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Cold Reception for Union, RPI

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, September 24, 2002

ALBANY - A dozen college hockey coaches came to Pepsi Arena on Monday with one shared goal - to be back in March.

Only five will earn the privilege when the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference holds its championship tournament in Albany for the first time, ending a 10-year run at Lake Placid and beginning a three-year contract with Pepsi Arena.

"We're certainly very excited," said RPI coach Dan Fridgen, who along with his colleagues and ECAC officials met with reporters Monday at Pepsi Arena. "I realize it's going to be a challenge with the new playoff format, where every team is going to be afforded that opportunity to be here."

In previous years, only the top 10 teams in the regular season qualified for the playoffs.

Albany is just the third city to play host to the ECAC tournament. The first 31 tournaments were at the old Boston Garden.

Albany County Executive Mike Breslin and Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings were among those welcoming guests to the league's media day.

"We couldn't be happier," Breslin said. "There's nothing more exciting than college playoff hockey."

The main question to be answered over the next five months is which of the 12 teams will survive the early rounds of the playoffs and come back here March 21-22. If the preseason polls are any indication, RPI and Union won't be among them.

RPI, which was 20-13-4 overall and finished third in last year's ECAC tournament at Lake Placid, is ranked eighth in the preseason coaches' poll and seventh in the media poll. Union, which missed the playoffs on the final night of the regular season, was picked 10th and 12th, respectively.

"Not a lot is going to affect our vision right now in terms of what we want to accomplish as a team," said Fridgen, who lost his top two scorers, Marc Cavosie (23 goals, 27 assists) and Matt Murley (24-22), to the professional ranks. "We've lost big scorers before. To look at the polls, it's obvious that those voting felt that the scoring is really going to affect us. I really don't agree with that, but we'll see."

Union has 18 players returning from a team that finished in 11th place last year with an 8-11-3 league record (13-13-6 overall), but must replace Brandon Snee, a four-year starter in goal.

"I think polls are real important from a fan perspective to get the coaches' opinions," Union coach Kevin Sneddon said. "So I don't want to take away any importance of the polls because I think they are fun. From a coaching standpoint, just because you're picked first doesn't mean you're gonna end that way. Just because we're picked down near the bottom doesn't mean we're thinking that way."

Cornell, which lost to Harvard in the 2002 ECAC final in double overtime, was the first choice in both polls, narrowly edging the Crimson in the coaches' poll.

Cornell had seven first-place votes to Harvard's five in the coaches' poll, nipping the Crimson 116-115 in total points. Cornell got 16 of 21 first-place votes in the media poll.

"Obviously, I'm the only coach in here who wants to prove the polls right," said Cornell's Mike Schafer, who welcomes back 14 lettermen from a 25-8-2 team that made the NCAA Tournament. "I always believe in the expectations within our hockey team. I think our players and fans have similar expectations, so obviously you're pleased other people feel the same."

Schafer said his 11 opponents probably can expect more of the same this season.

"In our own heart, we think this team will be as good or better," he said. "What we need is contributions from our freshman class. They've got to come in and step up, much like our freshman class did last year."