Both teams go into the series coming off a layoff because of semester break and a holiday.
The Engineers (1-5-2 ECAC, 4-6-6 overall) have not played since a 2-2 tie on Dec. 8 at Brown. After a tough stretch, RPI is 3-1-2 in its last six games.
“We had two really bad weekends in a row in November (losing four straight to Union, 4-2 and
7-3; Dartmouth, 4-0; and Harvard, 4-0), but we played good the last three weeks leading into the break,” said Seth Appert, who is 85-128-30 in his seventh season as coach at RPI. “We spent that time off finishing our finals, which is real demanding at our school. It also allowed us to get some guys rested. We’ve had a number of guys hurt in the first half.”
One of the keys to the surge for the Engineers before the break was the play of freshman goalie Jason Kasdorf, a freshman from Winnipeg, Manitoba, and a draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets. The Pioneers have had three
goalies play four or more games, but Kasdorf is third in Division I in save percentage (.945) and fourth in goals-against average (1.46).
“When we had those two poor weekends, that opened the door for Jason and he worked real hard to get that chance,” Appert said. “He’s had five really good games and won some games for us.”
“They’re a good hockey team and they’re pointed in the right direction,” Motzko said. ”They’ve had a goalie (competition) going and with this freshman, it looks like they’ve solved it. That lets your whole game flow when you’re keeping the puck out of the net. They’ve got good team speed, young talent and they shoot a lot on the power play.”
The Engineers’ top three scorers are sophomore forwards: Jacob Laliberte (6-8-14), Matt Neal (4-7-11) and Ryan Haggerty (5-5-10). Senior defenseman Nick Bailen (4-6-10) was an All-ECAC pick as a sophomore when he had 36 points and he was an Academic All-American last season. He leads a group of defensemen who are going to try to play the body against the Huskies.
“We want to be fast, physical, competitive and tough defensively,” Appert said. “We’re anchored by a a big, physical and mean defensive core that is real talented and led by Nick Bailen.”
The Huskies counter with an offense that is eighth in Division I in scoring (3.44) and is led by senior center Drew LeBlanc (5-19-24) and junior center Nic Dowd (9-14-23).
“I really like their team,” said Appert, a former Denver assistant coach. “They’re really deep at forward and with (Joey) Benik coming back, they’re going to be deeper.
“Their first two lines are outstanding and they have a good mix of size and competitiveness and skill. They’ve got some key juniors and seniors and freshmen who are in the mix. Those freshmen, when you surround them with guys like (Ben) Hanowski and LeBlanc, the upper class makes it easier to have success, especially up front.
“On the back end, they’re real mobile and (Nick) Jensen looks like an All-League and All-American type defenseman.”
So what are the keys for the Engineers?
“It’s real important to be physical, but intelligent,” Appert said. “We’re a real physical team and that can’t go away. But on the big (Olympic) sheet of ice, you can’t run around to be physical or you leave too much open ice. We’ve got to play hard without taking penalties.”
The Huskies want to find a thread back to the three-game winning streak that they finished with at the end of the first half, which concluded with a 3-1 win and holding Colorado College to 17 shots.
“We ended on a real positive note and it’s important to pick up where we left off,” Motzko said. “We don’t want to let down. We want to continue to climb and build on high notes. That’s an awful high note we finished on against CC. We played good solid defense in our last outing and we want to continue to do that.”