The 1963-64 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey team had a new coach and only 15 players. But that didn’t stop the Engineers from reaching the NCAA Frozen Four that season.
Junior forward Jerry Knightley was a big reason why RPI made it that far. He was the nation’s leading scorer, collecting 33 goals and 42 assists in 26 games, an average of 2.88 points per game.
Tonight, when the Engineers take on defending NCAA champion Yale at Houston Field House, Knightley will become the seventh inductee into the RPI Hockey Ring of Honor. It’s part of a weekend-long celebration. The school will honor the 50th anniversary of the 1963-64 team’s trip to the Frozen Four, where they finished third, during Saturday’s Big Red Freakout game against Brown.
Knightley joins Bob Brinkworth, who was a teammate for two seasons, including the Frozen Four year, into the Ring of Honor. Two of his coaches — Ned Harkness and Garry Kearns — are also in the Ring of Honor. The other members are Adam Oates, Joe Juneau and Frank Chiarelli.
“I’m thrilled, for sure,” the 71-year-old Knightley said. “I’m certainly very honored to be a part of that very elite group that’s already hanging in the rafters at the fieldhouse.”
When Knightley played, college freshman weren’t allowed to compete in varsity athletics. In his first season with the Engineers, he had 30 goals and 33 assists in 23 games.
After the season, Harkness left the Engineers for Cornell. Rube Bjorkman replaced Harkness, and he had just 15 players on the team.
But that didn’t deter the Engineers from reaching the NCAA tournament. RPI faced Denver, which was hosting the tournament, in the semifinals. Providence and Michigan were the other teams.
RPI lost to Denver, 4-1. The Engineers beat Providence, 2-1, in the third-place game to finish 18-8.
“That was a big deal,” Knightley said. “We were a pretty accomplished team. We were a small team. If we had a shortcoming, we were a team of 15 players. Playing against the other three teams we were playing against, and playing Denver in the thin air, we knew we were going to be up against it. But it was a tremendous accomplishment to get there in he first place. We are very proud of the fact that we got that far.”
There would be another coaching change after the season. Bjorkman left to become head coach at New Hampshire, and Kearns replaced him.
With all of the coaching changes, it affected recruiting.
“We had a small team because we had three coaches in three years, and no recruiting,” Knightley said. “Ned left for Cornell, and the players he had recruited [for RPI], he convinced to go to Cornell, so we didn’t have those players. Then we had Rube, and he didn’t recruit anybody when he was there. And then Garry Kearns came in and saved the program, basically.”
On the all-time lists, Knightley ranks sixth in career goals (90), 15th in assists (97) and ninth in points (187). He considers himself an all-around player.
“I played with Bob Brinkworth,” Knightley said. “Bob was my center, and he was a very accomplished puck handler. He was very smooth. I think I brought a little bit of abrasion to the table. Yeah, I could score goals, and, yeah, I could make plays, but I could muck into the dirty zones and I could play a strong defensive game, as well.”
Knightley is looking forward to getting together with his teammates. There are 10 players left from the squad.
“One of the outstanding features of that team and being at RPI is that they are a great bunch of guys and we’re all still good friends,” Knightley said. “We have reunions every couple of years. It won’t be like be seeing guys that I haven’t seen for a long time because I saw them last year and the year before. I think it’s more of us having an opportunity to get together and seeing how the hockey’s played now, and how the team looks and how it’s so different from when we were there.”
Just a reminder that this weekend at Messa Rink, Union hockey will have its third annual “Project: Cameron’s Story” book drive. Fans are asked to bring a new children’s book to the games against Brown and Yale.
The project was created five years ago by a Glens Falls family following the passing of their son. He was born premature and spent several months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The organization now donates thousands of books to local hospitals. The goal is to place a brand new book in the hands of every family admitted to the NICU at Albany Medical Center and St. Peter’s. Assistant coach Jason Tapp and his wife, Nicol Lally, a reporter/anchor for ABC10 (WTEN) got involved with the organization after their daughter spent several weeks in the NICU following her birth in June 2009.
Connor Jones scored the fastest goal to start a game in Quinnipiac history in the Bobcats’ 8-1 romp over Dartmouth last Friday in Hanover, N.H.
Jones gave the Bobcats a 1-0 lead eight seconds into the game. That broke the old mark of 10 seconds set by Ryan Olson against American International on Oct. 28, 2000.