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RPI Must Steer Without Captain

Senior Battles Cancer As Team Begins Season

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, October 7, 2005

TROY - There was a conspicuous absence and a less conspicuous presence at Houston Field House at practice this week as the RPI hockey team prepared for tonight's season-opening exhibition against Ottawa.

The familiar number 13 of senior captain Kirk MacDonald, last year's leading scorer and offensive igniter, was nowhere to be found on the ice. There was, however, a team full of players and coaches skating around the rink in fluorescent yellow wristbands.

Diagnosed with testicular cancer following last season, the 21-year-old MacDonald remains home in British Columbia and won't be ready to skate any time soon. His teammates, however, have found a way to have MacDonald's spirit close with those yellow wristbands, the "Live Strong" adornments created by a more famous testicular cancer survivor to raise funds and awareness for cancer education.

"Obviously, it's inspiration for us," said defenseman Brad Farynuk, last year's captain. "We're all wearing the little Lance Armstrong bracelets. You might be sitting in class or working out and you think you're tired or you need a little extra energy, you just kind of look at your wrist and you know (MacDonald is) battling harder than anyone, so it picks you up real quick. It's just something to show our support for Kirk because he's one of our best friends, family."

MacDonald had a message for his teammates as they prepared for what would be his senior season.

"I wish my teammates well as they begin the season and I'll be following with much interest," said the management major, who could accept a medical redshirt if he's unable to return this season. "My cancer treatments ended two months ago and now I'm working to regain my weight and my strength. Although I do not have a timetable, I am anxious to get back on campus and back on the ice."

MacDonald would be one of 12 returning forwards from a team that was a disappointing 14-22-2 (6-15-1, 11th ECACHL) and would have been even worse without his team-leading 16 goals and 20 assists. Nobody knows that better than coach Dan Fridgen, who begins his 12th season in Troy.

"He's in the back of our minds, but the way we're approaching it is we're going with what we have right now with the players that are here," Fridgen said. "If he were to come back, that would be a bonus. He's still going through the healing process. His spirits are up, yet he's a little frustrated because you have to be patient with the healing process. When you're a young go-getter such as Kirk, that can be very frustrating."

No teammate will miss MacDonald more than linemate Kevin Croxton, who has combined with his ailing partner to give RPI a prolific front line the past two seasons. The senior co-captain had 35 points (10-25) last season playing opposite MacDonald.

"It's kind of weird," said Croxton, who teamed with MacDonald for 13 power-play goals. "You sometimes play with those guys where you just know where each other's going to be. I can almost not even look. I just know where he's going to be and throw it into an area and he's always there. It'll be tough; everybody's going to have to adjust."

The Engineers got off to a good start last season (3-1-1), but went through a pair of streaks in which they lost six of seven games and later closed out the league campaign with a 2-6 lull before being ousted by Brown in the playoffs in two games. The Engineers lost 10 games by a single goal.