Season Preview 2019-2020

RPI celebrates the game winning OT goal at Cornell (photo: RPI Athletics)

Jim Madigan. Greg Carvel. Casey Jones. Nate Leaman.
These four are coaches of great hockey programs (and Clarkson). They share one more thing in common: by year 3, they had turned around their previously dwindling programs into a good team or even a great team. As Dave Smith enters his third season as the RPI head coach, this will be a pretty telling season. The Engineers have the team and tools to break the Lake Placid curse and even make it to the NCAA tournament. However, they could also easily struggle to do much and finish below 15 wins. With a low floor and high ceiling, this is an important year for Dave Smith and a potential turning point for the program.

What would constitute a good year?
Ask different people, and you’ll get many different answers. For me, I have some clear cut goals that I’d like to see the team hit:
1. Finish above .500. This one is very straightforward and clear-cut.
2. Finish in the top 25 in the pairwise. This one will likely happen if they accomplish #1 since the ECAC and the Engineer’s SOS as a whole will be pretty strong as usual.
3. Be ranked in the top 20 at some point during the season. This one is definitely the least important as what some “analysts” think is not all that important. However, being able to officially say that you’re a top 20 team at one point would be nice, and it would get the team some national media recognition.
4. Home ice in the playoffs. If all goes well, this will be the easiest goal to hit. They should not have trouble getting a home playoff series.
5. Win at least one playoff series. They have not won a playoff series since 2016, and I know they have the capability to end that streak this season.
Some higher up goals that are more unrealistic:
1. Make it to Lake Placid for the ECAC Semis.
2. Earn an NCAA Tournament berth, hopefully playing in Albany.
If they hit one or both of these 2 goals, I would be ecstatic as would the entire fanbase. Even if they just hit the first 5 goals, I would be happy with the season.

Breaking Down the Roster
Returners: RW Todd Burgess, RW Chase Zieky, LW Ottoville Leppanen, C Ture Linden, RW Patrick Polino, C/LW Jake Marrello, RW/C Mike Gornall, RW Jakub Lacka, RW Nick Bowman, LW/C Tommy Lee, RW Danny DiGrande, C/RW Billy Jerry
Losses: C Jacob Hayhurst, LW/C Brady Wiffen, RW Donovan Ott, LW Jaren Burke
Newcomers: LW Ryan Mahshie, C Tristan Ashbrook, LW Rory Herrman, LW Zach Dubinsky

Starting with returners, Burgess and Zieky return for their senior seasons and are expected to be the wings on the first line. Burgess had 16 points last season in a solid season for him. I expect Burgess to improve to at least 20 points this season and hopefully even 25.
Zieky was the leading goal scorer despite playing only ~60% of the team’s games after having to sit out until December due to NCAA transfer rules. He had 14 points in 21 games, which over the course of a full season averages out to a 24 point season. He is a true sniper, and I think he will lead the team in goals and even push for All-ECAC with 30+ points.
A big question coming into this season is who will replace Hayhurst as the 1C, and if I were Dave Smith, I’d put Leppanen there. With his playmaking, pass-first game (19 points last season, 15 of those were assists), he is a natural fit at center, especially with a sniper like Zieky joining him. In addition, Leppanen actually led the team in FO% (albeit a smaller sample size). He played center in juniors, and I believe he would fit great there.
Linden was a solid center last season and was great on the penalty kill and forecheck as well as in the faceoff dot. I expect him to play a similar role this season.
Polino did really well despite missing 12 games due to injury, and over the course of a full season, he averages out to about 16-17 points. I think he’ll hit 20+ this season and contribute on both special teams.
Marrello will likely contribute in the same way he did last season as a role player who will provide speed and spot scoring.
Gornall should have a huge role on the penalty kill and as a forecheck monster as well as providing some playmaking.
Lacka has a ton of potential, and his skills are evident. He started hot last season but cooled off significantly. Lacka’s main problem seemed to be his strength as he lost many puck battles on the boards and would turn it over offensively. His ceiling is extremely high, and I expect we’ll see added strength and improved puck possession and decision making.
Bowman started slowly but ended very well last season with 5 points in the last 10 games and earned an increased role during that time frame. I hope he builds off of that to have a great sophomore campaign.
Lee has great speed but lacks size and did not contribute much offensively last season, and I am not expecting him to have much of a role.
DiGrande looked good at the beginning of the year, but fell off pretty quickly and did not play much at all (11 games total). He could earn a small role this season, but for now, I think he starts on the bench.
Finally, Jerry took a major step back his sophomore year after a very good freshman season. It is rumored that he had been dealing with mono most of the season. If he can return to the form he showed as a freshman, he can absolutely contribute to the lineup.
As for newcomers, I’m the most excited for Mahshie. Mahshie scored 40 goals last season in juniors and averaged more than a point per game with the Brooks Bandits. A big player with a nose for the back of the net, he should contribute immediately in the lineup and on the powerplay. Ashbrook is also one to look out for. While he is not flashy and did not put up gaudy numbers with the Lincoln Stars, Ashbrook has great speed and an all-around, two way game and should be an immediate contributor in the middle 6. Herrman did pretty well with the Green Bay Gamblers the first half of last season before he got injured and was traded to Fargo. He struggled with Fargo when returning from injury but still had a good season, and I also expect him to be an immediate contributor. Dubinsky is the biggest wildcard out of this group as he was injured almost the entire season. When he was healthy, he did not contribute much with the Lincoln Stars, and the season prior was not much different. I think he starts out on the bench, but I would not be surprised to see him work himself into the lineup.

