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RPI Needs to Step Up

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, December 14, 2006

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will likely have to play without captain Kirk MacDonald again on Saturday night against UMass-Lowell.

The Engineers will definitely be without Oren Eizenman, their top centerman and most skilled all-around offensive player. There's said to be a slight chance MacDonald may play but it's unlikely. Eizenman (shoulder) is out until January.

Also, forwards Kevin Broad (foot) and Jonathan Ornelas (shoulder), still looking for his first goal after scoring 13 last season, are still not 100 percent physically.

Rensselaer brings a seven-game winless streak (0-4-3) into the 7 p.m. non-league contest at Houston Field House.

As if all their on-ice problems aren't enough, the RPI players have been taking final exams all week.

It would be an exaggeration to say the Engineers, 4-5-6 overall, are in a must-win situation.

It's dead-on accurate to say Rensselaer MUST play a competitive game for 60 minutes, get some shots on net and return to the high-level intensity they displayed earlier in the season when they lost just one of their first eight games (4-1-3) and were ranked 16th in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll.

Oh, how they need a good game! Anything short of that and the funk they're in could carry over into 2007. They can't wait until they're totally healthy.

Though Lowell is a team they can handle, even shorthanded, the Engineers must challenge themselves to come up with a superlative effort.

The Engineers dug down deep when they rallied from three goals down to tie Quinnipiac, and need to do so again to right themselves before they return to ECAC Hockey League play against Harvard and Dartmouth Jan. 5-6.

"We can't get ourselves focused on just winning the game, or get ourselves focused on just needing to create 30 shots on goal," Appert said. "We need to concentrate on winning physical confrontations, being smart with the puck ... give ourselves a chance to win and let the results speak for themselves."

Appert says all of the players must step up to overcome the loss of MacDonald and Eizenman. No couple of players can do so.

"No, that wouldn't be fair to put that on anybody," Appert said. "Any time you ask two or three players to put a cape on and try to be Superman, you're just setting yourself up for a struggle. We just want our players to play to their own capabilities."

Goaltenders must improve: Appert will defend goaltenders Jordan Alford and Mathias Lange because each has been brilliant at times this season, more than adequate for the most part.

Their play must be more consistent during the second half of the season, though, if the Engineers are to be successful.

"I don't know if I'd say that's fair," Appert said of the word 'inconsistency.'

He did admit that soft goals hurt the team in losses to Sacred Heart (Lange), Niagara (Alford) and, most recently, Princeton (Alford).

"They hurt, no question," he said. "Not letting in soft goals is a key of being a quality goalie. But you look at our goaltending saves percentage vs. our (game-by-game) opponents and ours is usually tremendously higher."

"We had a 2-1 lead (at Princeton) and had a little momentum," Appert said, "and that tying goal (by Lee Jubinville) is one Jordan would like to have back."

Alford was not real sharp on Kevin Westgarth's go-ahead goal, either, and was pulled.

"But that's not why we lost, though," Appert said. "We didn't deserve to win that game."

Classic move: For those who still haven't heard much of RPI's extra-attacker goal, by Seth Klerer, that led to the comeback from a 4-1 deficit to a 4-4 tie at Quinnipiac last Friday night, here's a recap.

With the two teams skating 4-on-4 seven minutes into the third period, Quinnipiac center Mark Agnew banged the puck off the boards to center ice and RPI's Jake Morissette retrieved it. While he was doing so, Quinnipiac defensemen Dan Henningson and Mark Nelson both pointed out to the linesman that RPI had too many men on the ice. Richard Patry just stared at them.

He couldn't point out that the RPI net was empty. Agnew hadn't noticed, for he easily could have fired the puck toward the empty net.

Now, the puck was back in the Quinnipiac end. Peter Merth fed it from the left point to the right, from where Reed Kipp fired a blast.

In front of the net, Klerer deflected it past Bobcats' goalie Bud Fisher to spark the Engineers' aforementioned three-goal rally for the 4-4 tie.

Here's what previously happened: Rensselaer's Jake Luthi was whistled for a major cross-checking penalty at 4:19 of the third period with Q'Pac leading 3-1.

Just 15 seconds later, Jamie Bates' second power-play goal made the count 4-1. At 5:43, the Bobcats' David Marshall took a hooking penalty. About one-half minute later, RPI forced a faceoff in the Quinnipiac zone. As the teams lined up, Klerer was all the way down at the other end talking with goalie Mathias Lange, no doubt explaining the strategy to him.

Seeing everyone was waiting for him, Klerer sped down to take and win the faceoff. The Engineers moved the puck around as Lange headed for the bench.

Klerer scored a short time later.

Appert gave all the credit for the gutsy move to Kipp, Klerer, Merth, Morissette and Andrei Uryadov "for the execution" of the play.

"It's nothing if they don't execute it," he said of the call.

It was the kind of move that could turn around a struggling team; but it would have been much more effective on a Saturday, however, the second game of a weekend.

Having to play another road game the next day was too much for the injury-plagued Engineers.

They need to dig down deep again.