The 14th-ranked Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey team left the snowy, chilly weather that has a stranglehold on the Capital Region for a warmer climate in the southern United States.
But the Engineers didn’t pack bathing suits, suntan lotion or beach towels. It’s a business trip for them, even if their opponent isn’t an ECAC Hockey foe.
RPI (9-4-3) will take on Alabama-Huntsville (2-16-2) in a two-game series starting tonight at 8:05. The two teams meet again at 4:05 p.m. Friday.
“It’s great timing, coming off of a break,” RPI coach Seth Appert said. “Certainly, with the blizzard that’s hit the Northeast, it’s a good opportunity to go down and play Alabama, and get some [weather] climate of 55-60 degrees, as well.”
UAH is the nation’s only men’s independent Division I hockey team. The Chargers were members of College Hockey America, a conference that disbanded at the end of last season. They applied for membership to the CCHA, but were denied, forcing them to go the independent route.
The Engineers got a look at the Chargers during last month’s Rensselaer Holiday Tournament. Even though the two teams didn’t meet, Appert liked what he saw from the Chargers. UAH lost to Bowling Green, 5-1, in the first round, but bounced back with a 6-2 win over Connecticut to finish third.
“There’s no hiding from the fact that they’re struggling,” Appert said. “But what I was impressed with was how hard they played in that consolation game. I thought they really played well for a lot of the game against Bowling Green, and then Bowling Green pulled away from them. Now, they’re in a consolation game that doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot against a pretty good UConn team, and just how hard they played and how much tenacity they showed, that was impressive.”
Also impressive to Appert are some of the Chargers’ other
results against some of the nation’s premier teams.
In a two-game series at Michigan State in late October, the Chargers tied one game and lost the other by a goal. In the first weekend of this month, after losing, 3-1, to Cornell the first night at Lynah Rink, UAH earned a 2-2 tie the next night.
Appert will remind his players that they can’t afford to take the Chargers lightly.
“They’re going to play hard, and they’re going to want to show that if they get home games, they can beat quality opponents,” Appert said. “Let’s not forget that this team has been to the national tournament two times in the last four or five years. They’re no strangers to success, even though they’re struggling this year.
“From our perspective, these are games that don’t carry conference importance, and they’re not games that, necessarily, carry the same stature as, say, playing a BU [Boston University] does. But they’re critical games. If we want to have a chance to get into the national tournament at the end of the year without winning the [ECACH] playoffs, they are must-win games.”
The captain is back.
RPI senior defenseman John Kennedy will play his first game since Nov. 12. He suffered a broken right hand blocking a shot by Union’s Jeremy Welsh during a power play in the third period of the Dutchmen’s 2-1 victory over the Engineers at Messa Rink.
Kennedy missed the last six regular-season games, plus the Dec. 19 exhibition contest against the U.S. World Junior team.
“We’re darn excited to have him back,” Appert said. “It’s a real credit to the leadership of him and the rest of the seniors that we’ve been able to win a lot of tough games without him. But at the end of the day, he makes us tougher, he makes us better and he’s our captain.”
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