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Engineers Finally Find Offense, Claim Two Wins

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 24, 2005

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute finally scored a few goals, got the forwards involved and got two victories.

Seems so easy.

It wasn't.

First of all, winning at St. Lawrence (3-2 on Friday) and Clarkson (4-3 on Saturday) is never easy for RPI and most ECAC Hockey League teams.

Moreover, the Engineers' confidence had been visibly shaken by their five-game losing streak and their season came so close to crashing in shambles. They'd scored just five goals during that streak; none by a forward and two on 5-on-3 power plays.

After being outscored 21-3 in four home games, how could the Engineers possibly go to the North Country and win twice, a feat they hadn't accomplished since the 1985-86 season?

For one thing, head coach Dan Fridgen, despite admittedly being perplexed and frustrated by his dried-up offense, didn't push the panic button. More important, he made his players know he still had confidence in them.

And the Engineers not only still believed they could be competitive, they wanted to show their fans as much.

"The guys really wanted to prove themselves after the past two weeks," junior winger Kevin Croxton said.

Fridgen said the Engineers "showed a lot of character and pride. It's a confidence thing that they feed off one another and it started ... when we (Nick Economakos) scored that first goal last night (against St. Lawrence). The difference on the bench was incredible."

Economakos said playing on the road after such a dismal homestand loosened up the Engineers.

"Some away cooking, just what the doctor ordered," the senior co-captain said several times during the weekend.

"Fewer distractions (on the road)," Economakos continued. "Guys are sleeping better, eating well. I just thought the focus by everybody on the team was great this weekend."

"Tight games, we're rolling all four lines (effectively) and I think that's something you haven't seen consistently from our team this year. And I think that translated into playing solid defense and getting some goals from our forwards."

Yep. Seven of them. All seven. After failing to find the net in five straight outings and being blanked in eight of 13 games, RPI forwards came alive.

Vic Pereira (two goals, two assists) and Economakos (two goals, one assist) led the way and Kirk MacDonald put one past an opposing goaltender for the first time in 16 games.

Freshman Jonathan Ornelas scored at St. Lawrence and senior Cody Wojdyla got the official game-winner at Clarkson.

Seemingly unconcerned about his own 14-game goal-less streak, Croxton just shook his head in disbelief when the subject of the forwards' futility was mentioned.

Croxton, who led the team in goals and scoring each of the past two seasons, dropped to third on the team in goals with six behind Economakos (7) and MacDonald (12).

While Croxton's slump continues, the Engineers hope MacDonald is out of his. After scoring 10 goals within the first nine games of the season, the only one the junior right winger/center had in 15 games since then was an empty-netter against Notre Dame.

Less than two minutes after Saratoga Springs' Jay Latulippe gave Clarkson a 2-1 lead with a power-play goal at 6:23 of the second period Saturday night, MacDonald pulled the Engineers even.

He deflected Matt McNeely's shot from the right circle past Golden Knights goalie Dustin Traylen.

"A great shot by Matty just getting it on net," MacDonald said. "I was just able to get a stick on it and I think it went off the defender's shin pad and caught the goalie going the wrong way."

"Two huge wins," Pereira said. "It's a great feeling. Hopefully we can keep it going."

Notes: The extra-attacker goals that both St. Lawrence and Clarkson scored late in the games meant that RPI's record in one-goal decisions improved to 3-7 - after an 0-6 start. ... The 11-14-2 Engineers moved into ninth place in the ECACHL with the two victories. At 4-9-1, they are just one point out of eighth place and the final homeice berth in the opening round of the league playoffs. Eighth-place Brown (4-5-2), however, has three games at hand. ... The victory at Clarkson marked just the third time in the past 19 visits to the North Country that RPI was victorious on Saturday night (3-15-1). ... After scoring the Engineers' previous five goals and six of nine, RPI defensemen did not find the net in either game. It was just the third time the blueline group went two games in succession without a goal. ... Road games with Vermont and Dartmouth, each of whom whipped the Engineers at Houston Field House, are on tap this weekend.