Smith joins RPI

By Adam Duke

Sports Reporter

In late May of 2013, Griffs hockey coach Dave Smith signed a contract extension through the 2016-17 season, following the most successful campaign in school history, with the team winning the Atlantic Hockey playoffs and qualifying for the NCAA tournament.

Now that his contract with the Griffs is up, Smith has agreed to a five-year deal with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers in Troy, N.Y.

Jeff Cox, a freelancer for ESPN Boston and SB Nation, was the first to break the news that Smith was RPI’s choice to be its next head hockey coach. John Buccigross from ESPN confirmed the signing as official just after 6:00 p.m. on April 3.

Smith is replacing RPI’s former coach, Seth Appert, who had a record of 152-221-48 with the Engineers during his 11 year tenure as coach. While leading the Canisius program, Smith posted a record of 172-223-59 in 12 seasons.

He began his coaching career in 1998, starting as an assistant for the Miami Redhawks in Oxford, Ohio. In the 2000-01 season, Smith became an assistant at Bowling Green University. Following his time there, he became an associate coach and recruiting coordinator at Mercyhurst, where he helped the Lakers achieve two conference championships, in the 2002-03 and 2004-05 seasons.

Smith signed as the third head hockey coach in Griffs’ history in 2005 after the departure of longtime coach Brian Cavanaugh midway through the 2004-05 season, signing under former Canisius President Rev. Vincent M. Cooke, S.J. With Smith as coach, 35 players have signed professional contracts.

In the 2016-17 season, the Griffs won their first Atlantic Hockey regular season title and Smith received the Atlantic Hockey Coach of the Year award. He has also been named a finalist for the Spencer Penrose Award, which is presented to the best coach in the NCAA each year. The Griffs finished with a 21-11-7 record this past year.

The Engineers were not as successful, finishing 9-28-1. Upon the end of their season, Appert was let go and RPI began their search for their next head coach.

The hiring process brought in over 170 applicants, 20 semifinalists, and four finalists for the job. The finalists, Smith, SUNY Oswego head coach Ed Gosek, Quinnipiac University assistant Bill Riga, and current UMass assistant and former RPI student-athlete Ben Barr, were each brought to campus within the past week for interviews.

Ultimately, Smith was hired.

Dr. Lee McElroy, associate vice president and athletic director at RPI, opened Smith’s introductory press conference Thursday to discuss the signing.

“I’ve hired a lot of coaches in 30 years in this business,” he said. “This is by far the most comprehensive and most exhaustive search that I’ve ever been involved with.”

He thanked the coaches, the athletic department, and the alumni from the hockey program especially, for their help and support through the process.

McElroy emphasized the support of alums, as there was controversy during the hiring process, with several former RPI hockey players expressing their displeasure with the school’s handling of the situation to The Record, a local newspaper in Troy.

“Despite what the media says, I spoke to a lot of alums from the hockey program,” McElroy said.

According to the article, several graduates were upset that RPI’s athletic department hired a search committee that was inexperienced in hiring hockey personnel to find their next coach, rather than consulting the expertise of the RPI hockey grads in the area.

In addition, Appert reportedly brought a sense of community between the alumni and the team, and did more for the school than just coach. His firing did not sit well with alumni, and they conveyed their wish for more support from the sports administration at the school to The Record.

“If (RPI) steps up commitment, & I hear they are, it can work,” Buccigross tweeted on the issue shortly before the press conference. “They have to up support Seth Appert didn’t have. Smith is first rate.”

After McElroy left the stand, RPI President Shirley Ann Jackson spoke on the addition of Smith to the program. She then left the podium to Smith himself, who discussed his plans for the program.

“It was a very difficult decision to leave Canisius on something that we were very proud that we had built,” said Smith. “But it was very easy to look at the strengths of RPI.”

Smith noted that there have been teams representing the ECAC in five of the last six Frozen Four tournaments, two of which have become national champions, and that the Engineers were capable of being the team to represent the conference.

“I look forward to the challenges that are ahead and I look forward to the support that we get from this group and beyond,” Smith said before leaving the stand.

Thursday afternoon, Canisius Director of Athletics Bill Maher issued a statement regarding Smith’s departure.

“We are grateful for the tremendous contributions that Dave Smith made to the growth of our hockey program,” he said.  “His dedication to building our hockey program and ensuring the student-athletes had a broad impact on our campus community were as important to Canisius as the championship success they achieved on the ice.  Dave led our program to new heights, and the Smith family will always be an important part of Canisius. We wish him well in this next step of his career.”

Assistant coach Trevor Large will serve as the team’s interim head coach until a permanent successor is found.

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