Engineers’ season ends in first round

After fall to Dartmouth at home, four season-long starters sign professional contracts

SENIOR CAPTAIN FORWARD MATT TINORDI BATTLES for possession of the puck with a Dartmouth player during the first round of ECAC conference play held at the Houston Field House March 7-9, in a series which Dartmouth took 2-1.

This past week, four members of the RPI men’s hockey team signed professional contracts. On Wednesday, March 9, the New York Rangers signed standout junior forward Ryan Haggerty to join the “Broadway Blueshirts” roster this past weekend. Most of the time, when a free agent gets signed out of college, they are sent to the American Hockey League for some time before moving to the big league roster. But for Haggerty, there will be no AHL stint this season. Instead, Rangers General Manager Glen Sather signed Haggerty to get immediate action with New York. Despite being undrafted for three straight NHL drafts, Assistant General Manager Jeff Gorton explained, “He got better every year we saw him … he’s a free agent we had at the top of our list, and this is what we felt we had to do in order to get him.”

In his three-year career at RPI, Haggerty scored 47 goals and added 37 assists, leading the team in goals scored during that period. In addition, he is one of this year’s nominees for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award as college hockey’s 2014 MVP. RPI Head Coach Seth Appert said, “I am thrilled to see Ryan earn the opportunity to sign an NHL contract with the New York Rangers. He showed up at the rink every day with a mentality to improve his game and get better. I look forward to proudly watching him as a member of the New York Rangers organization.”

On Friday, March 14, three more signings were announced. First, the Vancouver Canucks of the NHL announced their signing of sophomore forward Mike Zalewski, who joined the team on its road trip through the southeast in the days immediately following his signing. “I have my coaches and teammates to thank for helping me grow into the player I am today … It has been a lifelong dream of mine to play in the NHL and the Canucks are providing that chance,” said Zalewski.

During his two year stint at the Institute, he compiled 21 goals and 26 assists, second only to Haggerty in that span. “His work ethic has helped him develop into a power forward in his two years at RPI. He is a great teammate and will be missed, but we are excited to watch him with the Vancouver Canucks,” said Appert of the talented forward.

In addition, the assistant captain, senior forward Brock Higgs, has been signed to an amateur try-out contract with the AHL’s Worcester Sharks, the highest minor league affiliate of the San Jose Sharks. Higgs, a finalist for Division I hockey’s Senior Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School Award, compiled 27 goals and 64 assists for the Engineers. In addition, Higgs scored at least one point in 22 of RPI’s 37 contests this season. Furthermore, during his four years at Rensselaer, Higgs maintained a 3.67 GPA and made the Dean’s List every semester. As a business and management major, he intends to graduate in August with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. “We are thrilled to see Brock earn this opportunity in the AHL,” Appert said. “His work ethic and tenacity drove him to improve each year, those traits will serve him well in professional hockey.”

Last but never least, senior defenseman Guy Leboeuf signed an amateur tryout contract with AHL’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the main affiliate of the New York Islanders. Of his senior defenseman, Appert stated, “This is a great opportunity that Guy has earned in the AHL. His overall game has developed immensely over his four years and we look forward to watching him continue to grow as a professional.” During his four years at RPI, Leboeuf, a perennial Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference All-Academic Selection, scored nine goals and assisted 16 others. But the greatest aspect of his contributions to RPI Hockey will not show up on a stat sheet. As a top defender, Leboeuf constantly served as an imposing hindrance to opposing forwards trying to score on Rensselaer goalies.

As it so happens, though, none of the signings would’ve occurred had it not been for the events that transpired on the weekend of March 7. The RPI’s men’s hockey team had a solid 4-2 lead after two periods in the final game of its best of three conference tournament series against Dartmouth College (March 7-9). But the situation began to unravel for the Engineers. One goal two minutes into the third for Dartmouth junior center Eric Neiley cut the deficit to one. Then, another six minutes later for junior forward Brandon McNally to tie the score at four apiece. Finally, after a nine-minute stalemate, in which both teams failed to convert on a power play and both goalies made several pressurized saves, the Rensselaer defense cracked once more, allowing Dartmouth to take the lead for good with just over two minutes remaining on a sophomore forward Brad Schierhorn goal. The final tally: Dartmouth 5, Rensselaer 4.

After defeating the Big Green handily twice in the regular season, the Engineers had suffered their second consecutive loss to a team they felt they were better than. And not only that, they had also fallen out of rhythm and confidence at the most critical of times. A time when they needed just 20 more minutes of consistent hockey to keep their season alive and advance to the second round of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference playoffs.

Previously, on Friday, March 7, seventh-ranked RPI took an early lead in its best-of-three series versus 10-ranked Dartmouth College on the wings of two Haggerty first period tallies. Junior forwards Jacob Laliberte and Zach Schroeder added early second and third period goals, respectively, to round out the scoring for the home team. On the night, junior goalie Scott Diebold saved 29 of 30 shots he faced, allowing RPI to win by a resounding margin of 4-1.

The following night, RPI came out sluggish, putting just 22 shots on Dartmouth sophomore goalie Charles Grant compared to the 39 that Diebold had to face. Twice, RPI answered Dartmouth goals with one of its own (Laliberte 28 minutes in and Haggerty 32 minutes in). The game remained tight as neither side was able to convert on a plethora of scoring opportunities. But all it took was one. And the one goal came from Dartmouth’s Neiley with just 6:14 left in the third period. The game ended as a 3-2 loss for RPI.

Top performers in the series for Rensselaer were Haggerty, who scored four goals and added one assist, Zalewski, who scored one goal and assisted three others, junior forward Matt Neal, who assisted two goals in both games one and two, and junior forward Mark McGowan, who assisted two goals in the pivotal third game. For the series, Diebold saved 99 of 108 shots on goal, for a combined save percentage of 91.7 percent as compared to 88 of 98 for Dartmouth’s Grant (89.8 percent).

RPI finished its season with a record of 15-16-6 while Dartmouth ended its season this past weekend, losing two straight to Union College, with a record of 10-20-4. Congratulations to the entire Rensselaer men’s and women’s hockey community for an exciting season.