“We learned that sometimes you have to lose before you can win,” Adam Oates, a sophomore forward for the Engineers, told USCHO.com in 2005. “We were ranked No. 1 and we were upset.”
The next season, RPI lost two of its first five games, including a 7-6 overtime loss to North Dakota after the Engineers had rallied to tie.
It was a reminder — and a wake-up call — they needed. And RPI didn’t lose again that season.
Oates, John Carter and Daren Puppa led the Engineers to the sports moment judged the greatest in school history.
On March 30, 1985, the Engineers beat Providence 2-1 to win the NCAA championship, RPI’s first since 1954. It was the culmination of a 35-2-1 season that included a 30-game winning streak and a 33-game unbeaten streak.
Oates, a future Hockey Hall of Famer, led the way with 91 points on 31 goals and 60 assists. The junior forward was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award and a first-team All-American selection.
Carter, also a junior that season, led RPI with 43 goals. He finished his career the second-leading point producer in school history and played 10 years as a professional.
Puppa, who went on to a 15-year NHL career, had a 30-1-1 record and a 2.56 goals-against average.
“I can remember it like it was yesterday,” Mike Adessa, the team’s head coach, told the Troy (N.Y.) Record in 2015, the 25th anniversary of that championship season.
“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.”
RPI beat Lake Superior State 7-3 in their opening game of the NCAA Tournament, setting an NCAA record with its 30th consecutive win. The Engineers tied the Lakers 3-3 the next night but advanced to the Frozen Four based on their two-game advantage.
In the national semifinals, RPI faced the team to beat — Minnesota Duluth. Carter’s goal at 5:45 of the third overtime gave the Engineers a 6-5 victory and berth in the NCAA title game.
“When it happened, I knew at that moment that it was the biggest goal of my life,” Carter said. “It’s one of the biggest highlights of my life.”
The biggest highlight for junior forward George Servinis came at 3:49 of the second period in the title game. While the Engineers were killing a penalty to Mike Sadeghpour, Servinis scored on Tournament MOP Chris Terreri to give RPI a 2-0 lead.
What was running through his mind?
“Lots of things,” Servinis recalled in 2015. “I knew where I wanted to go. I knew all the practice, all the training and everything, this was time to do something with it. So, fortunately for me, I made a good move and it went in.”
Providence made it 2-1 with a power-play goal, but RPI held on to win the national championship.
“We had so much talent in all positions and we won it,” Oates said in 2005. “That team was the best one in the country, by far.”
“We knew we had a special team with the mix of guys on and off the ice,” Mark Jooris, a junior forward on the team, said in 2005. “It was just a fantastic team. It was one of the best college teams that ever played.”
On the cover and above: Adam Oates and George Servinis celebrate RPI’s 2-1 victory against Providence in the 1985 NCAA Men’s Hockey championship. (Courtesy Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Archives)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Quinnipiac and Radford
• Tuesday: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Rhode Island
• Wednesday: Rice and Richmond
• Thursday: St. Bonaventure and St. Cloud State
• Friday: Saint Joseph’s and St. Lawrence