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Fridgen: Team Showed Unity

Says Engineers Grew Amid Continued Adversity

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, March 6, 2006

TROY - It will go into the record books as a second consecutive losing season and two-and-out playoff appearance, but RPI's season can't be measured simply by wins and losses in light of the adversity the 2005-06 team faced.

Beginning with the devastating news that leading returning scorer Kirk MacDonald would miss the season through complications from testicular cancer, the dark cloud seemed to hover over the team almost to the end.

Injuries kept the Engineers (14-17-6, 8-8-6 ECACHL) from having much continuity in the lineup for any sustained period of time, yet they managed to remain competitive. Other than a 5-0 loss at Yale on Jan. 21, RPI was in the hunt in virtually every game.

With a number of freshmen prematurely called to extended duty because of injuries to veterans, RPI still managed to finish in a tie for sixth place and counted eight one-goal losses among its 17 setbacks. RPI won the season series against both arch-rivals, Cornell and Clarkson (1-0-1).

"I thought as a team we really grew over the course of the season," said coach Dan Fridgen, whose contract extension ended this weekend. "We certainly finished higher than what we were picked in the preseason (9th by the coaches, 8th by the media)."

But the Engineers lost a key defenseman in senior Alexander Valentin for the last half of the season, and several other key players at different times.

"We faced some adversity where we had some injuries, this season more than any I can remember," Fridgen said. "I thought guys did a great job of picking up the slack and really gelling together. These guys were very, very coachable this year."

Ultimately, RPI's undoing was its penalty killing (11th among 12 teams in the ECACHL) and its inability to score more than two goals in any of its last four games. The Engineers surrendered three power-play goals in the playoff series against Quinnipiac and scored only three goals of any kind.

Fridgen praised his players, seven of whom completed their hockey careers this weekend.

"There's a process to growth and development for student-athletes when they go through four years of doing well academically and playing at such a high level as Division I ice hockey," he said. "They're to be commended for it. We didn't leave anything in the locker room; we left it all on the ice."

Senior captain Kevin Croxton completed a brilliant career as the team's leading scorer with 39 points (14-25) in 31 games, and junior Oren Eizenmen was the team's most improved player with a team-leading 16 goals and 38 points. He scored in both playoff games.

"This season had a lot of ups and downs," said Croxton, who uncharacteristically missed six games with a foot injury. "We grew as a team and we got better every day. That's what we asked the guys to do at the start of the year. This was an easy team to lead ... a great group to be around."

Defenseman Scott Romfo completed his best season for the Engineers, scoring 17 points (2-15) in 34 games.

"We worked hard every practice, every shift of every game," he said. "We just tried to move forward and not let there be excuses. There were rough times, but we battled every night."