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Engineers Fail to Seize the Minute

RPI Outplayed in 4-3 Loss to Lowly UMass

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 21, 2002

AMHERST, Mass - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute figures to lose its share of hockey games in this rebuilding season. It's unlikely any will be more excruciating than Sunday's 4-3 setback at the University of Massachusetts.

It's not unkind or unfactual to label the Minutemen one of the nation's weaker teams, but the Engineers let them control play throughout, despite the fact RPI led 2-0 14:31 into the game.

The young Engineers badly needed a victory, but even though they twice led by two goals, couldn't produce one.

After being outshot 25-6 over the first two periods but being fortunate enough to still lead 3-2, the Engineers came out and repeatedly turned the puck over and surrendered the tying and go-ahead goals within the first 2:50 of the third period.

After Tim Vitek took a lead pass from Jeff Lang, skated in alone and flipped a wrist shot past RPI goalie Kevin Kurk to break a 3-3 tie at 2:50, the Engineers gave the puck away in their own end several more times.

Danny Eberly scored his third goal of the season for the Engineers, giving RPI a 3-1 lead at 5:53 of the second period. It's safe to say the low-scoring Minutemen (1-1-0 on the season) dominated play the rest of the way, as the Engineers, outshot 41-12 overall, put just seven more shots on the UMass net over the final 34 minutes.

On one of those, Eberly nearly tied the score on a blast from the point with Kurk pulled for an extra attacker on the ice with 19 seconds remaining. UMass freshman goalie Gabe Winer sticked it away and the Minutemen ran out the clock.

A misjudgment led to Vitek's goal.

"That was a defenseman who shouldn't be coming off the ice (but did)," Fridgen said. "We didn't get the puck deep, he didn't read the play correctly."

"I don't know what you would call that ... a little bit of cyberspace," Fridgen continued. "But in a situation like that ... you hope you can get a big save."

Kurk did get a glove on it, but not enough.

A bright spot? Rensselaer has scored five goals on its last 16 shots on goal, but shooting percentage isn't really a meaningful statistic in ice hockey.

Creating scoring chances is certainly a problem for the Engineers, but hardly their biggest one.

Playing smart, solid hockey in their own end - or lack thereof - is the uppermost concern.

"Playing strong defense is an attitude that has to be adopted by everyone on the team," Fridgen said. "And you have to be (as a team) totally committed to it, and I think we have some guys who are and some who aren't. And it's certainly showing up on the plus-minus sheet."

Veteran forwards Carson Butterwick, Mikael Hammarstrom and Ryan Shields were all on the ice for UMass's second, third and fourth goals, but be sure: singling out that trio is not warranted. Many of the Engineers share in the responsibility for the defensive zone breakdowns and turnovers.

Overall, Fridgen said: "it was pretty obvious that we didn't play a full 60 minutes. It was especially evident in the third period when you really need to be strong. I was hoping we had some fire in our belly after our (8-4) loss to UMass-Lowell (Friday night), but it wasn't in the cards."

"You can't get a shot on net unless you shoot the puck," Fridgen continued. "And I think we've been passing up shooting opportunities. We're the type of team (that) has to shoot the puck to get somebody to the net. Hopefully, we'll figure that out."

Nolan Graham and C.J. Hanafin each scored his second goal of the season for the Engineers, and Graham had an assist on Eberly's goal.

Jeff Lang's tying (3-3) goal, at 1:55 of the third, came from only about 12 feet inside the blue line.

"I just didn't see it," Kurk said. "I knew he shot the puck and I went down but I just didn't see where it went after that."

On the game's first goal, UMass power play members were a little lax when RPI cleared the puck from its own zone and Vic Pereira and Graham made them pay.

Pereira beat a Minuteman who had a better angle to the puck and nudged past another UMass player who let Graham go right by him.

The senior center went in alone and beat Winer high to the stick side. The goal judge did not signal a goal, but referee Conrad Hache did and after discussing it briefly with the goal judge, Graham was credited with his second goal of the season.

About 2:20 later, Hanafin went around a UMass backchecker, shedded another defender and backhanded one past Winer.

Things looked great for the Engineers at that point, but how quickly they changed.

"Until you have everybody on the same page, focused, you're going to have breakdowns," Fridgen said. "And right now, those breakdowns are costing us hockey games."