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Engineers Goal: Become a Good Team

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 8, 2008

TROY - Seth Appert had to be told that his Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey team will set a dubious school record if the Engineers have another losing season in 2008-09. He wasn't aware and doesn't really care.

It will be the team's fifth straight losing campaign and the school has never gone five years without a winning campaign. In the 60s, among two losing seasons, the Engineers posted season records of 10-10-2 and 11-11-0.

Appert isn't concerned with that fact, or the reality that during his first two seasons, his Engineers have won just 21 of 74 games (21-41-12).

"That stuff doesn't concern us," he said. "You focus yourself on what things you can control. These players can't control what's happened in the past, good or poor. What they can control is the focus and the discipline and their willingness to stay together through adversity. I don't want our guys worrying about trying to put another (championship) banner up, I don't want them thinking that if they don't win it's going to be four losing seasons or five."

Matter of fact, Appert says, he hasn't even thought about establishing a winning season as the team's low-level goal, or a Top Four finish in ECAC Hockey's regular season.

"Ahh, a little," he said of the latter. "But really, we haven't. There's nothing in our lockerroom that says those things. We want to be consumed and focused on the process of becoming a good team and becoming really, really tight."

More than anything, Appert is more than confident that the Engineers' nine new players six forwards, two defensemen and highly-touted goaltender Allen York, has significantly raised RPI's talent level.

Scoring, of course, will be the Engineers' top concern, the area where they need the most improvement.

Tyler Helfrich and Chase Polacek helped form the top forward line as freshmen last season and were 1-2 in scoring with 29 and 28 points. But they totaled just 16 goals between them, no other RPI player hit the 20-point mark and no Engineer reached double figures in goal-scoring.

Freshman forwards Patrick Cullen, Christian Morissette and Alexandre Angers-Goulet, brother of senior captain Mathieu Angers-Goulet, should add depth to the scoring sheet and freshman defenseman Mike Bergin can put the puck in the net.

Appert, though, has just as much caution in his voice as optimism.

"We are excited about our depth," Appert said. "We have a lot of guys who can very capably fill our third and fourth lines and they can interchange, right down through our lineup. I'm really happy with the conditioning the guys did and the changes they've made."

"Where the question mark of our team is," Appert continued, "are we going to have top six forwards, top seven forwards (be effective enough). Guys who produce 20-25 points (each). Tyler and Chase, 35 to 40. They scored 29 and 28 last year. Can they make that step up and be 35-40 guys that help you win games, and score in big situations."

"Can a Mathieu Angers-Goulet go from being a pretty good player who was a little bit inconsistent to being a real determined, warrior-type player who scores 20-25 points because of how hard he plays every night?"

"Can Scotty Halpern (build upon) his really good second half of his freshman year and turn it into a strong full sophomore season where he doubles his points total?"

"And, of course, the freshmen," Appert continued. "Can Patrick (Cullen), can Christian (Morissette), can Alex (Angers-Goulet), and others, can they find a way to be 20-point or near 20-point scorers?"

"So those are the question marks that we have," Appert said. "I don't think the question marks are 7-12, they're 1-6. I think we're going to need six or seven forwards to be at 20-plus points for us to score enough for us to be a really good team, and obviously a couple of defensemen as well. If you get eight or nine guys at 20-plus, now you have a good offensive team. I don't think we're going to have five at 30-plus, but we could have seven, eight or nine at 20-plus."

The RPI power play can only get better after reaching just 7.3 percent efficiency (12-of-164) last season.

Cullen, Morissette and Bergin could help raise that mark (can it stay that low for two years?), as well as Helfrich and Polacek having a year of experience.

Appert expects the Engineers' transition game, with Mike Bergin, transfer blue liner Mark Zarbo and a year experience for the sophomore defensemen, to be improved.

"And that will help us offensively," Appert said. "We had a lot of trouble last year being pinned in our own end."

"It's a combination of talent and also our maturity among our defensive corps over the past two years," Appert continued. "Last year, our talent among the 'D' corps was upgraded heavily but at the same time, the second half of year, we're running around five or six freshmen and sophomores back there who got a little run down, and because of lack of physical strength and the lack of maturity, we just spent too much time in our own zone. We couldn't get the puck (out of the defensive zone) enough, or we did get it and we wouldn't make the right plays with it. So, not only has the skill level improved and with the maturity of our veteran players, and with the addition of Mike Bergin and Mark Zarbo, ... and the better understanding of how they need to play, will make our transition game better."

The Engineers will be without third-leading scorer Andrei Uryadov (7-12-19), who's suspended, indefinitely, though he is expected to return at some point.

Appert has gone on record as saying he and his assistant coaches expect RPI's goaltending tandem of Mathias Lange and freshman Allen York, a Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick, to be "the best goaltending in the ECAC."

The corps of defensemen is no longer a young one. The unit of Peter Merth, Jeff Foss, Erik Burgdoerfer, Christian Jensen, Bryan Brutlag, John Kennedy is a solid, physical, veteran unit. Bergin and Zarbo make it even better and create some battles for ice time.

The added experience and confidence figures to help Lange and York, as well.

Back to transition, Is 2008-09 a transitional year for the RPI program, Appert was asked.

"Well, I don't know," he said. "It's tough to say those things. It's just (a case of) how things play out. You know where you want to be at the end but you can't be consumed by that every day. WE need to be consumed with our daily habits, we need to be consumed with how we want to play, how we want to practice, what we want to be as a team. If we consume ourselves with those things, the journey will be a successful (one) and we'll be at a successful place at the end of the year."

"A transitional year," he repeated. "I don't know. I think the past two years were transitional, so I don't necessarily see this as a transitional year. I see this as a year that we hope to take a strong step forward toward taking our program back to where we want it to be."