Guys that practice really well and come with purpose every day end up playing well in games."

A year ago RPI was on the wrong side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, doomed by a 1-5-2 start, and losses to some key Hockey East and WCHA opponents. This year's impressive start should boost the Engineers in the Pairwise Rankings once the all-important formula becomes more relevant later in the season.

So although Appert and his coaching staff are constantly looking for ways to improve, this is an RPI team headed in the right direction. With upcoming road contests this weekend at Harvard and Dartmouth, the Engineers will look to learn their lesson from Tuesday night, and keep the foot on the gas.

Quick Facts: RENSSELAER POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE

Head Coach Seth Appert (8th season, Ferris State '97)
NCAA Championships 1954, 1985
Notable NHL Alums Adam Oates, Joe Juneau, Brian Pothier
Arena (Capacity) Houston Field House (5,217)
Location Troy, NY
Undergraduate Enrollment 5,300

Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.

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