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Croxton's Return Can't Produce Victory

RPI's One-point Weekend Against Union a Major Disappointment

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, February 6, 2006

TROY - Kevin Croxton can carry Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at full strength. He's done it before.

Full strength is the key phrase, though. As hampered as he was during the weekend's 3-2 loss and 1-1 tie with Union, the RPI attack continued to struggle finding the net.

The senior right winger was severely limited by a painful ankle injury during his return to the lineup against Union over the weekend.

Croxton was almost like a third defenseman, staying within the left circle almost exclusively, whether on the power play or 5-on-5 situations. He went to the corner or along the boards for the puck only if he knew he'd get there first.

Croxton, who's always maintained he's a better playmaker than goal-scorer, is most dangerous when he takes the puck behind the net and surveys the action for an open teammate coming down the slot.

Rensselaer fans didn't see that over the weekend. When will they?

"Hopefully next week (against Yale and Brown)," Croxton said. "This is kind of one of those things that, when you start playing on it, it just kind of stays the same (rather than improving), unfortunately, because you're re-aggravating it. I'm going to try to sneak some days off (from practice) and try to rehab it and get it better. But who knows what will happen?"

Although only a couple of instances drew questions of cheap-shots, it was clear the rival Dutchmen were going after Croxton.

"I don't know, you tell me," Croxton said when asked. "It seems like I got a hack on every draw. But that's fine, it comes with the territory. I just have to learn to keep my mouth shut and play through it, keep fighting, find a way to make it happen offensively."

"It's almost a compliment," the Calgary native said. "I don't know any of the injuries on their (Union) team."

It had been reported after Union's 3-2 victory on Friday night in which Croxton assisted on RPI's first goal, that he was only playing at 70 percent.

"Seventy-percent, my butt," Union coach Nate Leaman said.

Leaman, though, perhaps he wasn't aware, was speaking more of Croxton's heart, rather than his current abilities.

"He was out there every other shift and I'm happy the way we contained him," Leaman said. "He's one of the best forwards in the league and we contained him."

Eizenman takes blame: Oren Eizenman had six chances to score on Saturday night - several excellent ones - but he either outright missed or was robbed by Union goalie Kris Mayotte.

Having failed on each try, including two with a half-open net, Eizenman said he "let my team down tonight."

"On the first one, I actually hit the far post," he said of his open-net chances in the third period.

On the second, Mayotte got his blocker on Eizenman's chip shot on a rebound from inches outside the crease.

"He just got his pad out," Eizenman said of Mayotte. "I should have gone upstairs with it."

"I can't believe I didn't put (any of) those in," the junior center said. "It was the difference in winning and losing. What can I say? I had a lot of chances ... I would normally put them in, tonight I didn't. It was very frustrating. I feel like I let the guys down and it's a terrible thing because there's nothing hurts more than looking at your teammates battle hard for 60 minutes, then you're the one who gets the break and you don't put it in."

Eizenman, who slammed a rebound right into Mayotte's stick just 2:39 into the game, created another great chance for himself a few minutes later, built by his own hard work.

"I forced a turnover and got the puck on the (right side) well," the Toronto native said. "I made a good cut, beat their defensemen; they kind of got mixed up. I had a glorious shot from the slot and (having Mayotte beaten) shot it wide."

"I don't know," Eizenman said. "I've got to keep working hard and get out of this funk I'm in so I can continue to help the team."

Forwards in long slump: Andrew Lord's impressive goal in Saturday's 1-1 tie was a rare one for the Engineers. It was just the sixth equal-strength goal by an RPI forward in the past 12 games. (Forwards had eight power-play goals during that time.)

It's great to get goals from defensemen (Keith MCWilliams and Co. have seven of RPI's past 11 tallies), as RPI had done for five years, but it's difficult to win on a long-term basis without the forwards, who get the close-range chances, doing the bulk of the scoring.

Sophomore winger Jonathan Ornelas, RPI's leader in goals with 13, spoke for the entire team's level of frustration when he was asked how frustrating it was not to win Saturday's game.

"Real frustrating," he said. "We played well (Saturday), played well (Friday). We just aren't burying our opportunities, the ones that are sitting right in the crease. We're just not finishing those types of opportunities. It's real frustrating not to come out of this weekend with more than one point."

The Engineers (11-14-4 overall) are 5-7-4 in the ECAC Hockey League and their hopes for a Top 4 finish are virtually ended.

Leftover saves: There were plenty.

Mayotte stonewalled Croxton with a stick save with 6:11 remaining in the first, got in front of Mathieu Angers-Goulet's point blank rebound one minute into the second period, closed his 5-hole just in time to deny MCWilliams' backhand rebound and denied Ornelas with 11:13 remaining in regulation play.

Rensselaer goalie Mathias Lange slid his leg over to the near post to close the hole just inside to stop Olivier Bouchard's bid within the final half-minute of the second period. He had made clutch, goalmouth stops on Chris Potts and Clifton Park's Jake Schwan earlier in the period and came up big to deny Matt Cook in the third.