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RPI's Ornelas Helps Plug Gap in Offense

Sophomore Steps Up with MacDonald Out of Action

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, November 11, 2005

TROY - It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say forward Jonathan Ornelas is ahead of the curve a month into his second season at RPI.

The 5-foot-9 sophomore already has equaled the number of goals he scored as a freshman (five) after only nine games, just what the Engineers needed when leading scorer Kirk MacDonald was lost for the season.

"We needed somebody to step up," RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. "We're still looking for other guys to step up as well."

Ornelas, 19, has taken advantage of an opportunity to play on a line with two of RPI's top returnees.

"I've gotten a chance to play with (Kevin) Croxton and (Oren) Eizenman, and I'm just trying to make the most of it," he said. "It's a great line. They see the ice so well. I get to an open spot and they find me, and vice versa."

With Ornelas and Croxton at the wings and the speedy Eizenman at center, the line has accounted for half of RPI's 32 goals.

"He's playing with more confidence, and he's got some elements you just can't teach," Fridgen said of Ornelas. "He's a tough kid, not afraid of the physical play. He certainly plays a lot bigger than he actually is, and he's got that one element that will put fear into any opponent -- speed. He works real hard off the ice, and he's very, very low-maintenance."

Ornelas made the adjustment to college hockey faster than many.

"Going from juniors to this level was a big jump, speed-wise and talent-wise," said Ornelas, who will be counted on to keep it going against Quinnipiac and Princeton this weekend. "Once you get used to it, it's almost like you had a talent inside you that you didn't use in juniors and all of a sudden it starts to come out."

Quinnipiac (8-2-0) brings an eight-game winning streak and No. 20 national ranking to RPI.

"They're certainly not going to be intimidated by coming into the ECACHL and playing our teams because they've already gone to the Michigans and Michigan States and played in their buildings," Fridgen said. "They're new to the league, and they want to make a point." Streich day-to-day: Union co-captain Sean Streich, who dislocated his left shoulder in the first period Saturday against Clarkson, could play this weekend.

Coach Nate Leaman described the junior defenseman's status as "day to day," but what began as a roster with 10 defensemen is down to seven (five of them underclassmen) if he's unavailable this weekend. Jason Ortolano and Phil McDavitt left the team earlier. Ice chips: Former Union coach Kevin Sneddon, now at Vermont, became a father recently when wife Toni gave birth to a girl, Gabrielle. ... Former RPI star Joe Juneau will be honored Saturday night between periods as the newest member of the college's Athletic Hall of Fame. He also will take part in tonight's annual Black Friday festivities, wearing a special jersey that will be auctioned along with the team's black sweaters especially designed for this game.