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Scheduling with a Purpose

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 2, 2008

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Seth Appert told his Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey team after another tough loss on a Sunday, "you could have 12-14 wins right now but we wouldn't be a very good team."

"This schedule wasn't set up for a 25-win season," Appert said.

He was referring to the fact that Rensselaer strongly upgraded non-conference this year.

The Engineers had suffered a 3-1 loss to Notre Dame, their fifth loss to a nationally-ranked Top 10 team this season. At least, this time, they didn't lead during the third period and blow a two-goal lead during the game, both of which they had done on three previous four occasions.

The Engineers, who blew a 2-0, third-period lead to No. 4 Colorado College on Saturday night, has entered the Lightning Classic in Tampa ranked 17th nationally, but the pair of tight losses dropped their overall record below the break-even mark at 8-9-3.

Appert sensed the psyche of his team may have reached the tender zone. He told the troops he was proud of their effort, to do whatever is needed to put the mistakes that cost them Saturday night's game behind them and to be confident that when the ECAC Hockey season resumes on Jan. 11.

"We'll be a better team. We'll be in better shape to successfully meet that schedule," Appert said.

"We set this schedule to be a better team for the bulk of our league schedule," Appert told reporters after the Notre Dame game. "To set this schedule, we used all of our contacts possible, as a staff, coach Shawn (Kurulak), Jim (Montgomery) and myself, to play some of the top teams in the country, so we can learn what it takes to play at this level."

"We didn't schedule anticipating 25 wins," Appert continued. "We knew we'd take some lumps along the way (in addition to some lumps within ECACH play) but we wanted to learn what it takes to be a championship program and going through that process. And the fact that we've had a chance to win every game against those teams I think is a real positive sign for the future of our program, not only for the years ahead but for the rest of this season."

Appert also didn't anticipate that his still-young team would have such a problem keeping leads. Throw in a lost 2-0 lead in a 2-2 tie the Engineers are 5-4-1 in games in which they've led by two or three goals. Conversely, they are 1-4-0 in games in which they've fallen at least two goals behind.

"I didn't know we'd have (so many of) those leads," Appert said, drawing laughs from the media. "Well, there's two ways to look at it. No question, we've had problems holding leads. That's something we've worked on and I thought we were better at (Saturday night vs. Colorado College) because we were very aggressive and easily could have scored two or three in the third period ourselves and put that game away. I like the way we played in the third (in that game). We had individual breakdowns in the third, not team breakdowns and that's a step in the right direction."

Colorado College on Friday night was without its top two scorers, Chad Rau and Billy Sweatt, ninth-leading scorer Derek Patrosso, top defenseman Kris Fredheim and veteran defenseman Jake Gannon. They were playing with six non-scholarship players in the lineup.

The Tigers, an outstanding team to be sure, are not a high-scoring bunch however and were struggling to get chances against the Engineers and fell behind 2-0 midway through the second period.

The shorthanded Tigers were fit to be knocked off but RPI couldn't close the deal. Any time a team that wants to be upper echelon has such a great opportunity to take advantage of a superior adversary's shortcomings, it must finish off that team. It has to be done.

Fine line: Appert tells his players to take confidence in their ability to build leads over the top teams in the nation. Ah, but there's a fine line between taking and perpetuating that confidence and self doubt concerning their ability to finish games.

And don't forget that the Engineers have been outscored 28-6 in the third periods of games, which amplifies the problem.

"There is definitely a fine line," said assistant captain Andrew Lord, "but I don't think we're in jeopardy of crossing that to the bad side. We're still a confident team, we're headed in the right direction and aware of what we need to improve on to make a run at things."

"I don't think we can look at one or two games as defining moments to our season," said captain Jake Morissette, "and allow ourselves to get down because of them. We just have to keep building and stay positive. If we let a couple games like this keep us down, it will hurt us."

Is Lange No. 1? Senior goaltender Mathias Lange missed both Miami games with a finger injury - though Appert said, "he could have played." Then was in the pipes in both games at Tampa, because senior Jordan Alford was not sharp against Miami.

Appert says he's not sure yet but the guess here is Alford will play Sunday vs. Maine in Portland and that if he plays well, the pair will share the Cornell and Colgate games on Jan. 11-12 at Houston Field House. If Alford doesn't play well against Maine, Lange could be the No. 1 netminder for now.

Homestand: The schedule is kind to the Engineers. Six of their next nine ECACH games are at Houston Field House and one of the three road games is at Union. Rensselaer is 1-0-2 in home league games thus far, 2-2-0 on the road.