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Luthi Has Emerged as Invaluable Player for Engineers

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, January 1, 2005

TROY - Defenseman Jake Luthi had a hard time getting playing time last year as a freshman on the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey team.

Now, he is making it difficult for coach Dan Fridgen to keep him out of the lineup.

Luthi was one of the Engineers' hottest players heading into the Christmas break. He hopes to continue his roll when RPI begins the second half of the season this weekend at Notre Dame.

The Engineers (8-9-2) play the Fighting Irish (4-9-4) twice, tonight at 7:05 and Sunday at 5:05 p.m.

Luthi appeared in just five games last season, collecting six penalty minutes. He has played in eight games this season, including five of the last six, missing a Dec. 4 game against Harvard because of illness.

"You have to make the most of the opportunities given to you," Luthi said. "Just lately, I've been getting those opportunities and trying to do my best with them."

Luthi scored his first collegiate goal the previous night in a 3-3 tie at Brown, a powerplay tally that made it 1-0 llate in the first period.

After recovering from his illness, Luthi had a goal and an assist in RPI's 4-3 victory over Providence on Dec. 8. In the game, he scored RPI's first goal, a first-period power-play tally, and then assisted on Kevin Broad's early third-period goal that tied the score, 3-3.

He has had a defensive plus/minus rating of plus-2 during the last five games. Fridgen is pleasantly surprised at Luthi's emergence.

"Here's a guy who saw five games last year, and [now] he's stepped into the lineup," Fridgen said. "It's a situation where you have a player who didn't seize the opportunity last year, making up for it this year. He's coming into the lineup. He's made it so that I can't take him out just with his play, the level of confidence that he's playing with and the opportunity he has created for himself to be a mainstay in the lineup."

Confidence was never a problem for Luthi. Adjusting to college hockey and playing in a defensive system was, though. During his days at Colony High School in his hometown of Palmer, Alaska, Luthi was more of a goal scorer than a defenseman.

"It's not easy sitting out most of the games," said Luthi, who played junior hockey in the U.S. Hockey League with Sioux Falls and Sioux City. "But we had a real deep D-corps. As I was able to learn from older guys and get something out of it."

Luthi never got down on himself, nor did he develop a bad attitude while sitting out. His teammates have taken notice of his improvement.

"He's just a determined and persistent young kid," RPI defenseman and co-captain Brad Farynuk said. "Every time he shows up to the rink, whether he's not playing or he is, he's ready to work hard. If he wasn't in the lineup in the past year, he was in the gym right before the game for an hour and a half."

"He just showed that he really wanted to be there, and it's finally paid off for him."

Notebook

RPI is making its first trip to Notre Dame. The team took the bus and left Thursday night.

"I was telling the guys this is whoever aspires to play at the next level, this is going to be the AHL at its best," Fridgen said.

"The reason you want to be in the National Hockey League is because you don't want to spend 12 hours on the Iron Lung." . . .

RPI leads the series, 2-0. Both victories came in its holiday tournament.

The Engineers posted a 6-0 victory in the opening round of the 1988 tournament, and then skated to a 6-2 win in the 2000 consolation game. . . .

RPI forward Kirk MacDonald leads the team with 10 goals, but hasn't scored one in 10 games. . . .

Farynuk has a three-game point-scoring streak. He is also three games shy of playing 100 games for his career. . . .

Engineers captain Nick Economakos will be playing before family and friends. He is a native of Lockport, Ill. . . .

RPI goalie Jordan Alford is recovering from a case of pneumonia. It forced him to miss the Dec. 11 game against Boston University. . . .

RPI is 6-4-1 in non-conference games this season. . . .

Defenseman Wes O'Neill leads Notre Dame in scoring with five goals and seven assists.