RPI hockey: Laliberte should fill big hole in Engineers’ offense

High-scoring forward Jacob Laliberte will be joining the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey tea

High-scoring forward Jacob Laliberte will be joining the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey team in the fall.

Goalie and NHL draft pick Jason Kasdorf, however, will wait another year.

Laliberte heads the list of eight recruits who will join the Engineers for the 2011-12 season, the school announced Monday.

Laliberte will provide an offensive spark for a team that lost a combined 35 goals and 51 assists to graduation in two-time ECAC Hockey Player of the Year Chase Polacek (21 goals, 27 assists) and Tyler Helfrich (14-24). Junior defenseman Nick Bailen is RPI’s top returning scorer with eight goals and 28 assists. The top returning scoring forward is sophomore Brock Higgs, who had nine goals and 12 assists.

Playing the last two years for the Central Junior Hockey League’s Cornwall Colts, Laliberte had 125 goals and 118 assists, including a league-leading 63 goals and 70 assists last year. He also led the league with 22 power-play goals, was second with four short-handed tallies and tied for seventh with five game-winning goals.

Laliberte was thought to be coming to RPI last season. Instead, RPI coach Seth Appert thought another year in juniors would help Laliberte mature.

It worked.

“It’s been real positive,” Appert said. “His game has matured. He had the opportunity to mature as a leader, being a captain for one of the best teams in Canada. He was able to have another tremendous season. A lot of players can tend to become complacent when they have their scholarship, and they know where they’re going to go and it’s their fourth year in the league. That wasn’t Jacob at all. He was driven to be a dominate player this year.”

Meanwhile, Kasdorf will stay in junior hockey one more season before coming to RPI.

Drafted in the sixth round of June’s NHL draft by the Winnipeg Jets, Kasdorf, who plays for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League’s Portage Terriers, could have come in to replace Allen York, who left after his junior season to sign with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Instead, Scott Diebold will compete with junior Bryce Merriam for playing time. Diebold posted a

10-16-3 record with a 2.75 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage for the U.S. Hockey League’s Tri-City Storm.

“It’s the right thing for the program, for [Kasdorf], for Scotty Diebold,” Appert said. “Yes, Jason will be an outstanding college goalie, but so will Scotty. We believe Bryce Merriam will do wonderful things as our No. 1 this year.”

Four forwards and two defensemen round out the class.

The forwards are Ryan Haggerty, who had seven goals and nine assists for the U.S. National Development Team; Mark McGowan, who collected 25 goals and 30 assists for the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Oakville Blades; Mark Neal, who had 40 goals and 60 assists with the OJHL’s Stouffville Spirit; and Zach Schroeder, who had 23 goals and 29 assists for St. Thomas Academy in Minnesota.

The defensemen are Luke Curadi, who had two goals and nine assists, along with 102 penalty minutes, for the USHL-champion Dubuque Fighting Saints, who are coached by former RPI assistant Jim Montgomery; and Curtis Leonard, who collected two goals and 20 assists for the OJHL’s Wellington Dukes.

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