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Engineers Losing the Close Ones

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, November 22, 2004

TROY - How much can a hockey team take?

Four one-goal defeats among five games; that's what Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has had to deal with during the past two weeks since their emotional, 5-3 victory over rival Clarkson on Nov. 5.

A missed half-open net here, a huge save in their face there, a careless penalty over here. There is always something, it seems, to jump up and prevent RPI from winning, or at least deadlocking a game and forcing overtime.

In Saturday night's loss at Princeton, they did tie the game early in the third period, then one of those critical penalties thwarted them. Make no mistake, however, the Engineers have no one to blame but themselves.

In three of the four losses, they played without emotion and intensity in the opening period, being outshot by a total of 43-19 in the first four periods of those games. That's far better than 2-to-1 by teams that combined for a 20-38-8 ECACHL record last season.

In all four losses, RPI didn't play its best hockey until trailing by two goals.

Head coach Dan Fridgen has said several times that "playing catch-up hockey is not easy."

He's getting frustrated seeing his team have to come from behind - and falling one goal short - game after game. So are RPI fans.

As for the players, they're frustrated but are trying desperately not to give in to that feeling. It would be easy to fall into an extended losing streak and with their talent level, they're capable of winning many more games this season.

Co-captain Nick Economakos was asked if the players feel snakebit.

"You don't feel snakebitten because we didn't put together a 60-minute game (Saturday) and I think that's been the case in a lot of the games we've lost," Economakos said.

One of the Engineers' main goals was to finish at least fourth in the ECACHl, thereby earning a first-round bye in the playoffs and guarantee being at home for the quarterfinals.

Unless they can put together a five-game, maybe even six-game winning streak, that goal may be unattainable for the Engineers with their 2-4-0 league record.

Yet, the players point out that the teams with the best records - Union (6-0-0) and Vermont (4-1-1) - are the big surprise teams and figure - with all due respect - to have some losses coming their way.

And the only other teams in the league currently with winning league records, Colgate (3-1-0) and Cornell (2-1-1), were the 1-2 teams last year and figure to be there again.

So, if the Engineers start getting some bounces going their way - and the players believe they will - and thus, get a few one-goal wins, they could stay in the top 4 race.

"No team has clear dominance in this league," defenseman Brad Farynuk said. "There is so much parity. It just comes down to playing 60 minutes. We haven't."

The Engineers' next six games are out of conference. Maybe, it was suggested, they can relax a bit, play their best, and not worry about the ECACHL standings, even after the league slate resumes; just do their best and finish wherever they finish.

Leading scorer Kevin Croxton strongly disagreed.

"I don't think so," he said. "We've got to tighten up even more and work on a lot of stuff. We can't throw any more games away now, league or non-league. We've got to really start putting our nose to the grindstone and it starts (today) in practice."

Positive signs: It's Economakos' job to get the players to recognize positive aspects and he pointed out that "the way we're finishing up games" is one of them.

"You want to be a solid third-period team, you want to get stronger as the game goes on and that seems to be the case. I thought we dictated most of the second half of the game. And it's encouraging to know that if you just come out a little hungrier (at the outset of games) and just tighten up in a few areas ... that we'll be in a good position to win a lot of games."

'Live by the power play, die by ...': The Engineers scored on each of their first two power plays to take early control of the Yale game Friday night.

At Princeton, Rensselaer went 0-for-4 and when the Engineers weren't able to generate any scoring chances from a pair of power plays midway through the first period, Princeton took control of the game.

"I thought that we had some opportunities on the power play," Fridgen said after the Princeton game. "(Friday) night we got two and (Saturday) we don't. I thought we had some chances (on the power play) but we didn't execute. I'd like to see it be a little more consistent. But teams are playing it (the power play) really, really tough and they're rising to the occasion. We just have to outwork them and get the job done."

Indeed!

Among several startling statistics concerning the Engineers is this: In their six wins, they've scored 16 power play goals in 50 chances; in the six defeats and 3-3 tie with Connecticut, the power play is 9-for-59.