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Engineers Continue to Search for Answers

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 8, 2007

TROY - If Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey players "knew what was wrong with this team," says assistant captain Kevin Broad, "we wouldn't be in this situation right now."

Broad made that statement shortly after the Engineers' 6-2 loss to Dartmouth at Houston Field House on Saturday night.

The situation the Engineers are in is perilously close to last place in the 12-team ECAC Hockey League - they play 12th-place Union in each of their next two games - and having won just one of their past 12 games (1-8-3).

This is the same team that was ranked No. 16 nationally in mid-November after a 4-1-3 start.

Broad says the Engineers current plight marks "the worst" point since "I've been at RPI" and admits to being quite perplexed.

"I don't know," he said. "We came out of the gates (at the outset of the season) guns blazing and had a great start. Obviously, we weren't going to finish the season with one loss all year but, four games below .500 (5-9-6 overall) right now is one of the low points of my hockey career, that's for sure. It's not acceptable."

Broad pointed out that there are only four teams in the ECACHL with winning league records right now and said, "the season is still salvageable."

"But it's getting late and we need to straighten things out, right now. We have to find a way to be better, and to win hockey games."

It won't be easy. Anyone who's watched the Engineers over the past two weeks can clearly see that each part of their game has struggled at the same time: offense, transition, defense, goaltending, special teams. Their puck movement, for the most part, has been dismal.

Further, the passion and fire they displayed over their first six games has been sorely missing.

First-year RPI head coach Seth Appert spoke to reporters at great length after the contest.

Among his many comments, he addressed the intensity-and-tenacity factor.

"You can't get it back magically," he said. "You can't just pull it our of a cloud and say, 'we're struggling, we're not playing very well, we're not very confident' and then all of a sudden, it just appears. That doesn't happen. That's not real world."

"We will get it back, without question," Appert said. "A lot of it's confidence and some of it's goaltending you get, especially early in the game."

In two of the past three games, that early goaltending was less than soft.

How much of it is confidence?

"A lot of it," Appert said. "It's tough to put a percentage on it because it's a combination of confidence of ability and inexperience."

Appert said that the Engineers "came out to play with a much different purpose than we did" during Friday night's 5-1 loss to Harvard. "The result wasn't there but the purpose and the intention of our play was much different."

But Appert's statement is almost like saying a pro team with a record of 24-48-8 late in the season is better than one with a 16-60-4 mark. The relativism of the statement makes it almost meaningless; that's how bad the Engineers were in the Harvard game.

"When you're (currently) a mentally fragile group," Appert said, "and you're challenged offensively at the moment, you need some things to go your way early, to start to believe again."

"Some things didn't go our way early," he said. "A lot of that was due to Dartmouth's good play."

Indeed, the Big Green's Dan Shribman made a pretty 2-on-1 feed on Rob Pritchard's goal which made the score 2-0 at the 5:17 mark and later, Tanner Glass and David Jones set up each other with outstanding low, cross-ice passes.

However, it's not as if Rensselaer backcheckers were getting in their way.

'Not confident ... but not panicky': Appert said there "is no panic" on the team.

"We believe very firmly, as a staff, in where we're headed as a program. We know there are very good things to come," he said, "and we know that we're building it the right way. We're confident of that."

"We knew, regardless of how we started the season, that there would be times this season, because of our inexperience, and because of the transition, that there would be challenges."

"We're in that challenge right now."

And how!

Positives?: The Engineers shook off seven, eight, consecutive poor, lethargic periods in the second Saturday night, getting on the board with Jonathan Ornelas' 5-on-3 goal 51 seconds into the session. And they controlled play for most of the period but two unnecessary penalties compromised their efforts.

"We got a goal, creating a little momentum, won some puck battles, started making some plays," Appert said.

The third period, while not a great one, was much better than any of the three previous games.

And the RPI power play showed some signs of life, though it's much too easy to exaggerate that when both goals scored came in 5-on-3 situations.

Captain Kirk MacDonald had one goal and two assists for the weekend, as did leading scorer Jake Luthi, who ended a five-game scoreless string.

And Ornelas, a 13-goal-scorer last season, has scored a goal in two of the past three games after going 29 games without one.

Luthi and MacDonald literally gave the same response when asked if getting some points from those from who they need them helps.

"It's real tough to take any positives from this weekend," each said.