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Fridgen Evaluates Talent, Styles at RPI's Annual Red-White Game

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 6, 2002

TROY - What a difference a year makes! One year ago, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey coach Dan Fridgen had just one spot to fill on his roster as her watched the team's annual intrasquad game.

Saturday night, it was a far different story as Fridgen and his assistants watched intently as nine freshmen participated in the annual Red-White Game.

Fridgen and the Engineers have to replace nearly two-thirds of their offense from last season's team that went 20-13-4 among the five forwards and three defensemen who graduated.

Forwards Kevin Croxton, Greg Kemp, Chris Hussey, Matt Yurkewecz and Kirk MacDonald and defensemen Alexander Valentin, Brad Farynuk, Scott Romfo and Keith McWilliams are seeking to get instant ice time for the Engineers. Second-year forwards Nick Economakos, C.J. Hanafin and Vic Pereira and sophomore defensemen Blake Pickett and Matt McNeely hope to nail down permanent lineup spots after playing sporadically last year.

Croxton, MacDonald and Valentin each contributed a goal and an assist as the White team skated past the Red, 7-4.

"I was encouraged," Fridgen said. "Overall, the new guys played quite well. They did a very good job of executing the systems we just installed during the week and none of the freshmen looked out of place."

"And I saw some upperclassmen who were very focused and looked excited to get the season going."

Soon enough on that regard.

With some demanding non-league games early on and ECAC play beginning in early November - Clarkson and St. Lawrence come to Houston Field House - the Engineers won't have much time to get ready.

"Time is going to tell (how good we can be) early," Fridgen said. "It's going to be a situation where the schedule dictates (that we) be ready early and improve every single game."

The Engineers open the season Friday night against the University of Wisconsin in the Badgers Ice-Breaker Tournament in Madison, Wisc. On Saturday, they'll face either Boston University or Northern Michigan in that event.

UMass-Lowell provides the opposition for the Engineers' home opener in Oct. 18 and RPI goes on the road to UMass two nights later.

Road games at St. Cloud State (2) and Yale and Princeton are also on the November schedule and the Engineers close the month with a demanding trip to Brown and Harvard.

"As I said, the schedule demands we're ready right away," Fridgen said.

In addition to replacing the ECAC's top two scorers from last year - Marc Cavosie (23 goals-27assists-50 points) and Matt Murley (24-22-46), RPI loses 28 goals and 60 assists from players not returning.

Yet, Fridgen points out that when the Engineers were at their best and most consistent last season, winning tough, low-scoring games was the norm.

And he thinks that with proven goaltenders Nathan Marsters and Kevin Kurk and a defense he hopes will be more consistent than last season's, the Engineers can win their share of the 3-2 and 2-1 contests.

"That's certainly where we feel most comfortable, where we have some proven experience," Fridgen said of the goaltending. "And that's a nice place from where to build."

"I'm not comparing this team to (last year)," Fridgen said. "This team will create its own identity. Each team does. You don't try to force styles on them. You just kind of evaluate, see what you have, work on strengths and weaknesses and they'll find their own identity."

Fridgen says that with all the talent last season's team had, it won just 10 of 22 ECAC games (10-9-3), finishing in a tie for fourth place, and was in last place in midseason before rallying. He doesn't foresee the Engineers tumbling to the bottom of the ECAC standings.

Balance is the other big strength.

"We've got some forwards who can put in some goals and play well defensively," he said. "We've got some strong defensemen who are solid defensively and some who can help out with the offense."

With Danny Eberly (3-14-17) and Scott Basiuk (3-8-11) on the blue line, the RPI power play should remain strong.

"We've got a solid nucleus of returning players," Fridgen said. "Carson Butterwick (13-13-26) and Nolan Graham (7-14-21) are the top ones and Danny and Scott are very good two-way defensemen."

Fridgen again mentioned the team's balance.

"I think we have a very well-balanced team with some good depth," he said, "from a standpoint that we're a workhorse-type team. We don't (any longer) have anybody who stands head-and-shoulders above everybody else but each one is able to contribute and each one knows he'll get a chance to do so."