Returners: RD Will Reilly, LD Jake Johnson, RD Brady Ferner, RD Kyle Hallbauer, RD Shane Bear, LD T.J. Samec
Losses: LD Meirs Moore, RD Tommy Grant, LD Mat Harris
Newcomers: LD Cory Babichuk, RD Mason Klee, LD Simon Kjellberg, LD Louie Helsen

Starting with returners once again, Reilly is back for his senior season after leading all defensemen with 18 points in 33 games. I think this season he can definitely hit 25 points if not 30. He’s talented enough for sure but needs more consistency from game to game.
Johnson had a great freshman season, leading the team in +/- and contributing offensively and defensively. I expect him and Reilly to be the top pairing again this season.
Ferner showed excellent defensive instincts and IQ last season. I rarely noticed him making mistakes and as the year went on, I noticed more and more how many great defensive plays he would make. I expect Ferner to build on that by continuing his lockdown defense and developing his offense a little more.
Hallbauer showed outstanding offensive potential last season. After taking a bit to get going, he became a regular offensive and powerplay contributor, and I expect him to continue to develop his game and make even more of an impact this season.
Bear was regularly in the lineup but did not make as big of an impact as the other transfers with just 2 points in 18 games. He has decent offensive skills but needs to show more this season, or he will likely be surpassed entirely by Ferner and Hallbauer. I would slot in Bear as the 7th defenseman as of right now.
Samec is similar to Bear with stats and his regular lineup spot, but is bigger and more defensively minded. I think Samec will likely get a good amount of playing time but as the 3rd pairing.
Just like the forward newcomers, the incoming defensemen do not have a lot of flash but will have immediate contributors. Babichuk should contribute immediately as a good, offensive defenseman. I expect him to start on the 2nd pairing with Ferner and to also get time on the powerplay. Klee is a big, strong, stay-at-home defenseman. While he will not contribute much offensively, he should provide immediate D-zone help to the crew, and I expect him to push Bear for that 7th spot. Helsen is a similar player to Klee, and I expected him to potentially be on the 3rd pairing. However, he is believed to have a torn ACL, and if that is the case, we likely are not seeing him at all this season. The biggest wildcard of this group is Kjellberg. Kjellberg barely contributed for the Dubuque Fighting Saints last season with 5 points in 58 games and was usually their 7th defenseman. However, he is an NHL draft pick of the New York Rangers, and apparently, they are pretty excited for him and like him a lot. There is a rumor that he was only drafted because his father is a scout for the Rangers, so as you can see, there is conflicting information about him. For that reason, he is a big wildcard for this team and freshman class, and we will not find out how good he really is until we see him play.

Returners: G Owen Savory, G Linden Marshall
Losses: G Chase Perry
Newcomers: G Alec Calvaruso

The job is Savory’s to lose. After a stellar freshman season, I’d be shocked if he is not starting out as the #1 between the pipes. Marshall is also a great goaltender but had a very rough sophomore season. He will get some time, but he would need to rise to another level to take the job from Savory. Calvaruso is a junior transfer from Colorado College (not sure why he is listed as a freshman on the roster) and thus must sit out until December. When he is allowed to play, I could see him maybe pushing Marshall for the #2 spot, but even that is iffy. I doubt he would rise to the #1 over both Savory and Marshall, but Dave Smith likes playing the hot hand meaning anything is possible with the goaltenders.

Lineup Prediction

Todd BurgessOttoville LeppanenChase Zieky
Ryan MahshieTristan AshbrookPatrick Polino
Rory HerrmanJake MarrelloJakub Lacka
Nick BowmanTure LindenMike Gornall
Jake JohnsonWill Reilly
Cory BabichukBrady Ferner
T.J. SamecKyle Hallbauer
Shane Bear
Owen Savory
Linden Marshall
Alec Calvaruso


Ryan MahshieOttoville LeppanenChase Zieky
Cory BabichukWill Reilly
Jakub LackaTodd BurgessPatrick Polino
Jake JohnsonKyle Hallbauer

Penalty Kill

Ture LindenMike Gornall
T.J. SamecBrady Ferner
Tristan AshbrookPatrick Polino
Jake JohnsonWill Reilly

Team Prediction
I am predicting RPI to finish 17-13-4 (11-9-2) in the regular season and place 6th in the ECAC.

ECAC Prediction
1. Cornell
2. Yale
3. Quinnipiac
4. Harvard
5. Clarkson
6. RPI
7. Dartmouth
8. Brown
9. Union
10. Colgate
11. Princeton
12. St. Lawrence

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