Who: Rensselaer at Michigan
Where: Yost Ice Arena
When: 11/28/14, BTN Plus - 11/29/14, Comcast 900. 7:35pm
Seth Appert returns behind the bench for the Engineers. Appert is credited with reviving RPI hockey, leading them to their first NCAA tournament berth since 1995 during the 2011 season. This season the Engineers were expected to be in a rebuild, picked 10th in the ECAC pre-season poll, but the results have been far worse then expected.
RPI opened the season with a win over Notre Dame and later swept Union, before a 2-1 win over New Hampshire on Tuesday, but have suffered 7 losses including two at home to Bentley. In six of their seven losses, the Engineers have lost by at least 3 goals.
It's been hit or miss with this group at this point in the season, but going forward it looks like Berenson has found 9 skaters for his Top-3 lines that will remain together. JT Compher and Boo Nieves look to stay on the scoresheet after breaking through with big weekends against the Nittany Lions and Max Shuart has emerged as a reliable offensive weapon.
On the blueline, RPI returns most of their defensemen from a year ago. Luke Curadi and Curtis Leonard lead the group defensively; Chris Bradley and freshman Jared Wilson, a former teammate of Dexter Dancs in Vernon, are the team's top offensive options from the blueline. Despite a returning group, the Engineers haven't been able to keep the puck of of their net and still allow a barrage of shots to reach their goaltender.
Goaltenders Scott Diebold and Jason Kasdorf return from last season's team and both players have put up misleading numbers, looking great in their wins and not looking very good at all in their losses. If the Wolverines can get on the board early and keep the pressure on they can run this team out of Yost, but if they start slow the game shifts in favor of Rensselaer.
The Wolverine blueline remained largely unchanged for the Penn State series with Werenski, Downing and Martin on the left and Serville, Lohan, Piazza/Chiasson on the right. The hope is that keeping the pairings together will build cohesion going forward and eliminate mental mistakes, and they're going to need that facing a team that plays a style of hockey the Wolverines don't play well against.
Appert coaches an up-tempo style of play by pushing the pace and getting out in transition, similar to what the Wolverines saw from New Hampshire. Against New Hampshire, Michigan struggled with their speed defending the neutral zone and ceded offensive zone entries to the Wildcats. An aggressive RPI squad with look to replicate the UNH game plan with a mirrored style of play.
The series will be won defensively in transition in the neutral zone. The Wolverines must prevent the Engineers from cleanly entering the offensive zone by challenging at the blueline and getting solid backchecking from their forwards.
The Engineers were wrecked by attrition in the offseason losing leading scorers Ryan Haggerty, Brock Higgs, Michael Zalewski and Matt Tinordi. Offensively a trio of underclassmen lead the way, paced by freshman Drew Melanson and Louie Nanne and sophomore Riley Bourbonnais. Matt Neal leads the group and is the team's top returning scorer, but hasn't found twine yet this season.
Splitting against Penn State was not ideal, but in hindsight a loss against a team ranked 16th in the RPI was not as bad as some think. A loss against RPI at home would be a disaster. They must sweep this series.