The Tech Hockey Guide staff brainstormed potential candidates and settled on our top picks. Through the next few weeks we will break down potential candidates while discussing pedigree as a player and coach as well as likelihood of being Coach Pearson’s replacement. Today, for the first time in this series, we break down a complete outsider in Seth Appert. He’s also the first candidate to make the list with experience as a Division 1 Head Coach.
On May 16th, 2017, Seth Appert was named a head coach of USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) May 16, 2017
College: Ferris State
Birthplace: Cottage Grove, Minnesota
Recent Position: Head Coach, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (ECAC)
A four-year letterwinner at Ferris State as a goaltender, Appert got his coaching career started in 1997 just one year after graduation as an assistant under George Gwozdecky at Denver at the age of 23 and has been coaching in college hockey ever since. In nine seasons at DU, he was responsible for recruiting and game analysis, among other things. He recruited a pair of Hobey Baker finalists at Denver, goaltender Wade Dubielewicz and the 2006 winner, defenseman Matt Carle.
Other top names Appert helped to recruit to the Pioneers include All-Americans Gabe Gauthier, Ryan Caldwell, Brett Skinner, and Chris Butler, along with Paul Stastny, Adam Berkhoel, Peter Mannino, Matt Pettinger, Rhett Rakhshani, and Brock Trotter. These names were among those responsible for Denver’s on ice success in the early and mid-2000s, peaking with back-to-back national championships in 2004 and 2005.
In 2006, Appert replaced Dan Fridgen as the head coach at RPI. He was extended in 2011 after leading RPI to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 16 years, and again in 2013 after leading the Engineers to a second place showing in the ECAC, their highest finish in the league standings in 20 years – which coincided with the coaching vacancy at Denver that off-season, a vacancy which he was considered a top candidate to fill before his extension.
Among the top names in Troy during his tenure were Chase Polacek, a Hobey Baker finalist in 2010 and 2011, KHL All-Star and two-time All-American Nick Bailen, and All-American Ryan Haggerty, who was second to Johnny Gaudreau in goals per game in 2014. Jerry D’Amigo was a national hero on the 2010 USA WJC team that won gold in Canada.
Six Engineers have played in the NHL who were brought in by Appert, including Brandon Pirri (CHI, FLA, ANA, NYR), D’Amigo (TOR, BUF), Erik Burgdoerfer (BUF), Mike Zalewski (VAN), Jason Kasdorf (BUF), and Allen York (CBJ).
Additionally, Appert helped grow the coaching career of current Denver coach Jim Montgomery, plucking him from a volunteer role at Notre Dame for his first season at RPI. Montgomery was Appert’s top lieutenant in Troy from 2006 to 2010, when he departed to become the first GM and Head Coach of the USHL’s Dubuque Fighting Saints. Montgomery would take the job at Denver two days after Appert extended at RPI.
Appert is highly regarded around the hockey world. He was president of the American Hockey Coaches Association from 2008 to 2011, and has repeatedly been involved with coaching USA Hockey teams, serving as an assistant for the Ivan Hlinka tournament in 2007 and as head coach for that team in 2008 and 2011. This spring following his firing at RPI, he was brought on as an assistant for the gold-medal winning U-18 world championship team, and will be an assistant on the senior world championship team under Detroit Red Wings head coach (and former Ferris State roommate) Jeff Blashill.
He has a track record of finding and developing high-level goaltenders. Dubielewicz, Berkhoel, and Mannino at Denver, York and Kasdorf at RPI. All five were outstanding NCAA netminders, and while none of them became established NHL regulars (yet, Kasdorf is still young in his pro career), all five earned at least a cup of coffee at the highest level. A sixth that he coached, Mathias Lange at RPI, backstopped a gutsy Austrian team in the 2014 Olympics. That track record took a dive last year when his anticipated next project, Alec Dillon, unexpectedly defected to major junior three months before he was due on campus, creating a mess in net that likely contributed to his dismissal.
Appert’s alumni and community outreach in Troy were almost universally lauded. Hockey alums were fiercely loyal to him because of his efforts to include them in team activities whenever possible. He also had some big-time development successes, most notably in Polacek, who arrived as an unheralded, late-committing recruit and departed as a two-time Hobey Baker finalist and repeat ECAC Player of the Year in over 20 years.
For all of his outstanding resume points, his teams at RPI were often frustratingly uneven. Of 11 seasons, only 4 were years that included more wins than losses, only one (2010-11) was a 20-win season (at just 20) and his 221 losses are a school record for a coach while his 152 victories pegs him just fourth in RPI’s annals. He’s one of just two RPI coaches in the modern era with a losing record. The one NCAA visit followed an upset loss to last-place Brown in the first round of the ECAC tournament and a three-week layoff between games after the Engineers were more or less the last team in with an at-large bid, ending with a 6-0 demolition at the hands of North Dakota.
Externalities certainly played at least somewhat of a role in those struggles. Pirri and D’Amigo left RPI for the NHL after just one season, dealing a serious blow to a squad that still ended up in the NCAA tournament in 2011. Kasdorf suffered a season-ending injury in October during his sophomore season, souring a 2014 in which RPI had been pegged to finish first in the ECAC – and a year that ended with cross-town rivals Union winning the national championship just to twist the knife. The last three years have seen RPI struggle with long and serious injuries to top players almost continuously. There is a great deal of discussion within the RPI community about how much institutional support he had.
But ultimately, the buck stopped after an 8-win season, among the worst in RPI history, and a chronic lack of success in the ECAC tournament – the Engineers were the only team in the 12-team league that did not advance to at least the league semifinals at any time during his 11-year tenure.
From Michigan Tech’s perspective, Appert’s experience at RPI – one of really only two other Division I hockey schools out there (Clarkson) that actually fits Tech’s academic profile – has to be a positive. He already has the experience necessary to recruit talented hockey players who can also fit the demanding rigors of classes at a technical university.
Seth Appert is an interesting candidate if he’s interested in the job. That is yet to be confirmed. RPI bought out the last four years of his contract so he can afford to be picky about his next gig. Ultimately though, the amount of success Appert had over his 11 years and the way it ended might be too much for MTU to choose him as their next coach.
Special thanks to Tom Reale from Without a Peer for guest writing this piece
Feature Image courtesy of RPI Athletics