TAMPA, Fla. — This ain’t Seth Appert’s first rodeo … but it is his first time with this particular bull(dog).
Rensselaer’s sixth-year head coach already has two rings, won as an assistant with George Gwozdecky and Denver in the springs of 2004 and ’05. He’s been to the Frozen Four numerous other times, fulfilling his duties as an assistant, then head coach, then president of the American Hockey Coaches Association.
Now, he’s here as a wildly proud and enthusiastic alumnus of Ferris State.
“We’re just incredibly proud. Excited. Very nervous,” Appert said Saturday morning in advance of FSU’s first title bout. “I think [Bulldogs coach] Bob [Daniels] has done some incredible things with our program … but I think the thing he’s done better than anything is that he’s made all of us proud to be Bulldogs. Not because of what they’re doing right now; we’ve always been proud to be Bulldogs.
“None of us wish we would’ve played at Minnesota or Michigan or Boston College. We’re all really proud to say that we played for Bob and that we played at Ferris State.”
As part of Daniels’ first four-year class in Big Rapids nearly 20 years ago, Appert and more than a dozen of his Bulldogs teammates descended on Tampa with hundreds of other crimson-clad crazies, hoping to see 60 more minutes of Michigan magic.
“I don’t know if I ever in my mind thought that the program would get to play for a national championship,” he said, a hint of incredulity still in his voice.
Appert was in a particularly peculiar position leading up to Thursday’s national semifinals, as his alma mater tilted against a program from his new home, ECAC Hockey. Even more complicating was that the ECAC team in question was RPI’s archrival, cross-town Union. As dedicated as Appert is to Rensselaer and ECAC Hockey, he said he never thought twice about his loyalties.
“It was all FSU,” he said. “I’ve been very public in how much respect I have for Union — what [former coach] Nate [Leaman] and [current coach] Rick [Bennett] have done — so nothing against what they’ve done. They had a great year, they deserved to be here, and I have a lot of respect for the program. But that’s my alma mater. That’s family. That’s where I met my wife, these are guys that were in my wedding, guys that I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life. That was easy. Alma mater all the way.”
Lest Union fans cry foul in the wake of Ferris State’s 3-1 victory over the Dutchmen, Appert assures them that he had no influence on the Bulldogs’ game plan.
“I wouldn’t have been able to offer much help, considering [the Dutchmen] were 5-0 against us this year,” he said.
And while RPI fans might consider this weekend a bitter disappointment — what with Union making it to Tampa and whatnot — they can reconcile those emotions with the assurance that it has also been an emotional shot-in-the-arm for Appert.
“No. 1, it makes me want to get RPI here,” he said. “You want to get your program back here.”
He is finally seeing things from a fan’s perspective, a proud alum’s point of view, and he certainly understands the value of a program’s success to a university’s community at large.
“The thing that hit me at Denver when we won it the first time is I saw an alum that graduated a couple years prior,” Appert said. “He was a tough player — Eric Adams, a tough defenseman from Thunder Bay — and he was in tears, he was so emotional. He wasn’t on the team, he’d graduated a couple years prior, but it was his program, and I remember it kind of hit me how it’s about the team, the school, the fans, everything, and I think we’re living that right now, me and my teammates.”
Most of all, though, Appert said he feels that this weekend validates his alma mater’s hockey program in a way that was likely lacking before.
“It probably just confirms publicly what players who have played for him have always known, which is what a great coach and what a great program Bob Daniels runs,” Appert said. “We’ve always known that, and I think that a lot of people inside the hockey world have felt that, but maybe publicly, that wasn’t widely acknowledged.”