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No. 2 RedHawks Pay Weekend Visit to RPI

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, December 15, 2007

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coach Seth Appert did a radio commercial promoting the Engineers' two-game non-league weekend series with then top-ranked Miami (Ohio).

But that commercial was taped before the RedHawks were beaten by Alaska, 3-0, in CCHA play last Saturday. The loss dropped the RedHawks to No. 2 in the USCHO.com/CSTV NCAA top 20 college hockey poll, ending a six-week hold on the top spot.

However, that doesn't lessen the excitement that is going through the RPI locker room. To them, the RedHawks still look like the best team in the country.

RPI, ranked 16th in the nation, plays two of its biggest games of the season 7 p.m. tonight and 4 p.m. Sunday when it hosts Miami at Houston Field House.

"We're playing one of the best teams in the country, so we're excited for the challenge," RPI captain Jake Morissette said. "[Playing Miami] means a lot, one of the best teams in the country coming into our building, it should be a lot of fun. I know the guys in here are really excited."

RPI (8-5-3) is playing its fifth ranked team this season. The highest-ranked team the Engineers played so far was then No. 2 Boston College in the consolation game of the Ice Breaker tournament Oct. 13 in Minneapolis.

But that isn't as exciting as the No. 2 RedHawks (14-2) coming to the Capital Region.

Miami received 15 first-place votes, out of 50, and finished 20 points behind Michigan in the USCHO.com/CSTV poll. In the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine top 15 poll, the Red Hawks got 10 of 34 first-place votes, and were only nine points behind Michigan for first.

"They're basically co-No. 1 in the country," Appert said. "To have a team like this coming in to play at the Houston Field House is huge. It's huge for our program. It's huge for this area. It would be like Duke or North Carolina [coming here to play] Siena or UAlbany in basketball.

"When I first met our upperclassmen, they talked about wanting to do these things with this program; about wanting to build the program to where we could compete and play in big games, and have the opportunity to play in these games. At the same time, these are the reasons these freshmen chose to come to this program because of the schedule, and our staff's vision of where we want to take our program."

This could be the biggest test RPI faces all season.

The RedHawks have a team that will contend for the NCAA championship. They have two Hobey Baker Award candidates in senior forward Ryan Jones and junior goalie Jeff Zatkoff. Jones, a Minnesota Wild draft pick, leads the team in goals with 14. He is tied with junior forward Brian Kaufman for the team lead in points with 21. Jones has a team-high five game-winning goals. That is also tied for best in the country with Michigan State's Tim Kennedy.

Zatkoff, a Los Angeles Kings draft pick, has an 11-2 record with a 1.39 goals-against average, which leads the CCHA and is second-best in the nation. He also has a .940 save percentage.

Having played four ranked teams already, the Engineers aren't nervous about this weekend's games.

"We just have to stick to our game plan, which is skate hard, getting inside position on them and being relentless," RPI goalie Jordan Alford said.

Appert and Miami coach Enrico Blasi were assistant coaches and roommates for two years at Denver University.