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Engineers 2006-07: A Work in Progress

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, March 7, 2007

TROY - Three days had passed since Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey coach Seth Appert saw his team eliminated from the ECAC Hockey League playoffs in straight games.

The former Denver University assistant coach, still on the job at Rensselaer less than one full year, looked back over the season.

At 10-18-8, an optimist - Appert is one - would say the rebuilding Engineers lost only half their games.

A not-so-optimistic person would point out they won far less than one-third of their games.

Despite a tie for eighth-place in the 12-team ECACHL (with a 6-11-5 record) and No. 9 seed in the open playoffs, RPI's season had many highlights.

Most notably, of course, was the return to top form of right winger Kirk MacDonald, who missed the entire previous season battling testicular cancer.

"Kirk was an inspiration to everyone on this team, not only with his courage but with his tenacity," Appert said.

MacDonald led the team in goals with 12 and tied for the scoring lead with 27 points.

Other highlights included:

- A thrilling 2-1 victory over nationally-ranked Denver in a triumphant return for Appert;

- The championship of the first Governor's Cup tournament, co-hosted by RPI and Union at the Times-Union Center, RPI's first tournament victory since 2001;

- An impressive 9-3 record in games decided by one goal;

- Former walk-on Jake Luthi ending his career by tying MacDonald for the scoring lead (4-23-27).

Appert thought the Governor's Cup title was important for the RPI program.

"Just to get a little taste of winning and what it's like to win in a championship-game atmosphere and have that pressure, was a real positive thing to go forward," he said.

"The other positive thing, I think, is just the culture that we've started to build in (upgrading) a program. We've got real good young men in this program, a lot of whom don't have a lot of winning success here. It doesn't happen overnight. Learning to win is a process."

In that vein, one of the biggest frustrations Appert and his staff felt throughout the season was how poorly the Engineers often played with the lead.

"We feel that a lot of the underneath things have been real positive and heading in the right direction. The attitude of the team, the relationship that our staff has been able to develop with our players, so that we can know how to motivate and push them to become better players."

All of that is great, but the Engineers have not reached the ECACHL semifinals since 2002. They need better players, a sharp upturn in the level of depth and Appert said that those players are on the way.

"To finish where we did and to lose in the first round is a major disappointment," Appert said. "That's not where we see our program, that's not where we want our program to be and it's not acceptable."

Appert noted another huge disappointment was the Engineers were outscored 46-22 during the third period of games.

The biggest frustration of all, though, he said, "was playing well and losing."

"That is the most. We had that three-game stretch after Christmas where we didn't play well (and went 0-3-0, outscored 16-4). As bad, and maddening as that is, you know you can fix that."

"What's really frustrating is playing the way you want to play, and need to play, and the players put everything into and execute extremely well, and yet you still lose, for whatever reason."

Even though they lacked a big gun among the league scoring leaders, the Engineers had five 20-point scorers and two more with 19 each.

Kevin Broad's injuries were not nagging ones, they were almost disabling, depriving him of ability to help the team to his fullest, though the senior winger and assistant captain gave everything he had each game.

Jonathan Ornelas, a 13-goal scorer in 2005-06, did not get one this season until Game 18 and finished with seven.

All told, Rensselaer simply didn't score enough goals, netting more than two in just 17 of their 36 games. At one point, the Engineers totaled just 17 goals in 11 games.

Putting victories together was an exercise in futility, as RPI won consecutive games only twice. After beginning the season with a 4-1-3 record, the Engineers went just 1-9-3 over the next 13.

They went winless in six straight home league games (0-4-2) during another stretch.

He knew, with four freshman defensemen and five having graduated, the season would be a long one but he didn't envision such dismal skeins.

"We need to get better at every position ... we weren't good enough this year at any," he said.

"We spun our heels a lot," Appert said, "but overall, we made great progress and we're excited about our second year."