November 10, 2015
TROY >> One reason — one big reason — that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is still tied for first place in ECAC Hockey is goalie Cam Hackett.
The freshman netminder, having never appeared in a college game previously, preserved a tough 2-2 tie at Clarkson last Friday night, then beat St. Lawrence 4-3 in overtime on Saturday night to enable the Engineers to remain tied with Harvard for the top spot in ECACH with 3-0-1 records.
Hackett was doing what he’d always done this season; standing watching the action in the third period at Clarkson, 2-1, when starting goaltender Jason Kasdorf skated to the bench with an undisclosed injury with 12:01 remaining in the period.
Kasdorf had been injured about one minute earlier and tried to play through the pain.
What went through Hackett’s mind as he saw Kasdorf coming?
“Just to get ready to go in,” Hackett said. “Kasie’s not the kind of kid to (come out) unless it’s something to get pulled out for.”
In college hockey, a goaltender replacing an injured goalie is not permitted warmup shots.
“No,” Hackett said, agreeing that it’s tough to get ready in such a situation.
“It’s a lot of mental preparation that’s (has to be) done at the beginning of the game,” he said. “A lot of habits have been built in through the year.”
Soon after he entered the game, Clarkson came at him with a 3-on-2 break. What were his thoughts then?
“Honestly, I couldn’t really tell you,” he said. “Fall back to the habits that I’ve been working on in practice the past couple months. I guess that kept me going.”
Hackett gave RPI’s sports psychologist Brian Cain credit for helping him win the battle with nerves.
“Implementing some of the things he’s worked on with us was huge in overcoming the nerves,” Hackett said. “I kind of tuned out the (Clarkson) crowd early on, just ignored them. (Crowd) was never really a factor and kind of kept the nerves to a minimum.”
Hackett gave up the tying goal to Golden Knights defenseman Terrence Amorosa but after that goal he made tough saves to keep the score deadlocked.
Then came Saturday night — his first collegiate start.
“I didn’t really view it as my first start,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a big thing but it was just another game, to be honest. You play your entire life hoping for moments like that, preparing for them, so when the moment finally comes (you’re ready) and I just went out and enjoyed it.”
And such an enjoyable victory it was, when RPI’s Mark Miller scored one minute into overtime.
“It was great,” Hackett said.
The Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. native had been observed by Rensselaer head coach Seth Appert and his staff for several years. When RPI recruit and Los Angeles Kings draft pick Alec Dillon de-commited to RPI in May, Hackett became Appert’s big target.
“Obviously, the recruiting process was different because of the (Dillon) situation,” Appert said, “but he’s a guy we’ve liked for a long time. I’ve admired and respected his game back when he was being recruited by a lot of other teams in the country when he was in Grade 11 and playing Midget and prep school in Ontario. And then I watched him in Green Bay (in juniors) because he played for a friend of mine, Derek Lalonde and I’ve liked him for a long time.
“So, when the (Dillon) situation went down as it did, (Hackett) was one of the first guys on our staff’s radar.”
Appert flew to Minnesota to interview Hackett and convinced him to come to RPI.
Hackett, who had committed to Cornell two years ago and changed his mind, chose RPI because it “was the best combination of hockey and education I had available to me. It’s one of the best educational systems in the country.”
Hackett had an offer from Michigan and North Dakota showed interest.
Looking at the ECACH standings, Rensselaer fans are also happy with his choice.
As for the player who scored the game-winner… “Massena messiah,” is the nickname teammates have given Miller.
“He almost always scores up there,” said Drew Melanson after Miller’s big overtime goal.
In 10 career games as an Engineer, Miller has four goals and four assists in the North Country. Massena is about 30 miles from St. Lawrence, 21 from Clarkson.
“It’s pretty special, playing so close to my hometown,” he said.
Did he get a stick on the overtime goal.
“(Melanson) made a real nice, strong play to the center and I was getting hooked up a little bit and it hit right off my skate,” Miller said. “I was just kind of moving forward, I didn’t kick it, I was moving forward. I was would have gotten my stick on it but I was I was kind of tied up and it went off my skate and got lucky and went right in the net.”