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Tourney to Test Engineers' Pride

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, November 26, 2004

TROY - Two straight years of finishing last in its own tournament isn't sitting well with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute men's hockey team.

The Engineers are hoping their fortunes change this weekend in the 54th annual Rensselaer/Bank of America Holiday Hockey Tournament at Houston Field House.

RPI (6-6-1) faces Robert Morris (2-8-1) tonight at 7. The 4 p.m. contest pits Air Force (4-4-2 ) against Sacred Heart (5-6). On Saturday, the consolation game is at 4 p.m., and the championship match is at 7 p.m.

The Engineers haven't won the tournament since 2001. They haven't even reached the championship game, losing in the first round to Merrimack in 2002, and Mercyhurst last year. In the consolation games, RPI lost to ECACHL-rivals Princeton in 2002, and Colgate last year.

"It's been frustrating," RPI junior forward Kevin Croxton said. "It's your tournament in front of your fans. There's a lot of tradition with it. You always want to come out and do well. Hopefully, this is the year to win it."

Junior forward Kirk MacDonald hasn't been pleased with RPI's tournament results.

"We don't like the last two years," MacDonald said. "It's pretty embarrassing to finish last in your own tournament two years in a row. We're looking to turn it around this year."

RPI appears to have an easy road to the championship game. Robert Morris, which plays in College Hockey America, is in its first year as a Division I program. Of the 23 players on the team, 21 are freshmen. There is only one upperclassman on the Colonials, junior forward Kurt Wright.

But with just one win in their last five games, the Engineers aren't taking the Colonials lightly.

"I've always been a firm believer in that you can never overlook an opponent," RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. "You have to respect your opponent because the first time you don't respect your opponent is the time that you're going to get bit. Every team in college hockey is capable of biting another team at anytime if you do not respect them."

All of the Engineers' losses during their 1-4 stretch have been by one goal. In the last two years of their tournament, the Engineers have lost all four games by a goal.

"Freshman year, that happened to us a lot," Croxton said. "Last year, we started to win those one-goal games. We have to turn it around here because they're crucial games to be winning."

For the first time since 1988, the tournament is being played over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend instead of during the Christmas break. The players' preparation for the tournament will be different.

"Since I've been head coach, we've always been coming back off of a [Christmas] break," Fridgen said. "We struggle, then we start going well and then come back off the break and we get back into a little bit of a funk again. We're going into this weekend without any break. It'll be interesting to see what our performance will be going in."

Notebook

RPI has won the tournament 16 times. . . .

The Engineers haven't placed a player on the all-tournament team the last two years. . . .

Freshman defenseman Jeff Gilbert leads the Colonials in scoring with three goals and four assists. He also has a team-high 31 penalty minutes. . . .

Air Force features sophomore forward Brandon Merkosky, the son of former Adirondack Red Wings great Glenn Merkosky. Brandon Merkosky is tied for the team lead in scoring with four goals and six assists.