The school at Rensselaer, as well as it’s distinguished hockey program, contain a rich history of success, tradition, and and great hockey.
Today, as part of our “College Spotlight” series, the RPI Engineers of Troy, New York will take center stage.
Men’s hockey at RPI can be traced back to 1901… yes, 1901, when the school began sporting an independent NCAA Division I team. With the 1901 birth date, RPI’s program exists as one of the oldest in the country. The team remained as an independent Division I team until 1938, when of course, the world wasn’t too focused on ice hockey.
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Following the Second World War, the Engineers resumed play for the 1949-1950 season, and went on to join Clarkson, Colgate, Middlebury, St. Lawrence, and Williams the following season, forming a Tri-State League for the ’50-’51 season.
For the next three seasons (1952-1954), RPI won the Tri-State League division championships, and received it’s first NCAA tournament birth in 1953. That season, Rensselaer finished third in the tournament, and went on to carry their success over to the following season, when they reached the tournament once again.
However, this time, RPI would not be stopped. The Engineers defeated Michigan 6-4 to advance to the NCAA final, where they took on Minnesota, who had just beaten Boston College 14-1… yes, 14-1. Under the leadership of legendary coach Ned Harkness, the Engineers pulled off a 5-4 overtime victory over Minnesota, claiming the school’s first national championship in front of 7,800 fans.
For the following six seasons, RPI failed to reach the tournament, until 1961, when they finished in 4th. That season would be the last for RPI in the Tri-State League, as they, as well as Clarkson and St. Lawrence, left to join the new ECAC.
In 1984, the Engineers won their first ECAC championship, and followed up by winning another the following year. That year, 1985, was a very special one for the Engineers. RPI went undefeated in 30 games during the regular season, which they carried to 38 straight the next season, the longest streak in NCAA men’s hockey history. However, the record is disputed, since three of the wins were against the University of Toronto, a non-NCAA team.
However, RPI’s success in the ’85 season was not limited to the regular season. The Engineer’s roster was one to be remembered… Daren Puppa backstopped the Engineers between the pipes, with John Carter leading the scoring… with 43 goals and 29 assists (52 points) in 38 games. The team also contained several other famous alumni, such as Adam Oates, Ken Hammond, and George Servinis.
Head coach Mike Addesa led the Engineer’s to a legendary 35-2-1 record, and brought them to the NCAA tournament once again. RPI outscored Lake Superior State in the 2-game quarterfinals by a 10-6 margin to advance to the semi-finals, where they took on Minnesota Duluth.
For RPI fans everywhere, this game will never be forgotten. Topping the excitement of the previous day’s triple-overtime game between Providence and Boston College would be hard, but they somehow pulled it off. The Engineers went into a triple-overtime game of their own with the Bulldogs, where John Carter scored a powerplay goal in the third overtime to seal the victory.
That’s twelve periods of hockey between the two games. Twelve.
Photo courtesy of Bruce Bennett, Getty Images
Anyway, on to the finals. The Engineers took on goaltender Chris Terreri and the Providence Friars the following night. The Engineers scored a goal in each of the first two periods, and then conceded one goal in the third period to cut the lead in half. Despite putting on some decent pressure, Providence was unable to tie the game, and the Engineers took home their second national championship, 2-1.
In a recent(ish) re-union, head coach Mike Adessa spoke of his championshoip team:
"“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Adessa said, per the Troy Record. “So many memories. That was the most talented group I’ve ever had. But what I remember most is, to a man, how concerned they were with wants and desires they had for each other. How they cared for each other, how they disciplined each other, how they laughed together.”"
In the years to come, the Engineers saw several successful seasons, but have yet to reach the national championship once again.
RPI hockey has a dedicated, enthusiastic fan-base, which has created several memorable traditions over the years.
“Many programs have big games or rivalries, but none that I have seen bring an entire campus, community and alumni base together like the Big Red Freakout!”
RPI’s most cherished tradition, the “Big Red Freakout” is an annual game played mid-way through the season, in which the fans wear all sorts of red RPI apparel and receive some kind of free give-away to create the craziest atmosphere of the year.
In 1987, RPI gave the fans stadium horns, which created such a loud atmosphere that the Rensselaer fans literally blew the opposing Brown team off of the ice, causing the institution of the “RPI Rule” by the ECAC, which essentially bans most artificial noise makers from college rinks.
Another of RPI’s traditions is the “Hockey Line”, which by itself proves the dedication of the hockey fan-base at Rennselaer. Before the renovation of the Houston Field House, where the Engineers play, many of the views from seats were obstructed by support columns. Obviously, fans wanted the best views they could get, and thus began “the hockey line.”
Groups of fans, usually from several fraternities and sororities, set up shop outside the Student Union building, waiting for tickets to go on sale. Back in the day, the line would begin in early August, or even late July, and lasted until tickets went on sale mid-way through September. They didn’t play around. Each person in line is allowed to purchase up to eight tickets, and is allowed to have their spot in line held by a friend when they go to class, or participate in other activities.
Fans set up televisions, beds, and games to help the time go by as they serve their 24-hour shift in line.
After the Engineers won the national championship in 1985, the Epsilon Iota chapter of the Psi Upsilon fraternity set the hockey line record by beginning the line the day after RPI won the national championship… the day after. The dedicated fans held the spot in line for 178 days, nearly six months.
Nowadays, the line generally begins a week or more before ticket sales begin.
In 1995, RPI made a terrible mistake, and changed the nickname of the hockey team from the Engineers to the Red Hawks. The fans hated it, and taunted the mascot, often yelling insults such as “kill the chicken!” and tossed food and drinks at it. RPI has since switched back to the Engineers, and has the beloved “Puck Man” mascot, a giant puck with “RPI” written across the front, fully equipped with a stick, skates, and of course, a helmet.
The years to come
The next few years will be very interesting to watch for RPI hockey. After losing some of their biggest goal scorers to the NHL, the Engineers will look to build up a team that can contend with the best of an increasingly dominate ECAC, and of course, the cross-town national champions, Union. This year will also mark the return of goaltender Jason Kasdorf, who, after a stellar freshman season, missed basically all of last season with a shoulder injury.
The Engineers have several good recruits coming into town as well, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of team head coach Seth Appert can put on the Field House ice this fall.