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Encouraging Exhibition for Appert, RPI

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 9, 2006

TROY - Seth Appert had fun Saturday night.

His team's victory was meaningless and his first official triumph may take a handful of games, but the new Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey coach enjoyed the Engineers' 5-1 exhibition-game decision over York University.

Except for hockey festivals or in tournaments within the USA junior hockey programs, Appert had never been a head coach during a competitive game before Saturday night.

"It was fun ... fun because you see the team coming together," Appert said. "You see the guys starting to believe in the things we've been preaching, believe in one another. Even in some of those penalty situations (when scrums and shoving matches developed), you saw guys come to the defense of each other. That's the team attitude, that team mentality that we've been preaching for the last 5-6 weeks."

"As a staff, I know we were excited to be in a competitive situation against somebody else. I thought we took a good step forward but now we have a big task on our hands and we have to start getting prepared for Boston University."

More on Alford: Junior goalie Jordan Alford was a major recruit when Dan Fridgen brought him to RPI two years ago. The slender Calgary native has never really gotten into a comfort zone and though his career numbers aren't terrible - 6-7-1 record, 3.36 goals against average in 857 1/2 minutes and 87.5 saves percentage - they won't produce winning hockey and they're far less than of what Alford is capable.

Appert isn't concerned with what the 6-foot-2, 181-pound Alford's done previously.

"This year, we've liked the improvement he's made in the 5-6 weeks since we got together in late August. He's a big goaltender and he covers a lot of the net when he's under control and when he's playing his position solidly. When you're a big goaltender and you play smart, pucks hit you a lot and they did (Saturday night) and he did a nice job controlling the rebounds."

Special teams: Appert says the Engineers haven't had a lot of time to work on special teams and had mixed feelings about Saturday's special-teams play.

The Engineers failed to score on any of 10 power plays, despite 49 seconds of 5-on-3 advantages, but they did kill all 11 of York's man-up situations.

"The (power play's) puck movement was all right (but) I think the execution at critical moments was not. A little bit of hyper-ness. We told the guys that the puck movement and the body movement were pretty good but then at the critical moments as we're attacking the scoring area, we started gripping the stick a little bit (too hard) and trying to force."

"That's not the time to bear down," Appert continued. "The time to bear down is in the corner, winning a puck battle. When you're rolling into the slot, that's not the time to bear down, that's the time to be loose, be calm, take what comes to you. If a guy charges out at you (on the power play), someone's going to be open. If he backs off you, obviously, it's the time to shoot."

"So, we have to work on that a little bit."

York's power play doesn't measure up to what the Engineers will see during the season but Appert liked RPI's penalty killing, especially at the other end of the rink.

"I thought our forwards were outstanding on the forecheck," he said. "Really hustling pucks down, not letting them set up on their controlled breakouts and getting in a comfort zone and (we were) causing havoc in their defensive zone. If you can kill, maybe one of the two minutes in their zone because of your forechecking, it makes it a lot easier on your penalty kill and a lot easier on your young defensemen."

Neubie in, Mac does him in: Third goaltender Will Neubert has never gotten into a game during his first two seasons.

Appert put him in Saturday for the final eight minutes with a 5-0 lead.

Neubert had one save, then was charged with York's only goal - he had little chance to stop it - thanks to a turnover by, of all people, Kirk MacDonald.

The Rensselaer captain put the puck on the stick of York's Kent Merriam, who fired it past Neubert.

"That was gross," MacDonald said. "I haven't had a turnover like that ... ever. That was awful. I feel kind of bad. Neubie, first time he gets in and I (do that)."

The game marked the first bit of competitive, against-a-hostile-opponent brand of hockey MacDonald has played since overcoming testicular cancer and the ravages of the four surgeries he needed during the process.

"It was great to get out there and play again," MacDonald said. "Just like I remembered it. The student section was making a lot of noise and it was great to get a couple goals and hear the horn (signifying an RPI goal) go off."

Still, next week's game against Boston University - the first one that counts - will be special for MacDonald.