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Sparkling Frosh Class Offers RPI Optimism

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, May 12, 2009

TROY - Head coach Seth Appert and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have officially announced the hockey team's freshman class of 2009-2010 (Class of 2013).

The five-player group includes four forwards and a goaltender.

Goalie Bryce Merriam is the newest recruit among the group.

The Bethel Park, Pa. native, who at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, is built similar to sophomore netminder Allen York, played junior hockey for the Topeka RoadRunners of the North American Hockey League.

As reported first in the Record, forwards Jerry D'Amigo, Brandon Pirri, C.J. Lee and Marty O'Grady make up the rest of the incoming group, which is regarded in college hockey circles as an outstanding class.

"This class will provide an influx of talent into our program but, as importantly, they bring a wealth of winning experience and success on the highest of stages," said Appert. "(Assistant coaches) Jim Montgomery and Shawn Kurulak have once again done an outstanding job of putting together a nationally-competitive class, which will push our program towards higher levels of success in the years to come."

As reported in the Record late last season, center Jacob Laliberte and winger Matt Tinordi, who had planned to be a part of next season's class, will return to junior hockey for one more year and will join RPI in September of 2010.

Of course, D'Amigo and Pirri are the Class of 2013's headliners.

D'Amigo, a Binghamton native, led the U.S. 18 and Under team to the World Junior team to the world championship. He had one goal and two assists in the 5-0 championship-game victory over Russia and his 13 points (4-9-13) in the tournament led the U.S. team. Overall last season, he had 22 goals and 31 assists in 51 games.

The 5-11, 192-pound D'Amigo, a left winger, is rated 67th in the final National Hockey League Central Scouting ranking list. He has all-around skills and extremely strong hockey sense. He'll provide both offense and leadership to the Engineers.

"Jerry is a world-class skater and competitor," Appert said of D'Amigo. "He has the talent, work ethic and experience to be one of the elite freshmen in all of college hockey."

Pirri is a 5-10, 170-pound center-left winger from Toronto with extensive offensive skills who should immediately help RPI's anemic power play, which has been one of the nation's most ineffective for two seasons.

In 58 games for three different teams in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, Pirri led the league in scoring (based on points-per-game) with 54 goals and 61 assists for 115 points.

"Brandon is an extremely talented offensive player," Appert said. "He has the stick skill, creativity and drive to become an elite collegiate player."

Rensselaer fans have gleeful debates as to whom will be drafted higher in next month's NHL draft - D'Amigo or Pirri.

"It wouldn't surprise me if they both went in the second round, with what they did in (worldwide competition)," Appert said.

Rensselaer has not had a forward selected in an NHL draft since Matt Murley and Marc Cavosie 9-10 years ago.

Lee captained the Green Bay Gamblers team in the rugged United States Hockey League and had 60 points (27-33-60) in 65 games (postseason included), helping the Gamblers win the Anderson Cup.

The 5-11, 190-pound speedy right winger and Staten Island native is equally effective along the boards and skating with the puck through the slot. He was second in the USHL in shorthanded goals, another stat in which RPI could use some improvement. He was eighth in plus-minus rating.

Said Appert, "C.J. is a high-level competitor and leader. He has gained great experience and confidence leading Green Bay to the Anderson Cup. He will be an instant fan favorite with his speed and tenacity."

O'Grady, a London, Ont. resident, is a 5-11, 183-pound right winger who played with Pirri on Canada's World Junior 'A' challenge team, sometimes playing on Pirri's line.

During his OJHL season, the tenacious, puck-digging O'Grady had 92 points (39-53-92) in 65 games. He was fifth in scoring during the league playoffs (13-16-29).

"Marty is a highly intelligent two-way player," Appert said. "He possesses the talent, but more importantly, the intangibles that a team needs to win championships."

Merriam had a 26-8-4 record for Topeka, permitting just 2.00 goals per game and stopping 91.7 percent of the shots he faced. His GAA was third in the league.

"Bryce is a very competitive goaltender. His track record of individual and team success in junior hockey speaks to his athleticism and commitment to improving himself and his teammates."

The Engineers' lack of offensive firepower, a lack of consistency on defense and injuries to sophomore winger Tyler Helfrich and highly-touted freshman defenseman Mike Bergin - and a tendency to be dominated in the third period - all combined to produce an RPI-record 27 losses (10-27-2) last season and the Engineers won only seven regular-season games before sweeping Dartmouth in the preliminary round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs and losing in three games to Cornell in the quarterfinals.

With the talent level of the incoming class, though, Appert, Kurulak and Montgomery are confident of major improvements.

"We're excited about our freshman class," Appert said. "It's a very talented class. We're optimistic because we've got a lot of good players coming back. And we've begun to build up our program, not only players but the culture. We've got some talented (returning) kids who are becoming older and more mature players and the talented (freshmen) will allow them to play even better."

The Engineers open the season at UMass on Thursday, Oct. 8, and host New Hampshire in the home opener at Houston Field House two nights later.