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Dutchmen Hope to Turn Tables on Saints, Knights

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, November 4, 2005

The Union men's hockey team doesn't want to remember what happened when it visited Clarkson and St. Lawrence just over nine months ago.

On the other hand, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute would love a repeat of last year's North Country excursion.

The Dutchmen and Engineers open ECACHL play tonight at 7 with the annual North Country trip. Union (3-2-1) plays 20th-ranked St. Lawrence (4-2) in Canton, while just up the road in Potsdam, RPI (4-3) takes on Clarkson (4-2). Saturday's 7 p.m. games have Union at Clarkson, and RPI at St. Lawrence.

Last season's games in the North Country were a disaster for Union.

The Dutchmen's offense was as cold as the bitter January weather, when temperatures never got above zero and the overnight low was 27 degrees below zero. Union was in the middle of one of its scoring droughts, and dropped a 2-0 decision to the Knights, even though they held a 36-22 shots-on-goal edge.

The next night, the Dutchmen got their offense going against the Saints. The score was tied, 2-2, heading into the final minute of the second period, but two quick goals by the Saints gave them a 4-2 lead after two. The Dutchmen never recovered and lost, 7-3.

For Union coach Nate Leaman, those two games have been erased from the memory banks.

"Even like the Air Force game [a 9-2 loss Oct. 8], that thing is miles behind us right now," Leaman said. "We won up there two years ago. I'm not worried about that at all."

And neither are the players.

"I don't know if it's proving to them that it was a fluke situation," said Kris Mayotte, the reigning ECACHL goalie of the week. "It's the North Country. It's always a tough road trip. Right now, they are two teams on our schedule, and the first ones in the ECAC. We want to get points. If we want to prove anything, we want to prove to ourselves that we can play at a top level on a consistent basis, and prove to other people that UConn [a 4-4 tie Oct. 15] and Air Force was a fluke."

Unlike last season's trip, when they were in the middle of a seven-game losing streak, the Dutchmen head north on a roll. They have won two straight, and are 3-0-1 in their last four games.

"I like this," Leaman said. "I still think we're going to be up and down until we can get everyone learning the system, and everyone on the same page. But the guys are working their tails off, the guys are willing to learn. We have to shore up a couple of areas. That win against Lowell [last Saturday] was a big mental step for us."

Meanwhile, the Engineers swept last season's North Country trip. It was the first time an RPI team accomplished that since the 1984-85 national championship squad did it.

Now, RPI seeks to pull off another sweep. Consecutive sweeps would be a first. The 1985-86 team came close to doing that, beating St. Lawrence and tying Clarkson.

"Anything can happen," said RPI forward Kevin Croxton, who is the ECACHL's leading scorer, and second in the nation, with five goals and nine assists. "I don't think we're going up there with the idea that it can't be done. Why bother going then?"

The Engineers had their fourgame winning streak snapped last Saturday when Merrimack pulled out a 5-3 victory. Three of the Warriors' goals came on the power play, all scored by Matt Johnson, including one at 6:49 of the third period that tied the score, 3-3.

RPI gave Merrimack eight power plays. It can't afford to spend too much time in the penalty box against Clarkson, which is ranked second in the nation with 4 1 /2 goals per game.

"The key for us is playing smart, especially on the road," RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. "The one area I was not happy with is, we started slow Saturday night. Not only did we start slow, but we made some bad decisions that led to penalties. It's one thing to start slow, but you compound the effect by taking those kind of penalties. All of a sudden, you're spending 10 minutes of the 20 minutes in the penalty box."

WOMEN'S TEAMS HOME

The Union and RPI women's teams return to action this weekend with home games.

The Dutchwomen (0-4) will host Sacred Heart (0-4-1) tonight at 7, and Saturday at 2 at Messa Rink. Union is coming off a pair of 8-0 ECACHL losses to Clarkson last weekend.

Four of Union's five wins last season came against Sacred Heart.

After beating McGill, 2-1, in an exhibition game last Saturday, the Engineers (5-0-1) welcome Boston University (4-2-3) to Houston Field House at 7 tonight, and 4 p.m. Saturday. Both teams are first-year Division I squads.

The Terriers feature Queensbury native Nicki Wiart. The freshman forward is tied for fourth on the team in scoring with four goals and three assists.