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Could Huge Win Vault RPI?

Gut-check Decision Over Harvard Could Be Key

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 9, 2006

TROY - Could Saturday night's gut-check victory over Harvard be the turning point in a successful hockey season for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute?

The Engineers had been having trouble finding the net lately. The power play, even with Kevin Croxton, was not producing many scoring chances.

Then, Croxton left the game with an ankle injury early in the second period. One can talk all day about cliches - 'everybody stepping up when a star is injured'; 'overcoming adversity'. All of that, however cliched, is true but, be sure: the Engineers had to have doubts with Croxton out and the offense struggling.

Suddenly, dramatically, two players combined for a big play.

Freshman center Mathieu Angers-Goulet went into the left corner for the puck, grabbed it when Brad Farynuk poked it out, skated down the goal and saw senior defenseman Keith MCWilliams creeping down the slot.

MCWilliams snapped one past Harvard goalie John Daigneau and a great barrier was lifted for the Engineers.

Kevin Broad took a perfect pass from Reed Kipp, another freshman, made a sparkling play around a standout defenseman (Tom Walsh) and rifled home his sixth goal.

Jake Morissette scored one of the more impressive goals of the season - just his second - on a laser slapper just under the crossbar from the left slot. Those goals were huge confidence-builders and each was necessary to hold off Harvard's vaunted comeback effort.

After the Engineers' recent disappointments in a number of non-league games, and Friday night's 4-1 loss in which they outplayed Dartmouth until the Big Green scored three goals over the final 12 minutes, Saturday's victory could have been crucial to RPI's season; certainly it was, if the Engineers are to realize their goal of a Top 4 finish and subsequent first-round bye in the ECAC Hockey League playoffs.

Could that triumph be the season's turning point?

With nationally-ranked St. Lawrence and Clarkson coming to Houston Field House this coming weekend, we could know soon.

CEO line broken up: Only one line in the nation - Colorado College's Marty Sertich line - entered the weekend with more goals than Oren Eizenman's line of Jonathan Ornelas and right winger Croxton's total of 34.

To get a little more scoring balance among the lines, though, RPI coach Dan Fridgen decided to break up the line.

Ornelas had been held without a shot on goal in the Dartmouth game and though he leads the team in goals (12), he was dropped down to Seth Klerer's line (2 goals-3 assists-5 points) with Chris Hussey (5-1-6) on the right.

Broad was elevated to Eizenman's line and notched his fifth goal (5-1-6) on his fine play in the second period.

There's only one reason a coach would break up a line that contains a team's top three goal-scorers.

"I thought that, the last three games they (Eizenman's line) hadn't had a 5-on-5 goal," Fridgen explained, "and I thought by taking Jonny and spreading him through the lineup, gave us some depth."

"And then Kevin goes down ... and all I did was rotate the right wingers all the way through (among all four lines). And they (Morissette, Hussey, Andrew Lord) handled it real well."

Good outing: Angers-Goulet skated with freshman LW Kurt Colling and Lord for the first over the weekend and that line was quite effective.

"I thought Mathieu Goulet's line played very well," Fridgen said after the Dartmouth game.

The shot chart of Friday's game saw Morissette and Angers-Goulet each with three quality shots from the lower slot. Lord scored the only goal as part of the No. 1 power play unit.

Fourth line with crucial time: Dan Peace's fourth line (LW Tyler Eaves, Morissette) saw plenty of ice time throughout the third period Saturday, protecting the lead against Harvard.

"They do a really good job of shutting down the opposition's top line," Fridgen said, "and I have no problem utilizing them and they're playing with a lot of confidence right now, which is important to them taking care of the task."

Curiously, both Harvard goals came with Jimmy Fraser's fourth line (LW Alex Meintel, Steve Rolecek) on the ice.

Meintel's goal was the line's third of the season but they're as good a forechecking unit as the Crimson have and they came within inches of leading Harvard all the way back.

Morissette has just three goals in 47 games for the Engineers but he doesn't lack a hard slapshot.

"He's got a real good shot," Fridgen said of Morissette.

"That's something that we were harping on. Even on the last two times he tried to beat the guy one-on-one. We keep harping on him to shoot the puck, shoot the puck because you never know when (the goalie) might misplay it, or you get a nice rebound on it."

Eaves got such a rebound of a Morissette blast 4:45 into the third period. He shot it wide.

"Yeah, I just saw the rebound and I hit it," Eaves said. "It must have been spinning just right and I hit it over (the crossbar). Wish I could have it over. I just have to get that first one."

Eaves (0-1-1) is the only RPI forward without a goal this season.

Jake Luthi (0-5-5) and Ryan Swanson (0-4-4) are the only defensemen without one.

No first-period doldrums: One big positive over the weekend was that the Engineers played hard and well for the first period.

Too often this season they were not only outscored (the cumulative total is 24-13) but also dug themselves a big hole.

They outplayed both Dartmouth and Harvard in the first period.