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Bitter Memory Driving Engineers

RPI Hockey Seniors Strive to Atone for Loss in 2000 ECAC Title Game

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, March 11, 2002

TROY - RPI seniors such as Hamish Cunning still remember the disappointment of 2000, when the Engineers' hockey team came a few errant bounces from making the NCAA Tournament.

Led by All-Americans and future pros Brad Tapper, Brian Pothier and Joel Laing, RPI made it to the Eastern College Athletic Conference championship game at Lake Placid. The dream died there in a 2-0 defeat to powerful St. Lawrence.

Cunning and seven of his teammates were sophomores then, but now they have one more chance heading into Thursday's preliminary game against Dartmouth at the Olympic Arena in Lake Placid after sweeping Princeton in the opening round.

Tickets for Thursday's game, which starts at 7:30 p.m., go on sale today at 10 a.m. at Houston Field House.

"When we were in 12th (place) and looking up, that's all we were aiming for," said Cunning, a defenseman. "Our goal was to get home ice for these fans and get to Placid. Everybody knows that our goal was not just to make it there, but to bring a championship to this team. I'm a senior and I want to go out a winner."

RPI (18-12-2) will head to Placid as the fifth seed of five teams and have to get by a pesky Dartmouth team to advance to Friday's semifinal against top seed and regular-season champion Cornell. It will be no easy road, but this team seems determined to continue its season.

"There are a lot of seniors (eight) on this team that remember that (2000 loss)," Cunning said. "We don't want that feeling again. When we get there we're gonna be focused and we want to bring home the championship. Cornell is a strong team and we played them pretty well. That gives us the confidence we can play with anyone if we do the little things."

Since the ECAC Tournament moved to Lake Placid in 1993, the Engineers have won the championship and its automatic NCAA berth only once - in coach Dan Fridgen's rookie season of 1994-95. They will have to win three games in three nights to make it back.

"Hey, if Siena can win four and get a MAAC championship ...," Fridgen said. "We're gonna concentrate on just three, but the first one's Thursday night. We've been doing a good job of taking care of our game and we just need to continue doing that."

This RPI team has shown the type of late-season improvement that makes it a dangerous opponent for the other four remaining clubs in Lake Placid. After losing four games in a row in January, the Engineers closed with an 11-3-2 surge.

They will need to get the kind of goaltending they got from sophomore Nathan Marsters Saturday to keep pace with the likes of Cornell, Harvard, Clarkson and Dartmouth. Marsters stopped all 19 shots he faced in the 6-0 victory over Princeton to lower his goals-against average to 2.61.

Fridgen said he always expected more from this team than the one that lost in two straight to Dartmouth in the opening round of last year's ECAC playoffs.

"We're a different team than we were last year," he said. "I think that's evident with the group of seniors and the leadership we've been getting all season long. Even when we were struggling, we were getting good leadership. You can have all the talent in the world, but unless there's chemistry you don't have much."

And when it comes to talent, the Engineers have the two best scorers in the league in junior Marc Cavosie (22 goals, 26 assists, 48 points) and senior Matt Murley (21-21-42).

"We're actually pretty excited to be able to play on Thursday," Murley said. "It's one less day of practice we have to go through. Hopefully we have three more great games in us."