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RPI Off to Placid

Engineers in Final Five, Will Play Dartmouth

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, March 10, 2002

TROY - The RPI hockey team will be spending the rest of spring break in Lake Placid, but it won't be much of a vacation.

A 6-0 pasting of Princeton on Saturday night gave the Engineers a sweep of their best-of-3 series with the Tigers and earned them their seventh trip to the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics for this week's ECAC Tournament final five. RPI will play Dartmouth at 7:30 Thursday night in the play-in game.

It was an emotional night for eight RPI seniors who played their last game at Houston Field House, the departing group returning to kiss the ice as most of the 3,058 fans celebrated in the stands.

One of them, walk-on goaltender James Palmer, even got into the act, being sent in by coach Dan Fridgen with less than four minutes to play to complete the shutout started by sophomore Nathan Marsters.

"I was not expecting that at all," said Palmer, primarily a practice goalie who played in only four games in his RPI career. "I don't know if I can explain the feeling I had. It's a great feeling, great to be a part of this with these guys."

This will be RPI's third trip in the past four seasons to Lake Placid. Their only ECAC championship since the tournament moved there in 1993 came in Fridgen's first year as head coach in 1995. Four other schools, all higher seeds, earned trips with first-round sweeps - Cornell, Clarkson, Dartmouth and Harvard.

RPI, which in midseason was mired in last place, closed with a flurry to finish tied for third. It was seeded fifth entering the first round against Princeton. The Engineers made short work of the Tigers in Game 2 with three first-period goals on the heels of Friday's 5-3 victory.

"We definitely played our best game of the season tonight," said senior Matt Murley.

Murley had a goal and two assists in what he admitted was a painful Houston swan song. "It was probably the hardest thing I've had to do in my life," he said.

The visitors must have thought they were experiencing deja vu, as RPI defenseman Jim Vickers scored the game's first goal for the second night in a row, this time 3:42 into the contest. The ECAC's top two scorers soon joined in.

Marc Cavosie netted his 22nd of the season at 8:36, only two seconds after a power play had expired. He took a pass from behind the net by Murley, his second assist, and beat goalie Dave Stathos. Then it was Murley getting his 21st goal at 14:47 after teammate Ryan Shields stole the puck in the Princeton end and sent it to Nolan Graham, who found Murley open in the slot for a 3-0 lead.

The Engineers made it 5-0 in the second period against backup goalie Nate Nomeland, scoring twice on the power play. Vickers made a great save to keep the puck in the zone, then Cavosie hit a wide-open Danny Eberly on the left wing at 10:17. Conrad Barnes tipped in a long drive by Scott Basiuk at 14:43 to make it 5-0. And Chris Migliore stole the puck and scored short-handed 1:11 into the third period for his third goal in two nights, capping the rout.

"Everybody's been taking the bull by the horns and really stepped up," said Fridgen, who pointed to senior leadership for this year's postseason hopes after a first-round ouster last year. "That's been the foundation of the success that we've been enjoying (12-3-2 in their last 17 games). I think that's what you need at this time of year if you want to be successful."

The five series winners will be reseeded for the championship round at Lake Placid. The winner of the play-in game advances to Friday's semifinals, and those winners will play for the title and an NCAA berth Saturday night at 7:30.

"I don't think people realize how really difficult it is to get to Lake Placid," Fridgen said. "It's a long season, you have to have a little bit of luck, you have to have good health and there are a lot of elements that are out of your control. But here we are going. This is by no means over yet. No way is our season over."