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Perseverance Pays Off for Engineers

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 29, 2007

TROY - Having gone 0-4-1 on a five-game homestand (among a 3-2 victory at Union), and having won just one of seven league games at home this season, how could Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute expect to do much away from home?

"It's a testament to the guys in our locker room and their resiliency," first-year RPI coach Seth Appert said of the Engineers' victories at Yale and Brown over the weekend.

With their season literally on the line, the Engineers responded with strong efforts, surviving Yale's 6-on-3 attack for 38 seconds late in the game to earn a 2-1 victory on Friday night.

One night later at Brown, the Engineers lost a two-goal lead for the eighth time this season, but stayed focused and won 4-3 on Matt Angers-Goulet's power-play goal midway through the third period.

With the two victories, the Engineers improved to 4-6-4 in the ECAC Hockey League and (with Union) zoomed from a tie for 11th to a tie for eighth place in the 12-team ECACHL.

The top eight teams open the playoffs at home.

Since their horrible 1-9-3 stretch that culminated with home ice losses to Harvard, Dartmouth and Union, the Engineers have greatly improved their defensive-zone coverage and penalty killing and found just enough offense to post a 3-1-1 mark over their past five outings.

"We, as a staff, are very proud of how they've handled their adversity over the last few weeks," Appert said. "The way things had gone for them, it would have been real easy to start disintegrating and start splintering off their own way."

"But they battled through, stayed positive, stayed focused, didn't lose faith in one another and persevered. I think it shows the kind of character we have on this team."

Yale, trailing 2-1, was on a 5-on-3 power play and pulled goaltender Alec Richards for a sixth attacker and a three-man advantage with about one minute remaining in the game.

The Bulldogs fired nine shots toward the Rensselaer net, forcing goalie Jordan Alford to make three great saves among his six in the sequence and some 38 seconds went by before RPI freshman defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer came out of the penalty box and the Engineers were able to clear the puck out of their zone.

Some 38 seconds had gone by.

Appert was asked if he was ever compelled to look away during Yale's assault to tie the game.

"No," he said. "We were doing as well as could be expected," he said. "The guys were mentally locked in."

And, Alford said, he was able "to see every shot."

It was that kind of weekend for the Engineers. They'll need a couple more to guarantee being home for the preliminary round of the playoffs.

Killers coming through: Penalty killing was one of the Engineers' main problems during their five-game losing streak during which they were often not competitive.

Brown's game-tying goal in the third period Saturday came late in an extended 5-on-3 and the Engineers overall penalty killing for the weekend - as described above - was outstanding.

The 13-of-14 effort for the weekend got the season efficiency mark back over the 80 percent mark at 80.6 (154 of 191).

"Our penalty kill struggled because we can't get the puck (out of the defensive zone) down the ice," Appert said. "That has been a big problem. Part of that is (lack of) poise, confidence, part of that is strength, part of that is talent."

Appert admitted that sometimes, when not seeing an angle to bang the puck off the boards and out of the zone, RPI penalty killers with the puck on their backhand, often don't trust their own physical strength to take a stride or two until they can switch to their forehand.

They'll try an ill-fated backhanded clearing pass instead.

"Yes," was Appert's short answer. "On the penalty kill, we need to have four people help with the clear," Appert said, "instead of (much too often) just one. If one guy is stuck in the corner, somebody should be coming to support at some area of the ice; maybe it's in the slot, maybe it's to the wall and communicating that, 'you have help.'"

"And that's been a challenge," Appert added.

The Engineers met that challenge over the weekend.

Rare road sweep: The weekend sweep of road ECACHL games was Rensselaer's first league road sweep in two years and one week. On the weekend of Jan. 21-22, 2005, with actual temperatures 25 below zero, the Engineers posted victories at St. Lawrence (3-2) and Clarkson (4-3).

'Well, get more than four': The Brown game marked the sixth the Engineers scored exactly four goals in a game but they'd won only two of the previous five (2-1-2).

And in the only game in which they scored over four, the Engineers blew a three-goal lead and settled for a 5-5 tie with Ohio State.

Notes: At 100 percent physically, senior Kevin Broad is just an opportunistic, occasional goal-scorer. Slowed by several injuries as he is, the fierce, hard-working winger concentrates more on separating the puck from opposing skaters. At least, though, the Humboldt, Sask. native has been getting the puck to the net. He has 13 shots on goal over his past six games after totaling only 14 over the first 19 games. Likewise, Jonathan Ornelas is hot with five goals in nine games. The junior left winger, a 13-goal scorer last season, was without a goal and had just 11 shots after 15 games this season. ... Top-liners Oren Eizenman and Kirk MacDonald each had just one assist over the weekend but they combined for 14 shots on goal. ... Ornelas' three-point game against Brown was just the Engineers' eighth of the season. Eizenman had two, in consecutive games, MacDonald, Andrew Lord, Seth Klerer and defenseman Jake Luthi all have one and sophomore winger Andrei Uryadov, with a hat trick and an assist against Ohio State, has the only four-point game. ... Jake Morissette had four assists over the weekend after a nine-game pointless streak. ... Engineers visit Dartmouth and now last-place Harvard next week, two teams that routed them 6-2 and 5-1 at Houston Field House earlier this month.