5 observations about RPI hockey
Just returned from watching Colgate beat RPI, 2-1, in double overtime Sunday night in Troy to capture their best-of-three ECAC Hockey series.
By winning, Colgate earns the right to face top-seeded Union in Schenectady beginning Friday night. RPI is a longshot -- at best -- for getting an NCAA Tourney bid.
1) This was another tough setback for Coach Seth Appert and the Engineers, who just a few weeks ago were ranked in the top 10 nationally and had beaten the then-No. 1 team in the country, Yale. Colgate was the lowest-seeded team entering the tournament. This is the second year in a row that RPI has exited in the first round of the playoffs, despite win totals of 18 games in 2009-10 and 20 games this season.
2) RPI was partly done in by the miserable weather Sunday night and, quite simply, poor fan support. In a building that holds almost 5,000, only 1,991 turned out for RPI's biggest game of the season. Entire sections of Houston Field House were practically empty. This is hard to figure. Where were the students? Spring break doesn't start for another week. Granted, the forecast of sleet and possible freezing rain kept many fans away, but Appert and his players had to be disappointed. The crowd was simply a non-factor. And when Houston Field House is packed, it gives RPI a huge lift.
3) Overtime losses at home to Colgate and Cornell a few weeks ago may have turned RPI's season. Like any good coach who tries to keep morale high, Appert tried to downplay the losses at the time, but the two setbacks helped prevent RPI from gaining a first-round bye in the playoffs (in fairness to RPI, the team suffered more than its share of injuries during the season, including some key injuries down the stretch).
4) Colgate, despite its many losses, was a team few coaches wanted to play. They've got talent and have been coming on of late, sweeping Harvard and Dartmouth two weeks ago and tying Yale in New Haven last week. Eleven of their losses this year have come by one goal.
5) How does Appert replace Chase Polacek? The sharpshooting center from Minnesota scored 65 goals in his RPI career. Over the past two seasons, Polacek accounted for roughly 20 percent of RPI's goal output. Any time he put his stick on the puck, the crowd would buzz in anticipation.
You have to hand it to Colgate for coming into an opponent's building and pulling off a first-round upset. The Raiders played with poise and discipline Sunday night.
And now they face Union, a team deep and balanced on offense -- known for applying relentless pressure -- and so solid defensively and in goal. It doesn't figure to get any easier for Colgate.
Jeffrey Haff is The Gazette's online editor and occasionally covers RPI hockey for The Gazette.