RPI Rensselaer Hockey: New York State of Mind?

By Rich Currao

Troy, New York’s RPI Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute men’s hockey team of the ECAC has announced their incoming class will consist of five forwards, three defensemen, and a goaltender.  RPI Rensselaer Hockey having an incoming class of nine new faces is pretty much an industry standard, but what really stands out with this particular group is that 75% of its US-born talent call the Empire State home.  This is a heavy injection of home cooking when you consider that the 2011-12 roster already had 4 New York players on it; all of whom are returning for the 2012-13 campaign.

Recently I spoke with head coach, Seth Appert, about his incoming players and asked him to share his thoughts on why New York dominated this class?

“Our staff has worked hard over the last five years to be a program high on the list of young men from New York state.  Mike Zalewski, Mark Miller and Chris Bradley fit well for our program in that they are very talented players but also high quality young men who were all captains for their junior programs. “ said Appert.  “My assistant coaches, Bryan Vines and Nolan Graham take pride in our recruitment in all areas but especially in New York.”

The Engineers may have found themselves a burst of scoring with Zalewski, who comes from New Hartford, NY out side of Utica.  Zalewski netted 38 goals in 60 games last year with the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL.  Appert feels there is no shortage of New York kids who want to play for the Engineers.

“We have had good success from New York as we offer big time college hockey in one of the best leagues in college hockey and a world class education.”

No one can argue that RPI Rensselaer is a dynamite one-two punch for both a technical education and superior ice hockey program.  The school has produced brilliant minds and a few NHL stand outs such as recently crowned Hall of Famer, Adam Oates, Joe Juneau, and Daren Puppa.  Alums Oates and Juneau actually played together on the NHL level with the Boston Bruins in 1992-93 on a feared power line that was rounded out by Hall of Famer and sniper, Cam Neely.

When asked if RPI Rensselaer held an advantage over the other elite hockey colleges when recruiting New York based talent, Appert had this to say:

“We want to establish RPI as the program of choice for elite players from New York.  Our location, tradition of the hockey program and our education makes us attractive to players from all areas of the state.”  Appert continued to explain, “There is no reason a great player should have to leave our state to play big time college hockey.  We have great programs in our league in this state that offer everything you could dream of as a student-athlete.” 

Does Appert have a favorite of this “Empire 3”?  Well, like a good coach who protects his players, he showed enthusiasm for all his incoming skaters and would not elevate one higher than the other.

“I was pleased when all three of our incoming recruits from New York when they made their decisions to attend RPI.  Bradley was one of the best defenseman in the USHL,  Zalewski is a skilled power forward and Miller is one of the hardest working, most tenacious two way players you can find. “

Everyone loves a home-town hero who plays for their local team.  It is why fans of Lebron James were on suicide-watch when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers.  It is why Staten Island’s own Nick Fotiu will never ever have to buy his own drink when in a New York Rangers friendly bar.  And it is why these incoming players may get some extra love from the Engineer faithful.  Coach Appert feels that there is no arguing the fact that people notice who is from New York when peering over the RPI Rensselaer program guide.

“I do think it adds a little something extra special to have local New York players.  Matt Murley and Marc Cavosie, two local Troy products, are legends here.  Jerry D’Amigo (Binghamton) and CJ Lee (Staten Island) have been fan favorites at RPI.  I think our fans appreciate passionate players and the youth players seem to have a special affinity for our New York players.

Will all this home cooking create a recipe for success?  Well, that remains to be seen.  The Engineers went 12-24-3 under Appert during the 2011-12 season, including a 7-12-3 record in ECAC Hockey play.  However, RPI Rensselaer continues to face one of the toughest schedules in the nation, and did manage to push themselves into the playoffs.  They even secured 2 games to 1 series win over Clarkson in the First Round of the ECAC Hockey Playoff only to be eliminated in the Quarterfinals by local arch-rival and current league champion, Union College.

If the Engineers are going to rebound this season, it will no doubt have to rely on its New York groomed talent which now makes up 30% of its roster. While there are no guarantees in sports, one thing is certain; RPI Rensselaer fans will have plenty of home grown stars to cheer for in the days and years to come.

Rich Currao is a Content Writer for Rantsports.com.   A life-time rink rat, Big Bipper covers the NHL, AHL, and NCAA Hockey.  He also covers the NFL and High School Football.

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