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RPI Hoping for Role Reversal vs. Union

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 12, 2007

TROY - After Union College dominated Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute during its 5-1 victory in the consolation game of the University of Vermont tournament, RPI coach Seth Appert said, "the better team won."

While those present may have assumed that Appert meant the "better team" that night, that may not have been accurate.

He was asked earlier this week, 'that night, or generally.'

"Lately, at least, (generally)," he said with almost no hesitation. Appert, however, is still confident the slump-ridden Engineers can turn that around. And they'll certainly have that opportunity this weekend, when the teams meet - for the third and fourth times this season - tonight at Houston Field House and Saturday night at Messa Rink.

You know the old, worn out cliché that says when big rivals meet, 'throw out all the records...'

No one will have a problem with 'throwing out records'; the games are literally a battle for last place in the 12-team ECAC Hockey League; to escape it for Union, to avoid it for RPI. The Dutchmen, 9-9-2 overall, bring up the rear in the ECACHL with a 2-6-0 mark but can transplace the Engineers (1-4-3, 5-9-6) into 11th place with three points on the weekend.

"I'm looking forward to it. This is my favorite series of the year," says RPI assistant captain Kevin Broad.

While Union has had a couple of up-and-down time periods this season, the Engineers, after a 4-1-3 start, are mired in a 1-8-3 slump since then.

Worse yet, they've been thoroughly dominated in recent losses to Vermont, Union, Harvard and Dartmouth, having been outscored 19-4 over those four games.

Rensselaer has scored only four goals in its past 14 periods of play and two of those came on 5-on-3 power plays.

The Engineers hope to have top line center Oren Eizenman return from a shoulder injury, which should help the offensive production.

Beyond that, the Engineers must dramatically improve their intensity, passion and focus. And all of that is contingent on the fact that the team's confidence is quite sensitive at this point, not on a team-wide basis, but individually. The belief in one another, Appert believes, has not been diminished. "No, I don't believe it has," he said. "What I think has lessened sometimes is their confidence in themselves (individually)."

"We're having a tough time right now finding the right combination - as a team - at playing hard, physical and intense but then also playing smart and executing properly."

Rensselaer sophomore winger Kurt Colling said the fact that Union "beat us pretty badly in Vermont" will motivate the Engineers tonight.

"I think it's getting better (through the week of practice)," RPI captain Kirk MacDonald said of the Engineers' confidence level. "We looked at the Dartmouth tape (a 6-2 loss) and the mistakes we're making are correctable. They're not mistakes where you (say), 'oh, well, we just don't have the talent.' It's there, we're over-pursuing the puck, trying to be in two positions (at once), being in the wrong position."

"It seems our heads are there but our intensity's not," MacDonald said, "Or vice-versa."

On an ECACHL road trip in December, repeated penalties severely hampered the Engineers in a 3-3 tie at Cornell and a 3-2 loss at Colgate on what easily could have been a 4-point weekend. Perhaps the Engineers felt compelled to step back a bit from their aggressive intensity at that point; their only victory in seven games since then came against a weak UMass-Lowell team. Appert also says RPI practices of late have been as spotty as games have and states that players need "to do a better job of being mentally sharp Monday through Thursday."