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Engineers Must Find Motivation and Increase Intensity

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 10, 2002

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute fans can't be satisfied with the first half of the hockey season.

Let's hope the Engineers aren't either.

With the Engineers' schedule laid out the way it was, records of 2-3-2 within the ECAC and 7-6-2 overall just don't measure up to what most RPI fans had expected.

Can the same be said for the players? Didn't they expect to be better than what they've displayed thus far? Hadn't they expected to be in the battle for first place all season?

Allowing for a split at Minnesota-Duluth (RPI lost both games by one goal), a 10-4-1 mark, maybe 9-5-1, was about the weakest expected from here. Hey, even 9-6-0!

With the experience and talent they have, the Engineers are simply too good to have beaten less than half of the teams they've played to date. Be sure, the remaining (17-game) regular-season schedule is more demanding.

One problem RPI has had over the past two seasons is simply asserting itself.

It's great to play in the league that has the best top-to-bottom balance of any in the country. The Engineers and other ECAC teams take pride in that fact, and they should.

It seems the Engineers take that a bit too far, though. They seem to treat teams such as Union, Colgate and Princeton with the same regard as Cornell and Harvard.

It's foolhardy for any team to foster any lack of respect for any opponent. True enough. But RPI players seem to treat a home-ice tie with Union and Brown -- two teams that have been buried deep in the ECAC's second division throughout all of their careers - the same as they would a road tie with the likes of Cornell, Clarkson or Harvard.

I'll tell you this: After the 1-1 tie with Union, it was the underdog Dutchmen who were more annoyed; unsatisfied with the deadlock; replaying the game; sitting in the Houston Field House stands with sour looks on their faces.

Rensselaer players just didn't express such dejection. Same after the tie with Brown.

The Engineers were disappointed with the ties, sure. They said so. But one had to ask them. You weren't able to tell. And they just didn't seem to be that bothered by the lost points.

Again folks, these were not ties against Clarkson, Cornell or Harvard.

Seniors Steve Munn (RPI's captain), Jim Henkel and Chris Migliore have all mentioned to this writer that the Engineer lack a killer instinct. And each was puzzled as to why.

"We just don't have it," Henkel said. "We're in position to get a big lead, put a team away and we don't."

"I don't know why ... there's no reason for it," Munn has said.

Much is made of the fact that in recent years, the Engineers have split weekend games most often, and rarely have enjoyed a four-point weekend.

Well, consider this: In each of the past two seasons, the Engineers have finished the season on the road.

In 1999-2000, to have any chance at nailing down third place and avoiding the Thursday qualifier at the ECAC playoffs' Final Five, the Engineers needed two wins. And a failure to sweep Brown and Harvard could have put them on the road in the first round.

What happened? Shutout victories both nights - and third place.

Last season, the Engineers could have missed the playoffs altogether. They needed two wins on the final weekend to have any chance at all of a home-ice advantage in the first round.

They blanked Colgate, 3-0 then edged a hot Cornell team, 2-1.

How were they able to do so?

M-O-T-I-V-A-T-I-O-N.

They had it those two weekends, for sure. They played hard nearly all of those 240 minutes.

Too often this season, especially against Duluth, Colgate, Iona, Union, Yale, Princeton and Brown, that motivation was lacking, the intensity too wavering.

Give the Engineers credit where deserved. They bounced back to within one goal against a tough Boston University team after playing horribly for 44 minutes and trailing 6-1. They overcame an off night by goalie Nathan Marsters to beat highly-ranked New Hampshire.

They outlasted Quinnipiac despite being flat much of the game. And the effort they put forth in their overtime win against UMass - after playing 90 minutes the previous night - was inspiring.

The nature of hockey almost assures that a team's intensity level goes up and down - it simply can't remain high for 60 minutes. But Rensselaer has simply played without motivation, without much intensity, for extended periods of time this season. One only has to look at the many blown leads (two-goal leads five times) - and the fact that RPI has been outscored 25-16 in the second period to realize.

If opening the ECAC playoffs at home and at least reaching semi-finals have any value to the Engineers, their motivation and intensity must increase.

MURLEY & CAVOSIE: The two local stars, Matt Murley and Marc Cavosie, are the heart of the RPI team. That's obvious.

Rarely have the two played on the same forward line (other than special teams), however and when they did, it was almost always in a late-game, tight-game situation when coaches want their best players on the ice as much as possible.

That wasn't the case last week against Harvard, though. Soon after the game started, Murley took his left wing position on Cavosie's line.

Will coach Dan Fridgen keep the big scorers together this weekend at Clarkson and St. Lawrence?

"You know, I might," he said.

Fridgen knows that doing so would weaken the depth of the other three lines, but the payoff may be worth it.

"You look from an offensive standpoint, there might not be another line with as much firepower," Fridgen said. "It's going to take a very good trio to shut them down."

"And regardless," he added, "it's up to the other players to elevate themselves, the way they did when Matt was out (ill for five games.)"