March 30, 1985: A date that will live in the memories of RPI hockey fans for the rest of their lives. It was on this day that George Servinis’ goal in the second period would prove to be enough to propel the Engineers to a 2-1 victory over the Providence College Friars, securing the Institute’s second NCAA hockey championship, a feat unaccomplished by many schools. This past weekend at the Houston Field House, RPI fans old and new had the opportunity to relive that historic season in which Rensselaer posted a 35-2-1 overall record with Head Coach Mike Addesa behind the bench. Fourteen members of the 1985 championship team were on hand to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this memorable event, beginning with a presentation and question-and-answer session on Friday, and concluding with the alumni hockey game and a jersey raffle on Saturday.
According to current Head Coach Seth Appert, bringing the team back to campus was not a question—it was just a matter of what events to hold as part of the celebration. He also noted that it was a group decision between himself, Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton, Associate Athletic Director for Communications and Compliance Kevin Beattie, and alumni Peter Perdone.
Members of the current Engineers squad got a chance to meet players from the historic team several times throughout the weekend, including at a special luncheon on Saturday. “All the former players and staff were walking around the rink on game day, so I got to meet a few throughout the day,” said assistant captain junior Bryan Brutlag. “Instead of having our pregame meal on Saturday, we had a luncheon at the Heffner [Alumni] House and I got to sit down and eat lunch and talk with a few of the alums.”
Needless to say having a team that has seen success on such a high level was moving to an Engineers team that is going through the final phases of a rebuilding era. “I believe it was very inspiring for our current team. All of our hopes and dreams are tied in to what the ’54 and ’85 teams accomplished,” said Appert. Senior Garett Vassel agreed, noting that seeing the actual players on the ice during Saturday’s game emphasizes the possibility of success on a national level. “It really hit me personally when I saw them being recognized on the ice at the Houston Field House. It really brought it home for me. These people actually do exist.”
Some of the best moments for the players, however, were just seeing how the 1985 team interacted with each other so many years later. “At the alumni lunch, all of the hockey alumni stood up and introduced themselves to the room. It seemed to be a common theme where the guy standing up was quickly taking side jokes from his teammates,” said Vassel. “The humor brought us all together. Even the oldest RPI hockey alumni were ‘ripping’ on each other. It led me to believe that I’ll still have the same, close relationship that I have with my teammates right now, forever.”
Throughout the presentation on Friday, Mike Sadeghpour, Ken Hammond, Mike Dark, and Servinis were on hand to retell tales of that extraordinary season, and the trials and tribulations that it took to become a championship team. The quartet fielded questions from fans, some dating back to before the school’s first national championship in 1954. One of Appert’s favorite moments on the weekend was “seeing so many fans warmly welcome back our 1985 team,” many of whom were either at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Mich. to witness the victory over Providence, or were patiently waiting at Albany International Airport for the Engineers’ plane to land after the monumental win.
One point brought up several times on Friday was how college hockey has changed over the years. Less and less are fans witnessing games where each team is on the brink of hitting double-digits in goals scored, and more so are competitive, hard-hitting close-knit matches. “I think the biggest change in college hockey is that all teams are very good and each night is a challenge,” said Appert. “Weight training has increased, and video for team systems has tightened the gap between teams.”
Many fans noted parallels between the current squad and the one from 25 years earlier, hinting at the prospect of a run at the national title in the near future. Appert noted that “the love of RPI and pride in the program and in their teammates is the same” among the two teams. Addesa, along with St. Lawrence Head Coach Joe Marsh, had nothing but praise for the team, re-establishing Rensselaer as a force to be reckoned with in NCAA Division I hockey.
One of the highlights of the weekend was when the 1985 team walked onto the ice at the Houston Field House for one more time, this time receiving replica jerseys of those they wore 25 years ago given by President Shirley Ann Jackson, Knowlton, and Appert.
With Appert behind the bench, a drastic change has already been seen in the current team, giving fans hope for the future and more national championships. “I am honored to be the Head Coach at RPI. I came to this program because of the leadership at Rensselaer, the history of the program, our fan base and our academic excellence,” said Appert. “Every time I talk to recruits, I tell them we have some of the best fans in college hockey and we have two NCAA banners hanging in our rafters, come here and help us hang a third.”