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Engineers Endure Disappointing Season

Fridgen Unhappy with Record and Playoff Loss, but Pleased with How His Team Handled Adversity

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, March 7, 2006

TROY - Someone said it that when the referee and goal judge missed an obvious goal late in Rensselaer Polytechnic Insitute's 2-1 loss to Colgate in the final regular-season game, it was typical of the Engineers' season - and an omen.

Perhaps. One week later, the Engineers were upset in the preliminary round of the ECAC Hockey League playoffs.

One thing is sure, the Engineers early-round exit from the postseason, at the hands of a lower-seeded team, and their final record of 14-17-6, were major disappointments.

"Oh, yeah," said head coach Dan Fridgen. "We wanted to go as far as we could and obviously, it wasn't that (first-round loss)."

And Fridgen admitted to being surprised in Game 2 of the Quinnipiac series.

"When we got behind, it seemed we were under more (self-imposed) pressure than we should have been," he said. "Then we started squeezing the sticks tighter and I'm not sure we reacted as well as we could have."

The ever-positive Fridgen said that he was "pleased overall" because the team faced so much adversity, though he didn't use the many injuries the Engineers incurred as an excuse.

During the season, the Engineers had their ups and downs.

They rallied to beat Boston University on the road, for example, and came within 10 seconds of a tie against No. 2-ranked Miami, a team which spent most of the season ranked either 1 or 2.

Rensselaer, however, also lost three games to the lower-level Atlantic Hockey conference teams and lost at home to a woeful Merrimack team one night after one of their biggest comebacks in history.

They fell behind Northeastern 4-0 but rallied to win 7-5, then played poorly the next night.

The Engineers were simply unable to get into a groove and string victories together.

Discounting last-place Brown, which won only four regular-season games, every team in the ECAC Hockey League put together extended winning skeins - except RPI.

- Quinnipiac, which lost 11-of-13 games at one point and finished 10th in the 12-team league, upset the Engineers in the first round of the playoffs, has won nine of its last 12;

- Yale started the regular season 0-6-0 and finished 0-8-1, but the Bulldogs were 6-0-1 in between, hammering the Engineers 5-0 during that streak;

- Regular-season champion Dartmouth went 14-2-2 in league play after an 0-4-0 start and the Big Green had an 11-3-2 streak overall;

- ECACHL runner-up Colgate had a pair of five-game winning streaks and a 9-1-2 skein;

- Third-place Cornell went 12-1-3 at one point, including a five-game winning streak;

- Harvard had an 8-3-1 skein among a rugged non-league schedule and won five of its final six ECACHL games to outlast St. Lawrence for fourth place;

- The fifth-place Saints stumbled late - and nearly lost its preliminary-round series to 4-18-7 Brown - but SLU was 11-4-0 after 15 games, also with a tough non-league slate;

- Princeton won only 10 games but after a 2-9-0 mark in 11 league games, the Tigers won four straight ECACHL games and finished 5-3-2, with all three defeats coming in overtime;

- Union went 10-3-4 at home during the season and had winning spurts of 9-3-2 (including 6-1-1) early and 5-1-1 late in the season.

Rensselaer did win four straight non-league games but within that streak was Army which hasn't been competitive with the Engineers for seven years.

Rensselaer's best ECACHL streak was 3-0-3 but two of those ties were toe-stubbers in which they blew two-goal leads.

"To do that (put together winning streaks)," RPI tri-captain Brad Farynuk said, "you have to play a solid, 60-minute game almost every night. We just didn't do that."

The hard-hitting, soft-spoken defenseman didn't know why. Fridgen either.

It would be hard to underplay the injury factor in RPI's season unless one chose to do so purposely.

Losing leading scorer Kevin Croxton for six games, winger Kevin Broad for 12, leading defensemen Brad Farynuk and Alex Valentin for extended times, as well as defensive forward Mark Yurkewecz, certainly hurt a great deal, especially since all of those losses were concurrent.

However, the Engineers, to their credit, went 3-4-0 with Croxton out of the lineup, even with most of the others out at the same time.

It's true that Croxton wasn't near 100 percent physically when he returned at Union on Feb. 3 and that the other players continued to be out for several more games. Nonetheless, including the playoffs, RPI posted a mediocre 3-4-3 record after Croxton returned. The team simply didn't build enough momentum from his and Farynuk's returns.

Scoring goals was again a big problem.

The Engineers played 24 games against ECACHL teams, including the two playoff losses. Just six times did they score as many as four goals, going 4-0-2 in those games.

Only Union (5 times) and Brown (three) did so less often in 24 games (25 for Brown). The other teams: Yale 9, Clarkson 8, Princeton 8, Quinnipiac 8, St. Lawrence 9 (25 games).

In 22 games, Dartmouth has scored four or more 12 times; Cornell 9; Colgate 9; Harvard 6.

It's getting to be almost a yearly theme this time of year, but to move up the EACCHL standings next season the Engineers will have to find ways to put the puck in the net more often.