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RPI, Union Battle Pesky Injury Bug

Area Colleges Are Playing with Short-handed Rosters

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, January 20, 2006

TROY - Dan Fridgen may be facing one of the toughest coaching tasks of his 12 seasons at RPI.

Fridgen's locker room has begun to look more like a M*A*S*H* unit as the team heads into the stretch run of its ECAC Hockey League season with injuries to key players continuing to pile up.

It began before the season started, when top returning scorer Kirk MacDonald was redshirted because of complications from testicular cancer. Senior defenseman Alexander Valentin suffered a season-ending knee injury on Dec. 30 that required surgery last week.

Kevin Croxton, the ECACHL's leading scorer, was struck by a puck on the ankle and is out indefinitely.

Troy native Mark Yurkewecz was injured before Croxton and has missed seven games, but may return this weekend. Forwards Kevin Broad (groin) and Tyler Eaves (high ankle) and top defenseman Brad Farynuk (broken foot) all went down last weekend. Only Eaves may return tonight.

"It's just one of those things," Fridgen said. "Last year we had 16 forwards and nine defensemen. Some guys hardly got any playing time because there weren't that many injuries. Some years there's just a lot, and this happens to be one of them."

If there's an upside to the injuries, it's that RPI's younger players are gaining experience. Some of them came through last weekend in a win over Clarkson.

"I think guys realized there were real key guys out of the lineup, and it was time to step up for us," said frosh forward Kurt Colling, who led the way with a goal and an assist to match his previous season's point total. "Some of the guys who haven't produced as much offense - it's time for us to start."

Senior defenseman Keith MCWilliams has also become a key player with the loss of Valentin and Farynuk. MCWilliams, who had six goals and 19 points in his first three seasons in Troy, has five goals and 14 points this season.

"I've been fortunate," said MCWilliams (eight points in his past seven games). "My shot's been getting through, and guys have been getting in front of the net."

RPI will try to stay in contention until the team gets near full strength again, hopefully in time for the playoffs the first weekend in March.

"We'll be working with five defensemen and 12 forwards (this weekend)," said Fridgen. "For the first time in a long time, (making) the lineup is an easy decision. I'll be utilizing new guys on special teams. Croxton, Broad and Tyler Eaves all kill penalties."

Union "D" short: The Dutchmen have had their own share of difficulties putting a complete defense on the ice, but that didn't prevent them from posting a record fifth shutout for goalie Kris Mayotte last weekend.

Veterans Bryan Campbell and Scott Wheeler were both injured (and remain questionable), so forward Casey Ftorek was enlisted as a sixth defenseman.

Mayotte, named to the ECACHL weekly honor roll along with RPI's Colling and MCWilliams, ranks first in league play with a .928 save percentage and third with a 2.17 GAA.