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Overrated or Not, Engineers Must Increase Intensity

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, December 19, 2001

Joe is a YMCA basketball buddy of mine. He's also a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey fan. At least I think he is one. Joe is about the only person in town who wasn't "at all surprised" that the Engineers, just one week removed from a lackluster 1-1 tie with Union, dropped a 4-2 home ice decision to Princeton in their last outing.

"I told you, they're overrated," Joe said a couple of days after the dreadful loss to the Princeton bunch that ranked last in the ECAC offensively and next-to-last defensively.

Joe has told me that before. Like after the Union game. After the frustrating 0-2 trip to Minnesota-Duluth. Joe says the Engineers are overrated often. But he'll agree with the notion that Marc Cavosie and Matt Murley constitute the best same-team duo in the ECAC - offensively, at least.

He'll tell you that captain Steve Munn heads up a more-than-adequate, veteran corps of defensemen. He agrees that Nathan Marsters is a good enough goaltender with whom to win an ECAC title and that Kevin Kurk is strong enough backup.

So if ECAC coaches picked the Engineers sixth in the conference's preseason poll and media members viewed RPI only slightly better at No. 5, and the Engineers were not ranked in national preseason polls, how can they be so overrated?

Joe thought a minute.

"That's (being overrated) only part of it," he said. "They're also not very motivated and they can't ever seem to put strong games back-to-back, to put together a long streak. I've been watching them a long time and there's just something missing there."

Joe's right. The Engineers have shown a lack of motivation repeatedly over the past few seasons.

Why? Good question. Munn doesn't know, so how can we?

And dissecting the question is for another time but the Engineers will, months from now, look back on a severely disappointing season if they don't right the problem soon.

Joe isn't the only RPI fan who's disappointed and frustrated with the team's 5-5-1 start. He has plenty of company.

Last weekend's games against Yale and Princeton were huge for the Engineers.

While coach Dan Fridgen and many of the players said it's too early, the league's too balanced, you have to respect every team - each of those statements is quite true - the fact remains that the Engineers are a better team than Yale and Princeton, clearly better than the Tigers.

Each game, each weekend, represents a chance to win a game or two. Some are clearly more than difficult than others. The Yale-Princeton weekend at home was not one of the more difficult for RPI.

Several of the Engineers' games this season - and thus their overall record affected - have been decided by a matter of inches.

Just one shot, lifted over a prone goaltender, in each one-goal loss at Minnesota-Duluth, gets the Engineers no worse than a win and a tie.

Same thing against Union - a victory instead of a tie.

Boston University's final goal - which gave the Terriers a 6-1 lead - trickled out of Nathan Marster's glove and across the goal line after he'd been hit by a teammate - several seconds after the shot. So that 6-5 loss easily could be a 5-5 tie.

Thus, at 5-5-1, 2-2-1 in conference play, the Engineers could easily be 8-3-0 or 7-3-1 overall and 3-2-0 within the ECAC without any stretch of realism; the big toe-stubber vs. Princeton included.

On the other hand, they could have lost the 2-1 victory at Colgate and all of this is quite meaningless anyway. But what it does illustrate is lost opportunities.

While it's quite true that parity has been throwing its weight around the ECAC lately and any team can lose to any other, last weekend may have offered RPI its best chance for a four-point weekend this season. And it was a great chance to move both records - conference and overall - two games over .500 and get some momentum going.

Unfortunately, they only got half the job done.

And while Fridgen and the players may downplay this aspect, too, when asked - or perhaps they won't - the Engineers' upcoming ECAC schedule is brutal.

Their next two are at home but against Brown, the surprise team of the league this year, and Harvard, the preseason pick of the coaches.

The North Country trip follows - Clarkson hasn't lost a conference game yet - then the return game at Union, and if the Engineers can't beat the Dutchmen at home...

After that, two games each with Dartmouth - which beat RPI three times last season - and Vermont, then four straight on the road.

If the Engineers are to be a contender ... heck, even if they're to finish fifth so they can open the playoffs at home, they're going to need a major upgrade in motivation and intensity.

"Don't be surprised if they don't," Joe said.

BACK TO MINORS: Former RPI stars Brian Pothier and Brad Tapper were to have been at Boston's Fleet Center Tuesday night playing with the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers. But the Thrashers farmed out both last Friday night to Chicago of the American Hockey League.

At least two local newspapers, including this one, were to have been at the Fleet last night.

Pothier had recently scored his first NHL goal and Tapper's ice time had increased a bit.

"He wasn't shocked but a little surprised," Chicago Wolves Assistant Director of Media Relations Laura Bokenkroger said of Pothier. "They're both disappointed."

Pothier was the only Thrasher with a plus (2) plus-minus rating.