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Main Goal: Goals

Engineers need to fix last season's anemic offense if they're going to disprove preseason prediction

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 4, 2005

TROY - Not much is expected of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey team this season.

Having finished 11th in the 12-team ECAC Hockey League for the second time in three seasons last year, and with their leading scorer out indefinitely, the Engineers are picked as low as 11th by some magazines and on-line sites.

When one considers that Quinnipiac joins the ECACHL this year after seven years in the partial-scholarship Atlantic Hockey conference, that pick can be viewed as a slap in the face to RPI players and fans, however meaningless it is.

"That's their opinion," says tri-captain Kevin Croxton. "Obviously, we have to prove some people wrong. That gives us more motivation."

"Guys just look at that as motivation," echoed junior defenseman Jake Luthi. "People may not think of us too highly coming in (to the season) and maybe we can sneak up on some guys. Use it as an advantage."

Last season, the Engineers won only six of 22 league games (6-15-1) among their 14-22-2 overall record.

They went long periods of time struggling to score goals. They won their league opener, then lost the next five by one goal each. Including a 4-3 overtime loss to Brown which eliminated them in the first round of the ECACHL playoffs, the Engineers had a 4-8 record in games decided by one goal.

In one excruciatingly-long scoring slump - discounting defensively weak - the Engineers scored two or fewer goals in 11 of 14 games and had a 1-10-0 record in those games.

Off-ice problems also hurt their performance.

Those memories are still vivid but the players are anxious to move on.

Both head coach Dan Fridgen and tri-captain Brad Farynuk have promised that leadership will be better this season.

At the annual Red & White Scrimmage game, it was obvious that, while RPI will again likely not be a high-scoring team, it was obvious that the Engineers have increased their quickness.

Freshmen forwards Mathieu Angers-Goulet, Andrei Uryadov, Kurtis Colling and Seth Klerer and defenseman Reed Kipp all combine to improve RPI's team speed.

"We added some people I think can help us right now," Fridgen said. "And the attitude from top to bottom is so much better. The guys are anxious to get started and translate that into some victories."

Right winger Kevin Croxton, who's scored 43 goals and 61 assists during his three years, returns for his senior season and leads the offense.

The attack will certainly miss 2004-05 leading scorer Kirk MacDonald (16 goals-20 assists-36 points) for an indefinite period as he recuperates from a battle with cancer.

Junior center Oren Eizenman (6-14-20) was sorely missed last year when he missed eight games with mononucleosis. He'll get more ice time this year, centering the top line and has the skills to sharply increase his scoring numbers.

Sophomore right winger Andrew Lord was a big scorer in juniors but totaled just nine points (4-5-9) during his freshman year during which he played mostly center. He should see much more action on the right this season and should improve his production.

Wingers Kevin Broad (7-8-15), a junior and senior Chris Hussey (6-7-13) increased their production last year and if they can do so again by six-eight points, the offense would get a big lift.

And swift left winger Jonathan Ornelas (5-4-9) could develop into a bigger scorer this year.

Angers-Goulet and Uryadov should both help right away.

Goaltending will have to be better, not only for the team to succeed but also because it can't be as inconsistent as last year when RPI netminders stopped just 88.5 percent of their shots, fought the puck and gave up too many quality rebounds.

Jordan Alford should be much-improved during his sophomore season and freshman Mathias Lange shows promise.

One or both needs to come up big for the Engineers to succeed, and also to take advantage of the fact that several ECAC Hockey League contenders have question marks at goaltender.

Even with the loss of Matt McNeely and Blake Pickett, the Engineers still have a veteran defensive corps, led by tri-captain Brad Farynuk (5-16-21), the top offensive defenseman.

Jake Luthi (6-6-12) had a breakout sophomore season and Alexander Valentin, Keith MCWilliams and Scott Romfo veteran regulars in the lineup.

Junior Ryan Swanson, the team's biggest 'D' man at 6-foot-3, 217 and 6-3, 205 sophomore Jake Schuster have played little but will be given a chance to throw their weight around this season and freshman Reed Kipp's should earn him plenty of time.

The Engineers must put together some wins against quality teams this year amidst a schedule that is somewhat more difficult this year.

Last season, they went 1-14-1 against teams from the four established, full-scholarship conferences that posted winning records and also lost to 8-26-2 Merrimack and split two with 5-27-6 Notre Dame.

Rensselaer will face only four teams from the two partial-scholarship conferences - Holy Cross, Army, Sacred Heart and RIT after posting a 5-1-1 mark in such games last year.

"We have the capability to be a lot better," head coach Dan Fridgen said.

Croxton flatly stated the Engineers "will do better than last year" aside from wins and losses.

"Just based on everything you see that we do on the ice," he said. "I think we're going to do everything better, more (quality) effort, which is going to result in more wins."