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Engineers Lacking Finishing Touch

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 8, 2002

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute isn't playing poorly these days. But the Engineers certainly aren't playing their best hockey either - good enough to beat teams from the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, not good enough to win tough, tight ECAC contests.

Over the weekend, the Engineers (now 7-6-2 overall) didn't show the sharpness of a team nearing the halfway point of the season and concluding a nine-game homestand. That lack of crispness - or however one wishes to term it - cost them in their one-point weekend, and will no doubt cost them in the standings.

Joined with two previous big home-ice toe-stubbings, a tie with Union and 4-2 loss to Princeton, Friday's 2-2 tie with Brown and Saturday's 5-2 loss to Harvard - during which RPI led 2-0 - means that if the Engineers (2-3-2 in ECAC play) are going to get back in the race for the regular-season title and top seed in the playoffs, they'll need to garner at least 24 points over their final 15 ECAC games.

Indeed, just to get the No. 5 seed to ensure its first-round playoff series is at home, Rensselaer will have to chain together some victories, a feat it has yet to accomplish.

Immediately facing the Engineers over the next nine days are three tough road games: at Clarkson (3-0-2 in ECAC) and St. Lawrence, where all ECAC teams have trouble winning, and at Union (Jan. 16), a team that RPI has been able to beat just once in its last four tries.

The score sheet shows that Harvard scored five unanswered goals for its three-goal winning margin, but despite that, Rensselaer controlled play for much of the first two periods and had chances to add to its 2-0 lead, built on goals by Matt Murley and Marc Cavosie.

Midway through the first period, Harvard goalie Dov Grumet-Morris made a big, stand-your-ground save on Jim Vickers in the deep left slot, or RPI would have owned a 3-0 lead. And Jim Henkel didn't get good wood on a great setup from behind the net by Carson Butterwick and Grumet-Morris handled the bid easily.

In the second period, when they were outscored 3-0, the Engineers had several great chances at goals.

Shortly before Harvard tied the game at 2-2, Conrad Barnes missed a wide-open net from the left slot on a rebound of a shot by Murley.

After Brett Nowak tied the game for the Crimson, Cavosie made a great move to split two defensemen, had Grumet-Morris beaten but the freshman goalie got just enough stick on the shot. You could argue it was more a case of Cavosie hitting the shaft of his stick more than Grumet-Morris making a big save. The goalie did, though, come up big on Matt McNeely's rebound.

Then, about one minute later, Henkel shot high on a 3-on-2 break.

"Thinking back to that period, we had real good opportunities and if we had capitalized, we could have buried them," RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. "But again (as was the case in Friday's 2-2 tie with Brown), we didn't capitalize. We hit legs, we missed the net on shots, didn't catch passes. But that'll come. That's something we have to work on in practice. And again, their (Harvard's) forecheck is (designed) to create turnovers, just like ours ... they turn the puck over to us, and we don't capitalize but we had pressure on in the second period. We turned it over and they capitalized. And like I said, I thought that was the difference in the game."

Those missed opportunities, plus a bang-bang, sudden goal by Dennis Packard, put Harvard on top 3-2 with just 1:55 left in the second period. Nowak made as good a pass as this writer's eyes have seen all season, rifling a cross-ice rocket to Packard on the left goalcrease. Engineers goalie Kevin Kurk had no chance, and it would not be accurate to say defenseman Vickers wasn't playing Packard tightly enough; it was simply an outstanding play by Nowak.

Then, 37 seconds into the final period, the Engineers found themselves two goals down when Tom Cavanaugh converted Marc Cavosie's poor cross-ice breakout pass into a shorthanded goal.

Just the emotional letdown of the previous two and one-half minutes of play represented a mountain for the Engineers to climb, let alone Harvard's talent and tough defense.

The Engineers did not quit, however, though they continued to miss the net on a number of shots.

Friday night was similar for RPI. The Engineers led and had numerous chances to put Brown away, but simply weren't accurate enough with their shooting or passing.

"Little things were biting us this weekend," said senior defenseman and captain Steve Munn. "We were an inch away a lot on the offensive end and it seemed like we were a stick blade away on the defensive end. I thought we had more than enough chances to win (both games)."