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Disappointed Engineers Overcame Many Obstacles

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, March 7, 2006

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's 2004-05 season had barely ended when it received the news that Kirk MacDonald, the team's leading scorer for two consecutive years, was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

That set the stage for a challenging season for the Engineers and head coach Dan Fridgen.

Despite not having MacDonald for the entire season, and losing other players to injuries during it, the Engineers still clawed their way to a tie for sixth place with Union in the ECACHL standings, giving them home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

But RPI's season ended Saturday when Quinnipiac swept the best-of-three first-round series, leaving the Engineers with a 14-17-6 record.

Now, after finishing with a losing record for the third time in four years, Fridgen's job status is up in the air. He is in the final year of a three-year contract. Although there have been discussions about a new contract, nothing has been signed.

RPI athletic director Ken Ralph will meet with school officials today to discuss the hockey program. While a decision on Fridgen's fate may not come out of the meeting, Ralph supports the coach.

"We're all getting over the shock that it's over," Ralph said Monday. "I think we all thought the season would go a little longer. We want to make sure we gather ourselves, and make the right decisions for the program going forward."

"I think Dan did an excellent job managing the team during a difficult time this year.... I look and say that we've got a team that does unbelievably in the classroom. They're great in the community. Their community service activities have been nothing short of spectacular. I'm hoping our coaching staff gets a little credit in assisting in that process. They're bringing the right kids in here."

Fridgen, the school's all-time winningest coach with a 211-193-38 record, believes everything will work out.

"It's being worked on, and that's all I know at this point," Fridgen said. "I haven't been told anything different."

Early on, the Engineers lost sophomore defenseman Jake Schuster, who returned to junior hockey because he wasn't happy with his playing time at RPI.

Then, the injuries piled up.

Senior defenseman Alexander Valentin was lost for the season with a torn ACL against Holy Cross Dec. 30. Senior forward and team leading scorer Kevin Croxton injured his ankle Jan. 7 against Harvard, and missed six games.

Also getting hurt and missing time were senior defenseman Brad Farynuk, senior forward Mark Yurkewecz, junior forward Kevin Broad and sophomore forward Tyler Eaves.

It got so bad that, for four straight games, RPI played with 17 skaters, one under the limit, and used just five defensemen.

"For the most part, I was pleased with the regular season," Fridgen said. "However, we certainly would have liked to have gotten more than 14 wins. Six of those games were ties that could have gone in that [winning] direction."

Despite all that, the Engineers got hot in February. They went unbeaten in six straight, which helped them clinch a home-ice berth for the first time since 2004.

"Something we've been talking about all year is that we thought that would be a good goal for this program, considering where we had been with the injuries, and being without our leading scorer," Ralph said. "I really think the coaching staff did a nice job to manage the program through a very difficult time, and that has to be recognized."