Rensselaer can’t wait to put last season in the rear-view mirror

For Rensselaer, last year’s offseason came far too quick.

After making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995 two years ago, the Engineers staggered through a horrible first half in 2011-12. Things improved a bit in the second half as RPI knocked Clarkson out of the first round of the ECAC playoffs before falling to Union in the quarterfinals.

“The offseason has been too long,” coach Seth Appert said. “Last year, especially the first half, was miserable. I didn’t do a good job of getting my team to play, and we [lost our way] from what our program was all about.”

Offense, in particular, was a problem for RPI last season. The Engineers failed to have a 10-goal scorer and ranked 54th in Division I in scoring.

“We take pride in being a hard team to play against and [having] a team-first mentality,” Appert said. “When we played that way, we scored plenty of goals. The first half of last year, we were worried about ourselves, and that was my fault. We have the depth of forwards to be above a three-goal team as long as we have offense by committee.”

Appert said many players stayed on campus over the summer, led by defenseman Nick Bailen and forward C.J. Lee.

“From mid-January on, C.J. Lee really took over the team,” Appert said. “His play and his will really drove us and then we started getting some guys on board.”

Returning goalies Bryce Merriam and Scott Diebold both showed flashes last year and will be joined by freshman Jason Kasdorf, a 2011 sixth-round pick by the Winnipeg Jets.

Appert is also expecting production from freshman forwards Mike Zalewski and Milos Bubela. Zalewski, whose brother Steven played for Clarkson from 2004 to 2008, scored 38 goals for the Vernon Vipers in the BCHL last season, while Bubela was the second-leading scorer on the Slovakian national team.

About the Engineers

2011-12 overall record: 12-24-3

2011-12 ECAC record: 7-12-3 (10th)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches’ poll): Eighth

Key losses: F Patrick Cullen, D Mike Bergin

Players to watch: F C.J. Lee, F Brock Higgs, D Nick Bailen, G Bryce Merriam

Impact newcomers: F Milos Bubela, F Mike Zalewski, D Chris Bradley

Why the Engineers will finish higher than the coaches’ poll: Solid goaltending and defense is complemented by an improved offense, pushing RPI closer to its NCAA tournament selves than last season’s disaster.

Why the Engineers will finish lower than the coaches’ poll: The offense disappears again, leaving RPI with very little margin for error defensively, as Merriam et al can’t bail the Engineers out every game.