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Room for Improvement

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 31, 2007

I like the Governor's Cup Tournament. I like the concept of the event, bringing early-season college hockey to the site of the ECAC Hockey league's postseason championship weekend, the Times Union Center.

However, I'd like the event even better if a better job of staging it was done.

This is not a knock on ECAC Commissioner Steve Hagwell, the league, Times Union Center manager Bob Belber, the Arena staff or the City of Albany.

However, a better job needs to be done in both advance promotion of the tournament and in running the event.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Sports Information Director Kevin Beattie and his Union and Colgate counterparts, Hillary Haynes and Michael Kelley, and their assistants, did a fine job getting summaries and other data to the media swiftly.

Other areas, especially for fans, were lacking, though.

First, the Arena was filthy. The corridors and the grandstands hadn't been cleaned in days and two of the best sections of seats were being replaced and contained folding chairs in the meantime. That replacement effort - in those sections, at least - should have been completed by the time the River Rats opened their home season (Oct. 13), much less prior to the Governor's Cup.

Concessions are a problem - and I realize nothing can be done about the fact that they are horribly overpriced for amateur events; prices are universal and are based on the fact that a high level of minor league pro hockey is played in the building.

However, hot food was barely warm and it wasn't fresh.

There was no promotional contest or any fan participation at all between whistles or between periods.

I don't know who should conduct them - RPI and Union, the Arena, the ECAC - but perhaps each group could combine on getting and keeping fans excited before and during the tournament.

What a turnaround: It's far too early to get overly excited about Rensselaer's fine 5-2-0 start, proclaim the Engineers an ECACHL semifinalist and hand out accolades.

However, in seven games this season, against some pretty strong teams and outstanding forward lines, the Engineers have permitted just two 5-on-5 goals and a total of three equal-strength goals overall.

The Engineers have been so good in the defensive zone and permitted just so few odd-man rushes, that goaltenders Jordan Alford and Mathias Lange have combined to allow just 1.56 goals per 60 minutes and stop 94.7 percent of the shots they've faced.

The Engineers have already won have as many games as they did last season. Regardless of whether they win 13 games, 18 games or 22, whether they finish eighth (again) in the ECACHL or fourth (or better), whether they miss the league semifinals or win the playoffs championship, second-year head coach Seth Appert and his assistants Shawn Kurulak, Jim Montgomery and Ben Barr deserve tremendous credit for such a dramatic turnaround with a team dominated by sophomores and freshmen.

Rensselaer opens league play this weekend, hosting Yale and Brown.

Perhaps the Engineers will only be a shade better than last season from here on. They certainly are, however, a much more exciting and fun team to watch.

Beattie out of AD's running: Beattie is no longer in the running to replace Ken Ralph, who resigned as RPI Athletic Director in August to take a similar position at Colorado College.

Beattie would have been a solid choice and would not have had any problem growing on the job.

The Institute, though, or those with decision-making authority, wanted someone with some previous AD experience.

Beattie said "around 50" applications for the position were received.

"And all very strong candidates," he said. "Obviously, they weren't all strong but they were enough to make it a very, very good pool, which I was very impressed with. And, I've been very impressed with the process. The interviews have been thorough and I'm sure we're going to get a good person. When it happens ... we're hoping sooner rather than later."

Here's hoping RPI gives the deserving Beattie a raise and advanced SID title.

'Nice - but no big deal': That's basically the way RPI players reacted to their No. 17 ranking in the latest U.S. College Hockey Online poll.

Remember, the Engineers busted into the national rankings at No. 18 last year after their 3-1-2 start included a tie with Boston University and a win at Denver, and moved up to No. 16 the following week (Nov. 4) at 4-1-3.

We all remember what happened then.

The freshmen-laden, mistake-prone Engineers won just two of their next 16 games (2-10-4).

They finished at 10-18-8 and after the Oct. 20, 2-1 victory at Denver, the Engineers never beat another team that finished with a winning record.

To a man, they don't expect a repeat of that collapse but the memory of it never leaves their minds. So, they'll just smile and say 'good' or 'nice' when referring to their October ranking.

"It's nice to see your (school) name there," said captain Jake Morissette, "but you can't put much stock in it (in October)."

Power play retooling: The Engineers began working on making quicker, crisper passes on the power play and thus getting the puck to the net more often.

Appert has gone over and over the Engineers' power play, noting a lack of power play experience among the top players and blaming himself and his staff.

The Engineers should get some power play chances this weekend in their first two ECAC Hockey league games against Yale and Brown. It should be a good opportunity for the team to make some improvements with the manpower advantage.

Over their first seven games, the Engineers have managed just one power-play goal in 33 chances and that came on a 5-on-3 advantage.

Engineers on TV: For six years, Time-Warner Cable has televised a handful of Union College hockey games but none of RPI's.

That changes this season, as the cable provider will televise five RPI home games, with former New Jersey Devils and Albany River Rats play-by-play announcer John Hennessey and former Engineers assistant captain Kevin Broad providing the commentary.

Included are the Dec. 15 game against Miami University, the current No. 1 team nationally, the Cornell game on Jan. 11, the neighborhood battle with Union on Jan. 19 and the Big Red Freakout! game with Princeton on Feb. 2.

Beattie explained that Ralph finalized the deal in one of his last acts as AD and that the reason a RPI-TWC deal was so long in the making "may have had to do with politics."

"Time-Warner is not our campus (cable) provider," Beattie said, adding that Fall Earth is the provider, "so a question was, 'did it make sense for Time-Warner to do games here when you couldn't see (the telecasts) on campus."

Obviously, not all of RPI hockey fans who would tune in to such telecasts live on campus and of course, eventually, Time-Warner as Beattie noted, "wants to get on campus ... a good business move for them."

In any event, this season the Engineers will be seen live five times - and each game will be replayed at least once - for the first time.

"We thank Time Warner Cable for its extended interest in our program," Appert said. "We're excited to be part of a cooperative endeavor that showcases our school, our players and our game."