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Goaltending Concern for RPI

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, October 8, 2004

TROY - With forwards Kevin Croxton, Kirk MacDonald and Nick Economakos coming back, and some promising freshman playmakers coming in, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey team should have little trouble scoring goals.

The defensive unit should be strong, too. It lost just one player, Scott Basiuk.

But there is one important area in which there is a big question mark: Who will be stopping the pucks for the Engineers on a regular basis?

With the graduation of Nathan Marsters, last season's top RPI goalie, the Engineers will be looking to senior Andrew Martin or freshman Jordan Alford to emerge as the team's top netminder.

The Engineers will open their season Saturday against Merrimack in Nebraska-Omaha's Mutual of Omaha Stampede in Omaha, Neb.

"I'm confident we'll be all right in the nets," RPI coach Dan Fridgen said.

Alford, who is the first RPI goalie to wear No. 1 since Bryan Masotta in the mid-1990s, comes to RPI with impressive credentials. He posted a 23-15-2 record with a 3.42 goals-against average for the Canmore Eagles of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He had a .910 save percentage and two shutouts. Alford was named the team's most valuable player, and earned the Stewy Stewart Award, which is given to the player in the AJHL's South Division who best exhibits character, dedication, perseverance, integrity and sportsmanship.

He was ranked 28th among North American goalies in the final NHL Central Scouting Bureau's list of draft-eligible players, but wasn't selected in the June draft.

Alford isn't putting any pressure on himself. He knows RPI's team-defense concept will help him adjust to the college game.

"I'm just going to take it one puck at a time, and try and stop every one that comes close to me," Alford said. "All guys on the team work pretty hard from what I've seen so far. It looks like they'll put their life on the line if they have to."

Fridgen is impressed with Alford, comparing him to former RPI goalie Neil Little.

"He's a great young man," Fridgen said. "He's looking forward to the challenge of playing at this level. I like his demeanor. He reminds me of a goaltender we had before just in the way he carries himself around the rink. [He] doesn't get rattled, very even tempered. That's the way you like to see your goaltenders."

Martin played in just three games last season, but posted a 1-1 record with a 1.87 GAA. In his RPI debut last Nov. 28, he came within 4:23 of shutting out UMass-Lowell. Martin stopped 24 shots in RPI's 2-1 win.

Even though Martin has little experience with RPI, he did play in 23 career games in two years for Fairfield of the MAAC, posting a 6-14-1 record with a 3.22 GAA. Martin came to RPI after Fairfield dropped its program following the 2002-03 season.

"With this kind of situation, you never know what's going to happen," Martin said. "You can have one guy playing hot for a while, and all of a sudden he's going to hit a wall. The next guy is going to have to be ready to go."

Sophomore William Neubert is the third-string goalie.

The players aren't worried about the goaltending situation.

"You could say it's a question mark for our team, but it works two-fold this year," Economakos said. "All three of our goalies really don't have experience coming into this year. But at the same time, I believe Nate Marsters had one of his best seasons as a freshman and was team MVP. Other teams haven't seen our goalies, and don't know their weaknesses."

"But the team's new commitment to defense is definitely going to help out with the goaltenders this year. It's not just the defensemen coming back, it's an all-around team thing."

Croxton, MacDonald and Economakos were the top three scorers last season for RPI, which totaled 116 goals, including an ECACHL-best 70 in league play. Croxton, a junior, led the way with 18 goals and 21 assists. MacDonald, also a junior, was second with 15 goals and 19 assists. The senior Economakos was third after having a career-high 30 points (10 goals, 20 assists).

The Engineers will have depth at forward. Sophomore Oren Eizenman (6-12-18) showed flashes that he could be a good scorer. And the incoming class shows promise.

Jake Morissette had 43 goals and 47 assists for the British Columbia Junior Hockey League's the Williams Lake Timberwolves. Jonathan Ornelas was the leading scorer for the Milton IceHawks of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League with 35 goals and 32 assists. Andrew Lord had 16 goals and 29 assists for the BCJHL's Vernon Vipers. Tyler Eaves, the son of former Adirondack Red Wings star Murray Eaves, had 23 goals and 47 assists for Shattuck-St. Mary's (Minn.) last season.

"We've added some size up front," Fridgen said. "We've added some speed and skill. That's a dimension we haven't had in a couple of years."

Junior Brad Farynuk and senior Matt McNeely anchor the defensive unit, which has eight returning.

"Regardless of any six who are in the lineup any night, it's got to be a cohesive unit," Farynuk said. "I don't see our D-corps as having a weak spot anywhere."