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With Top Scorers Gone, RPI Focusing on Defense

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, October 10, 2002

TROY - It took four months for the Rensselaer hockey team to buy into coach Dan Fridgen's defense-first philosophy. The result was a trip to the ECAC tournament final five in Lake Placid and a third-place finish.

The Engineers, who finished with a 10-9-3 ECAC record and a 20-13-4 overall mark, had two players who could consistently score goals and create offense. ECAC Player of the Year Marc Cavosie led the league with 23 goals and 27 assists. Matt Murley was second on the team with 24 goals and 22 assists.

But those two players won't be around when RPI opens the 2002-03 college hockey season Friday at Wisconsin in the first round of the Ice Breaker Tournament. Murley, a Troy native, graduated and is in the Pittsburgh Penguins' organization. Cavosie, from Cohoes, gave up his senior year and signed with the Minnesota Wild.

Only one returning player scored over 10 goals last season. So the Engineers might have a tough time matching their 120-goal output of last season, which led the ECAC.

Instead, the Engineers will most likely be a very defensive-oriented team. They have 16 returning players and nine freshmen.

"Time is going to tell that early," Fridgen said. "I'm real excited about getting going as far as the games are concerned. The schedule is very, very tough, with the Ice Breaker coming up first, and then right into games against Hockey East teams [UMass-Lowell and Massachusetts]. I think it's going to be a situation where the schedule is going to dictate, and we're going to try to improve every single game."

"To say whether we're a different team from last year, I'm not comparing. This team will create its own identity."

RPI senior defenseman and captain Danny Eberly knows Cavosie and Murley will be missed. However, he realizes that the Engineers can't use the duo's departure as an excuse for struggling.

"You have to take the team year by year," said Eberly. "This year, we don't have the goal scoring that we did last year. But I don't see that being a problem. We just have to focus on other areas like defense. We just have to play our systems strong, and the wins will come."

The Engineers went 7-2-1 over their final 10 regular-season games to earn home ice in the first round of the ECAC playoffs. They swept Princeton in two games and then downed Dartmouth in the ECAC tournament play-in game. A loss to Cornell in the semifinals ended RPI's hopes of a championship.

Despite finishing strong, Fridgen doesn't believe that momentum will be carried over to this season.

"I'm not sure anything carries over from one season to the next, because it was a process to get last year's team to play as sound defensively as they did near the end of the season," Fridgen said. "It's the same with every team. You don't try to force styles on them, you evaluate and see what you have and work on the strengths and weaknesses. They create their own identities of how they want to be known as a team."

Senior Carson Butterwick is the top returning forward. He had 13 goals - the only other Engineer to have double figures in goals last year - and added 13 assists.

Nolan Graham is another senior forward who must pick up the scoring slack. After scoring 11 goals his sophomore year, Graham dropped to seven last season.

Juniors Conrad Barnes (4-13-17), Ben Barr (2-5-7) and Ryan Shields (5-4-9) also must step up their production.

Some of the freshmen who could help the offense are Kevin Croxton, who had 38 goals and 48 assists in 62 games for the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, and Kirk McDonald, who had 27 goals and 23 assists in 49 games for the Victoria Salsa of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League.

While the Engineers search for offense, they will have to be strong in goal. Led by junior Nathan Marsters, they will be. Marsters posted a 15-9-3 record last season with a 2.58 goals-against average. He had one shutout and a .920 save percentage.

Junior Kevin Kurk will back up Marsters. He was 5-4-1 with a 2.91 GAA last year.

"We have real good experience between the pipes," Fridgen said. "We're looking for them to step up, but I wouldn't say it's going to be our only strength. I think the guys have to rely on each other, and go out game in and game out and be prepared and being the best they can be."

Eberly anchors the defense. Junior Scott Basiuk, who scored the game-winning goal against Dartmouth in the ECAC tournament play-in game, also returns.

Freshman Brad Farynuk brings some offensive punch to the blue line. He had 15 goals and 36 assists in 55 games for the Vernon Vipers of the BCJHL.

Fridgen likes the mix of players he has.

"We have small players that are speedy and skilled," Fridgen said. "We have some big players that are capable of providing some scoring around the net and grinding it out along the boards. We have some defensemen who are defensive minded, and we have some defensemen who are offensive minded. I see a real good mix. I don't see us lacking in any one area with regards to the chemistry or the kind of players that we have."