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Engineers Gear Up for Postseason

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, February 28, 2005

TROY - The final weekend of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's hockey season was appropriate in relation to the previous 34 games of the disappointing, expectations-not-fulfilled season.

On Friday night, the Engineers mailed in major portions of a 5-2 loss to Princeton, allowing themselves to be swept in the season by a weaker team.

Playing with a shot to be home for the first round of the ECAC Hockey League playoffs, the Engineers came out hard, but didn't sustain themselves even after taking a 1-0 second period lead. They surrendered five goals - four from down-deep range - within 8 minutes, 19 seconds.

On Saturday, they dominated early without scoring, got the lead later, were then outplayed by the ECACHL's weakest team but rallied to win 3-2 on Kevin Croxton's goal late in overtime.

The story of the Engineers' 14-20-2 campaign can be summed up, without exaggeration, on the team's inability to put together extended periods of time when they could sustain motivation and focus, create good scoring chances and avoid critical mistakes.

Bounces went RPI's way: Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen has talked often about a bounce here and there making a big difference in any hockey season.

He admitted his team got some bounces on Saturday night.

"It's interesting how the game breaks," Fridgen said. "You look at two teams (Yale and RPI) that pretty much over the course of the season, haven't been getting the bounces.

"Just before we scored that goal, they had a perfect opportunity and the guy (Jean-Francois Boucher) whiffed on it because the puck bounced. Then, we go back the other way (and get the winning goal).

"I've always said it's (often) a matter of bounces and we ended up getting the bounces tonight."

And the Engineers got a big break with 1:40 remaining in the game. Having killed one OT penalty themselves - Kevin Broad's high-sticking infraction - RPI's fourth offensive-zone penalty of the weekend - the Engineers were awarded a power play themselves.

During a Yale change, the puck hit one of the departing Yale players. Referee Scott Whittemore had no choice but to whistle the too many men infraction.

The Engineers used that power play, against Yale's penalty killers who were under 70 percent efficiency entering the final weekend of the season, to get the game-winner.

Looking ahead: The Engineers blew a 3-0 lead in their first meeting with the Brown Bears this season, having to settle for a 3-3 tie at Brown on Dec. 3.

The rematch at Houston Field House on Feb. 12 was perhaps the most exciting game of the year, as Kirk MacDonald's goal with 8.3 seconds remaining gave the Engineers a 3-2 victory on Big Red Freakout Night.

Rensselaer was an 11th seed in the playoffs just two seasons ago but went to Union and swept the No. 6 Dutchmen on their own ice.

Duplicating that feat at Brown this coming weekend figures to be much more difficult.

At Brown, sophomore defenseman Jake Luthi got the Engineers started, recording his first collegiate point when he beat Brown goalie Adam D'Alba with a blast from high in the right circle with 2:24 remaining in the first period.

Oren Eizenman and Kevin Broad each had one goal and one assist as the Engineers stretched the lead to 3-0, but a breakdown allowed Brown to get on the board late in the second period.

The Engineers held the Bears to just seven third-period shots but Bears co-captains Gerry Burke and Les Haggett each scored on plays RPI goalie Andrew Martin could have been sharper on.

In overtime, though, Martin made two dazzling saves to salvage one point for the Engineers.

Eizenman scored the first goal in the game at the Field House but Brown took a 2-1 lead on Antonin Roux's goal early in the second period.

The Bears dominated most of the final 40 minutes but the Engineers opened the third period on a power-play goal by Nick Economakos and closed it on MacDonald's thrilling blast from the right circle.

Luthi assisted on both goals.

Rensselaer won despite being outshot, 32-20.

Despite the somewhat sizable difference in their records and seeds, these teams are evenly-matched. They should put on an entertaining series, if the Engineers are hungry enough to sustain their efforts.