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RPI Forward Reaps Benefits of Slowing Down

Ornelas Sees Ice Better with Analytical Approach

By Jon Paul Morosi

Albany Times Union, March 3, 2005

TROY - College hockey is fast. So goes the truism, spoken from coach to player, parent to kid, everywhere junior and prep hockey are played.

If you're slow, get fast. If you're fast, get faster. Can't? Don't bother.

Jonathan Ornelas heard it - and liked the implication. He's what those in the trade call a "good college player." He's short and solid, shifty and skilled. He saw college hockey on TV - the skating, the passing, the lack of a center red line - and saw his game. Last fall, he left his home in Mississauga, Ontario, to become an RPI Engineer.

He figured he'd do as he always did: buzz the ice, snap off shots, pester the other guys - and always play full speed. So he did. But after 20 games - and two points - he learned a funny lesson. It's the second half of the aforementioned rink rule.

Sometimes, you have to slow down to speed up.

"You can't always run and gun," he said Wednesday, "or you'll end up on the wrong end of a play."

Now, he embodies the controlled, calculated exuberance that is hockey's essence. Witness last Saturday. He was on the second power play unit - an achievement for any freshman - with the Engineers trailing Yale by a goal midway through the third.

He and Oren Eizenman were cycling along the right boards when he looped into a clearing near the circle. Matt McNeely, a senior defenseman with a good shot, tapped his stick at the point. Give it here.

A less confident, more flustered freshman might've obliged immediately. But Ornelas hesitated.

Pause. Ponder.

Poise.

"Matty was clapping his stick," Ornelas said. "I looked around and saw that, even if he got a shot, there weren't too many guys in front. Only Broader (Kevin Broad), and he had a crowd around him."

So, he rimmed it to the corner and picked Eizenman's man. Eizenman, ever creative, jitterbugged and drew a defender. He slipped a pass through the slot to Broad, who whacked it into the open net. Tie game.

"Just a good play," Ornelas said.

Broad gets the goal. Eizenman gets kudos for a brilliant play. Ornelas gets a quiet tap on his backside from those who realized he set it all up.

"He's smart," said McNeely.

Like those corny hotel ads, Ornelas has become more cerebral overnight. He said he "sees the ice differently." He's more analytical - a good thing for someone who aspires to a career in financial advising.

The result, naturally, has been increased productivity. In mid-January, he was averaging one point every 10 games. Since then, he's averaged one point every other game. Think of it this way: He's five times the scorer he was six weeks ago.

"He's really developed," said head coach Dan Fridgen.

Watch him stickhandle during warm-ups. It's the same methodical twitch every time. Forehand-backhand. Forehand-backhand. Forehand-backhand. He swivels and snaps it in. He's done it the same way for years, he said.

And that's fine. Hold on to it. The rest of his routine calls for constant change. He's adapting quite nicely.