Union and RPI are set to renew their heated rivalry with Saturday's 7:30 pm "Mayor's Cup" game at the Times Union Center.
It will be the third meeting between the schools this season and the first since Union's 7-3 win on November 3rd. Union has a seven game winning streak against their Route 7 rivals, but RPI still has the all-time series lead in Division I play at 29-26-9. RPI last beat Union, 4-3 in overtime, on November 13th 2010.
On Tuesday afternoon, I conducted a phone interview with RPI men's hockey head coach Seth Appert. The coach dissects the recent improvement of his team, Union's success against RPI, a few of his players who could loom large in Saturday's game, and more.
UNION HOCKEY NEWS (UHN): If someone hasn't seen your team play yet this season, what style of team will they see on Saturday?
SETH APPERT (SA): What we try to be is a hard, fast, disciplined team. We've been turning into a very good defensive team. I think we're doing that not by being passive and sitting back, but by being aggressive, forechecking well, and being physical. We're at our best when we're playing fast, hard, and physical -- taking time and space away from our opponents when we don't have the puck so we can get it back.
UHN: Your team has won or tied five of its past six league games, including handing Quinnipiac its only non-win in league play this year (a 1-1 tie on Jan. 11). You also split a non-league series at now #16 St. Cloud State in late December. What's fueling the improvement?
SA: We're playing pretty good hockey these past two months in league and out of league. Even in the games we have lost, we've played very well either for large portions or all of the game. Day in and day out, and game in and game out, we've been real committed to playing the right way and doing little things that give us a chance to win hockey games.
UHN: After the first game with Union earlier this season, you thought your team showed a lack of maturity. Has more maturity been another factor in the recent improvement?
|Appert (RPI Athletics)|
UHN: Union has been successful against a lot of teams in the past few years, including yours. What's made them especially dangerous in the games against your team?
SA: They've kept their composure better. We've taken some ill-advised penalties against them and they have an absolutely lethal power play. They have very good combined special teams (power play and penalty kill) and they receive very good goaltending. You combine those things together and they've found their way to quite a bit of success against us these past few seasons.
UHN: Union has had its share of struggles in the past couple months. Is it fair to say you could be getting them at the right time?
SA: I'm more concerned with our team. It looks like Union played pretty well last weekend, having a lead on Cornell late in the game and beating a pretty good Colgate team the next night. Union has a very good team and I still believe they're a top 15 team in the country. Every team goes through ups and downs at some point of the season. In terms of getting them at the right time, the schedule is what it is, and all you worry about is the next day of practice and the next game in front of you.
UHN: What can you say about your freshman goaltender, Jason Kasdorf? A sixth round pick of Winnipeg in the 2011 NHL draft, he's played in nine games and has a 4-1-2 record.
SA: He's given us a good swagger and a good belief in ourselves. We have three very good goalies, but he's been able to separate a bit, and the numbers bear that out. His winning percentage (.714) and save percentage (.943) are higher [than our other goaltenders]. All goalies at this level have very good athleticism and ability to make big saves. What he's done a good job of in his freshman year is limiting the number of soft rebounds and soft goals. Bad rebounds lead to goals and goals deflate a team. He's done a good job at making big saves when necessary and taking care of the little details that add up to big things.
UHN: Milos Bubela, a native of Slovakia, is tied for second on your team in goals (seven) despite being a freshman. What has stood out about him?
SA: We were pretty excited about him with his international background (he played in the World Junior Championships last year). It's been a big transition -- he's coming to college hockey, he's coming to college, he's learning another language, and a different style of play compared to what experienced in Europe. What Bubela has done a good job of is quickly buying into the more physical play of North American hockey. He's had a willingness to compete for loose pucks, to be physical, to finish checks, and to win battles. When you do those things, you have the puck more. When Bubela has the puck, like most good offensive players, he's very dangerous and can do a lot of great things. Where some offensive players struggle is that they don't work hard enough to get the puck. Bubela has done a good job in the past few months of understanding that and getting the puck more through his efforts. Because of that, he's been rewarded with more offensive opportunities.
UHN: Matt Neal, Ryan Haggerty, and Jacob Laliberte, have (at times) formed what's known as your "N-H-L" line. They all came to your program with big expectations, but now in year two, they're your top three scorers. What can you say about their development?
SA: They're all making steps in their sophomore year. They all have a lot of growth left to go - not only the rest of this season, but into the future. They've shown a good willingness to buy into the coaching and a desire to get better. A big jump from your freshman to sophomore year is how hard you train in the summer because now you know what it takes to be a Division I hockey player. All three had good summers in the weight room and showed a high level of commitment and discipline towards their offseason training. They have a little more maturity and understanding of their abilities.
UHN: How do you see the game going on Saturday night?
SA: As a coach, you never predict those things. All you do is prepare your team the way it needs to be prepared to give your young men a chance to go ahead and have success. We're really focused on having good practices and getting guys back into the swing of things academically with school starting up this week. We're just making sure we continue to take steps forward as a team like we have the past two months. We'll put the guys out there Saturday night and they'll dictate it from there.
Special thanks to Kevin Beattie and to Coach Appert.