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Appert Confident Engineers Are on the Right Track

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, October 9, 2007

TROY - Year One of the Seth Appert era at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute didn't go as well as he and Engineer fans had hoped.

The Engineers went 10-18-8 overall and finished in a three-way for eighth place in the ECAC Hockey standings. They won four fewer games than they did in 2005-06, Dan Fridgen's final year as head coach.

RPI also lost a tiebreaker, had to go to Colgate for the first round of the conference tournament, and was swept. The Engineers had finished tied for sixth the previous season, and were also swept out in the first round.

But there is renewed optimism heading into Appert's second season, as he now has a better understanding of how the ECAC works. He also has 17 players returning, and 10 newcomers — nine recruits and one transfer student. The freshmen have been rated the 13th-best recruiting class by Inside College Hockey.com.

For Appert, the transition time is over. He begins his second season tonight at 7 when the Engineers host Bentley at Houston Field House.

"This year is a year to start making more headway, in terms of where we see our program in the league picture and the national picture," said Appert, a former Denver University assistant coach who won two NCAA titles there. "We're very excited, as a staff and as a program, to start making those steps.

It's a natural inclination for the upperclassmen to look and say, ‘Man, we have 10 new faces on our team.' So, it's transitional, in that way.

"But with that, there's a lot of positives, as well, in terms of the freshness of attitudes, the skill level, the talent and the competitiveness that they can bring to the table. On top of that, a lot of our freshmen come from highly successful programs, whether it's juniors or high schools. They bring a winning flavor and attitude to the team, as well."

Two of the recruits have been recognized by INCH. Tyler Helfrich, who totaled 35 goals and 51 assists last season with the Alberta Junior Hockey League's Fort McMurray Oil Barons and Prince George Spruce Kings of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League, is rated 15th among the top 20 incoming forwards.

Bryan Brutlag, who help lead Academy of Holy Angels to the Minnesota state championship last year, is ranked 11th among the top 20 incoming defensemen. Brutlag, who is expected to quarterback the power play, had four goals and 49 assists last season.

Although none of the returning players had over 10 goals last season, there is no reason to think that RPI won't have several players reach double digits this year.

Junior forwards Matt Angers-Goulet and Seth Klerer are the top returning goal scorers. They each had nine last season. Klerer and junior forward Andrei Uryadov each had 21 points, best among the returnees. Uryadov, who had just one goal in 28 games during his freshman season, was co-winner of RPI's Most Improved Player award.

The rest of the incoming freshman forwards are Kevin Beauregard, Ben Contini, Scott Halpern, Joel Malchuk and Chase Polacek.

Appert is confident he now has the players who will help him play the up-tempo style that he wants.

"We'll find out a little more, starting [tonight]," Appert said. "I really believe we do [have the players] in a number of ways. There's a lot of talk about freshmen, but I think it's as much from our upperclassmen gaining an understanding of how we want to play that style.

"Our foundation for success is so much further ahead than last year."

RPI senior forward and team captain Jake Morissette agrees.

"We've had a year with the coaching staff," Morissette said. "We know what they expect, and we look to improve upon what we did last year."

YOUNG DEFENSE

The defense doesn't have an upperclassman, but that doesn't mean the Engineers are lacking experience.

The four sophomore defensemen - Erik Burgdoerfer, Christian Jensen, Peter Merth and Garett Vassel - got plenty of experience last season. Merth, a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder, is a hard hitter, and was named the team's top defenseman last season. Burgdoerfer was co-winner of RPI's Most Improved Player award.

In addition to Brutlag, the Engineers have added Jeff Foss and John Kennedy. Mark Zarbo, a transfer from Bentley, must sit out this season, but will be eligible next year.

"The area of concern, defensively, is less than last year," Appert said. "Last year, we had four freshmen and inexperienced upperclassmen. Jake Luthi was the only returning defenseman that played significant minutes prior to last year. Even though we had two seniors, Ryan Swanson didn't play much until last season. Now, those four sophomores, although they're sophomores by class, in terms of their experience level and the minutes they had to play for us last year in critical situations, they are not sophomores."

The biggest issue for the Engineers will be in goal.

After an outstanding freshman season when he was a unanimous selection on the ECAC Hockey all-rookie team, Mathias Lange experienced a sophomore slump last year. He was 5-11-6 with a 3.54 goals-against average and a less-than-stellar .876 save percentage in 25 games.

Senior Jordan Alford, who played in only five games two years ago, got into 17 games last season. He was 5-7-2 with a 3.13 GAA and a .892 save percentage. His biggest game was a 38-save effort in a 2-1 win at Denver University Oct. 20.

"There's open competition for the No. 1 spot," Appert said. "One of them, if not both, need to assert themselves as the No. 1. man. They both had times and moments when they were very strong. They did some really good things. They won some big games. But the consistency from Mathias and Jordan last year wasn't where it needed to be if we want to be a top team in our league."