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Injuries Tripping RPI's Top Skaters

Engineers Are Rebuilding As Playoffs on Horizon

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, January 27, 2006

TROY - The RPI media guide spells out the leadership plan for this year's team succinctly in its player biographies: Kevin Croxton, captain; Brad Farynuk, captain; Kirk MacDonald, captain.

Yet with five weekends of the regular season left, none is available to give the club the benefit of his experience and leadership in the stretch run of this ECAC Hockey League season. MacDonald won't be back until next season, and coach Dan Fridgen can only hope that Croxton and Farynuk will return before the playoffs.

"I don't anticipate anybody back anytime soon, other than Tyler Eaves," said Fridgen, who is forced to play a precarious numbers game as the Engineers try to stay in contention for a home playoff berth. "And he's (Eaves) still questionable."

Senior defenseman Alexander Valentin is done for the season, and forward Kevin Broad remains inactive as the Engineers tackle a rough road trip this weekend to Harvard and Dartmouth.

RPI is still in good position at 5-4-3 in the league despite coming off a dismal 5-0 loss at Yale, and for the time being, Fridgen has to turn to seniors like Keith MCWilliams to help keep it all together.

"We've been relying on Keith MCWilliams, and he's been doing an outstanding job with it," Fridgen said. "It's not just off the ice and in the locker room, but on the ice as well. In his last 10 games, he's got four goals and five assists. He's a very hard worker, a very intelligent player. He really does a good job of keeping his game simple, and he's picked up a step as far as his speed is concerned."

Fridgen said MCWilliams also sets an example when he's not playing solid defense for the depleted blue-line corps.

"He's very conscious about his nutrition, and he's very diligent in the weight room," Fridgen said of his 200-pounder from California. "He's a strong player who really takes care of his body, which is what you need to do playing at this high a level."

Fridgen has reconfigured his former top line of Croxton-Oren Eizenman-Jon Ornelas with the latter two being reunited and joined by freshman Seth Klerer, but offense may be a problem against the upper echelon opponents ahead for RPI.

"We just need to find some offense in other areas," Fridgen said. "At the same time, we can play better defensively. Right now, we're giving up about three goals a game (3.16, 11th in the ECACHL). We need to get that down to about 2, and that's something everybody can do."

But everybody who's healthy is also concerned that another injury or two could completely cripple the lineup.

"We were going pretty strong, then it was just injury after injury," senior forward Chris Hussey said. "Most guys can't even skate. We know we have to go with what we've got in the room. If (another) defenseman goes down, we've got four. If a forward goes down, we're going to be down four forwards."

Ice chips: Union's Jason Visser and RPI's MCWilliams were named to the ECACHL weekly honor roll. ... Boston College has taken over the top spot in the national polls.