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Mistakes Costly in RPI's Loss to Bears

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, March 7, 2005

TROY - Brown University is the most freshman-laden team in the ECAC Hockey League. It was a fundamental mistake by a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute freshman, though, that led to the overtime goal by Bears freshman Chris Poli that ended the Engineers' season.

Rensselaer goalie Andrew Martin easily handled Rugo Santini's half shot, half centering pass but when attempting to clear the puck, put it right on Poli's stick.

The play developed when RPI left winger Jonathan Ornelas started out of the RPI zone with the puck five minutes into overtime. He turned back when confronted by a forechecker and another Brown player poked the puck away and it wound up on Santini's stick.

Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen continuously preaches "coming forward with the puck instead of going back into our end."

"You tell them all season long," Fridgen said, "any time you head (further) into your own zone with the puck instead of heading out of the zone, you're asking for trouble. That's not to point the finger at anybody; that's just a given in the game of hockey," Fridgen said.

What was quite impressive to see was Ornelas, the freshman, go directly to Martin, the senior, to console him.

Martin struggled so badly in Game 1 of the playoffs on Friday night, he literally couldn't keep his team in the game, a 7-4 defeat. Though he gave up a bad rebound on the game's first goal Saturday night, he bounced back with a solid game.

He, like the team, deserved better - and would have had better, if either of the goalpost-denting shots of Kirk MacDonald (midway through the second period) or Matt McNeely (3:54 into overtime) had been one-half inch further inside those posts.

"Yeah, we deserved to win both games," said Martin, who admitted he "wasn't there for my team" (in Game 1).

Bad omen?: Brown opened the scoring in the series at 3:52 of the first period in Game 1 on a goal by Poli - his first of the season. Saturday night, again the Bears take a 1-0 lead at 3:52 of the first on a goal by another freshman, Jeff Prough.

Short-lived ties: One of the big problems for the Engineers during their 14-22-2 season was not playing well with the lead. Having seen his team blow a 3-0 lead in a 3-3 tie at Brown during the season, RPI co-captain Brad Farynuk worried that such a problem would present itself again.

Goals by MacDonald and Kevin Croxton within 1:08 of each other midway through the third period Saturday night had given the Engineers a 3-2 lead.

However, Brown defenseman and co-captain Gerry Burke scored just 1:19 after Croxton's goal, at 10:51, to tie the game 3-3. It marked the fifth time in the series that the Bears answered an RPI goal quickly - four times, quite quickly. The Engineers tied the game four times in Game 1 only to see the Bears regain the lead in 1:27, 3:13, :45, 1:08 respectively.

"Every time we'd get one, it seemed, they'd come right back seconds later," Farynuk said. "It was frustrating."

And it clearly wore on the Engineers mentally, though they never let down emotionally and fought until the final horn.

There was some question on Burke's goal. He fired a shot from the right point on which Martin was screened and, thus, couldn't control the rebound. The puck came back to Burke a few seconds later. He took two strides to his left and as he fired, Martin was knocked off balance.

Fridgen wondered if a Brown player, perhaps Les Haggett, may have interfered with the RPI goalie.

Referee Frank Murphy told Fridgen that it was an RPI teammate who banged into Martin.

Still, though, it appeared that Haggett may have been in the crease but Murphy, who had waved off an earlier Brown goal for a crease violation, didn't see it that way.

Poli steps up: Poli had just two assists in 25 games during the regular season but was the leading scorer in the series with three goals and one assist.

"I know, it's weird how these things work sometimes," he said. "But I have to thank my coaches and my teammates for having the confidence in me all year and giving me a shot and luckily, I was able to take advantage of it."

Fridgen to be evaluated: Since the Engineers were expected to go further in the playoffs, and to lose far fewer than 22 games, and since Fridgen's contract expires after next year, reporters asked Rensselaer Athletic Director Ken Ralph if Fridgen's job may be in danger now.

"I fully expect Dan to be back next year," Ralph said prior to Saturday's game. "We will evaluate the program as we evaluate all our athletic teams and Dan, as an employee just like we evaluate every Rensselaer employee. That will be done in May and be done by me."

Tip of the hat to Yale: The Engineers were swept by Brown but Dartmouth, universally regarded as the top ECACHL team not to earn a bye, was unable to sweep last-place Yale, clearly the weakest team in the league.

The 5-25-2 Bulldogs went down in the decisive third game on Sunday night but deserve a rink's worth of credit for winning Game 2 on Saturday night in overtime, despite being outshot 64-27.