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RPI Hockey Dissection

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, November 6, 2006

Much has been chronicled about Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's anemic power play seven games into the season.

With the return of high-scoring right winger Kirk MacDonald after his year off battling cancer, the power play was expected to be one of the Engineers' main strengths.

How weak it's been at puck movement, shot selection and scoring-chance production has been both profound and puzzling.

When MacDonald expertly deflected Jake Luthi's shot from the point into the Princeton net on Friday night, it was just the Engineers' sixth of the season. They've totaled 59 chances to date, 10.2 percent.

Coach Seth Appert says he and his assistant coaches Shawn Kurulak and Jim Montgomery assume the blame for the lack of scoring chances on the power play. Ultimately, it's their responsibility.

On the other hand, though, the players aren't blameless, either. With MacDonald, Oren Eizenman, Kevin Broad and Luthi, the No. 1 PP unit is dominated by seniors. When things aren't going well execution-wise, they've got to do something basic to at least overcome the psychological blow of having a man advantage for two minutes and not being able to get the puck to the net.

Centers beware: What's with the rash of obstruction-interference penalties being called by ECACHL referees on centers directly off face-offs?

Five times this season, in games these ole' tired eyes have seen, such penalties have been called on centers who've won faceoffs and whose team has just begun a power play.

I'll readily admit, four of those penalties were against RPI centermen but in every instance, it was just a case of a center skating to his position on the power-play formation.

In one case, after his center was tossed from the faceoff, RPI right winger MacDonald won the draw, then skated away from the puck but was whistled for interference.

Saturday night against Quinnipiac, two RPI power plays were short-circuited by such penalties on Engineers center Eizenman, as well as one on MacDonald on Friday night against Princeton.

"I don't know," Eizenman said. "I guess it's the new rules. It's frustrating when you win a draw and you just turn around, momentum takes you and you get called for impeding someone."

"Very frustrating," he added. "I guess I'm going to have to change some things around," he said. "It took away two good power-play chances, just clean draws that I won back. Very frustrating but I guess I'm going to have to adjust to it. I think they're really trying to crack down but I don't know. All growing up (through various stages of youth hockey), that wasn't a penalty but I guess now it's different."

Hey ECAC refs Frank Murphy, Alex Dell, Pete Feola, Scott Hansen, et al, let's knock off this nonsense.

Fans - and coaches, I hear them - complain on some of the interference calls when a player cuts off an opponent on his way to the puck and the basketball-type screens are whistled but those are the proper calls. The intent of the rule interpretation is clearly within those calls. But when a centerman just drifts back or to the side after a faceoff and inadvertently glides into a penalty killer - or that killer skates into him - no such intent of the rule is involved.

Let's end these unnecessary, annoying calls, now.

'All games of equal importance': With the power play needing much time to improve, Appert was asked if he's glad that the next four games are non-league contests.

"No," was his unequivocal answer.

"We look at the non-league games (as) very important, just like the league games," he said. "We're going to face a Hockey East opponent this week (Merrimack on Sunday). That's big. Big for us, big for our conference in terms of national standings."

"Maybe we shouldn't work on the power play and just let them be creative instead of us overcoaching them," he joked.

National ranking ahead?: Will the Engineers be ranked when the U.S. College Hockey Online Top 20 is released today?

Should they be?

Well, now do you look at it:

'Rensselaer played poorly in much of its two games over the weekend and still got three points and is at 3-1-3 overall, should be ranked'; or, 'RPI amassed three points over the weekend but didn't play well enough to warrant a ranking.'

Of course, whether or not the Engineers are ranked depends on how many teams drop out. The Engineers had the 21st highest points total in the balloting last week, just missing the Top 20.

Among ECACHL teams, 11th-ranked Dartmouth (2-2-0) and No. 16 Harvard (0-3-0) both lost twice during the week, so the Engineers have a great chance to displace either.

In addition, No. 17 St. Cloud State went 0-1-1 over the weekend to drop to 2-3-1 overall, No. 18 Northern Michigan (5-3-0) dropped both of its games and No. 18 Michigan Tech (5-4-1) went 1-1-0 for the week.

The team right behind RPI in last week's balloting, Univ. of Alaska, went 1-0-1 vs. No. 20 Nebraska-Omaha (3-2-3), so the 3-1-3 Engineers have a good chance to break the Top 20.