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Merth Puts the Hurt on Opponents

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, February 15, 2007

TROY - Peter Merth is a bad man.

Forwards around the ECAC Hockey League are getting that idea.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's strapping, 6-foot-3, 230-pound freshman defenseman has quickly become the enforcer on the team and is developing a name for himself as a punishing bodychecker.

He stops short of any kind of Enforcer tag, however.

"No, I just try to play a physical game," the New Westminster, B.C. native said. "And if you do that, everyone (on the team) gets going and it can help bring up the intensity."

Merth leads the Engineers in penalty minutes with 59, including eight minors over the past three games.

"It's always been my game to be more physical and throw the body, be a force out there," he said.

Merth does have a few charging and boarding infractions but it's been suggested that he incurs some penalties because of his size and great strength, and because the impact opposing players receive from his checks.

One crucial call came late in a 3-3 tie with St. Lawrence when he merely stood up a SLU forward, who lost his balance just before Merth disengaged with him. He went flying into the boards.

Rensselaer led 3-1 at the time and Merth's resulting hitting after the whistle penalty helped the Saints tie the score.

"Yeah, maybe sometimes, but I try not to worry about that and try not to let it affect me," Merth said. "I just try to keep going hard and being physical and let the ref sort that out."

First-year Rensselaer coach Seth Appert states that Merth "is one of the best freshman defenseman, if not the best freshman defenseman, in the league."

"He may not get the notoriety (others do) because he's not a power-play defenseman," Appert says, "and usually points-gathering, power-play defensemen garner much more attention but his physical presence ... is a big plus for us."

"He plays against the other team's top line every night, as a freshman, plays 25-plus minutes every game, kills penalties."

Despite his three penalties, Merth had a solid game when the Engineers beat Brown 4-3 a few weeks ago.

"He was a dominant force in the Brown game," Appert said, "absolutely dominant in that game."

Merth knows that he can lift his team by delivering a crunching body check to a top forward on the opposing team.

"I think it's similar to a big save," he said. "A big hit gets everyone going. You deliver a big hit and someone else makes a big check and it kind of keeps snowballing."

The Engineers aren't a highly-physical team but Merth hopes he can elevate that some over the next three years.

Merth hasn't scored a collegiate goal yet but his seven assists are second on the team among the defensemen to leading scorer Jake Luthi's 19.

Some believe he can become a bigger offensive presence.

"I'm certainly more of a defense-minded player," he said, "but I'm trying to be more of a two-way defenseman, jumping up into the play, being the late guy (on a rush). I guess I can keep working on that part of the game without taking away from the defense."

The Engineers graduated four defensemen last season and have played four freshmen blue-liners extensively this year.

In that regard, Appert says, the mature Merth "has been a real stabilizing force defensively for us."