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RPI's Confidence Growing

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 29, 2007

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute left the Times Union Center 367 days ago a confident hockey team.

The Engineers had just edged Colgate for the championship, had earlier posted a 2-1 victory over nationally-ranked Denver University in a homecoming for rookie coach Seth Appert and the Engineers were ready to put some wins together and move up the ECAC Hockey standings.

It never happened. Though they did post a victory (over Princeton) and a tie (with Quinnipiac) in their first two league games, and beat Merrimack to improve to 4-1-3 overall, the Engineers were about to crash.

They won just one of their next 13 games (1-9-3), struggled to score, did not play well in their own zone, and never really recovered, finishing 10-18-8.

While the Engineers won the Governor's Cup event last season with an official tie (3-3 with Union) and the triumph over Colgate, this year they successfully defended their title by beating both the Dutchmen (3-2) and the Raiders (2-0).

Their defense and goaltending over the weekend were solid, the defensive-zone play against Colgate on Saturday outstanding.

While they loved raising the Cup again, the Engineers' main focus now is to avoid that dismal streak that ruined their season last year.

"We've got much more to accomplish this year (than the Governor's Cup)," Appert said.

Freshmen make big contribution: Freshman winger Tyler Helfrich scored the game-tying goal against Union and he, Ben Contini and Chase Polacek registered three of four assists in the Colgate game.

All played well in all three zones, as did fellow rookie forwards Scott Halpern and Joel Malchuk (vs. Colgate), as well as freshmen defensemen John Kennedy, Jeff Foss and Bryan Brutlag.

Helfrich said the rookies took some pride in making such a big impact.

"It feels great," he said. "The older guys are leading real well and making things a lot easier for us to step in and follow. It's great to help them win this again."

"Certainly we do," Contini said. "It definitely says a lot about our (freshman) class and the fact that we've handled these games well."

Contini's forecheck led to the first goal of the Colgate game, as he won a puck battle along the left sideboards, slid it to Paul Kerins, who fed Peter Merth for the goal.

Power play dismal, Part II: Appert called Rensselaer's power play "putrid" after the Sacred Heart game.

After the Engineers couldn't create anything resembling a scoring chance in three power-play tries on Friday night vs. Union, including a third-period major, he joked about it.

"Beautiful," he said. "We found a way to kill five minutes of the last 10 (protecting a 3-2 lead). That was the best thing about our power play (though RPI came within inches of permitting a shorthanded goal)."

Rensselaer has been successful once in 33 power plays for an even (and anemic) 3.0 percent.

"The power play is really struggling, there's no other way around it," he said after Saturday's game. "Tonight, they did create a little bit tonight. But now, they're second-guessing themselves and the confidence is down and that's understandable when you have so many players in positions that they weren't in last year in terms of running a power play because Oren Eizenman and Jake Luthi (both graduated) ran our power play."

Appert knows, with ECAC Hockey League action beginning this coming weekend, that the power play needs to improve soon but he hasn't panicked yet.

"We have full confidence in our young men in that (locker) room," he said. "We have some very talented hockey players who will be effective on the power play, it's just going to take (more) time to work through it."

As for the Engineers' penalty killing, overworked in the Ice-Breaker Tournament in Minnesota, killed all five of Union's and all six of Colgate's manpower advantages over the weekend.

"Well, we had a lot of work on it in Minnesota," Appert said. "That allowed us to practice against two of the best teams in the country."

Rensselaer has now killed its past 22 shorthanded situations and has improved to 37-of-44 for the season, 84.1 percent.

"We've done a good job on it," Appert said. "Our young players, our whole crew back there, the freshmen and sophomores, are starting to learn when to jump, how to jump, when to be aggressive, but also when to protect in front of our net and make sure our goaltenders don't get back-doored as they did so in the Minnesota-Boston College weekend.

Both the Golden Gophers and Eagles filled the RPI net with three power-play goals.

Minnesota was 3-of-11, BC 3-of-9.

Alford hot: Alford has shut out Sacred Heart (in overtime) and Colgate in his past two outings and has not permitted a goal in 123 minutes, 15 seconds.

His 0.99 goals against average leads the nation and his 96.4 saves percentage is among the leaders.

"Jordan has played so strong in not giving up any weak goals," Appert said, "and making the opponents earn what they get."

Notes: The shutout was just Colgate's second in 45 games. ... Quick, who leads RPI in shots on goal? Freshman Chase Polacek with 20, one more than scoring leader Andrei Uryadov. ... Major penalties, especially checking from behind, are up. Three Engineers, Lord, Matt Angers-Goulet, Christian Jensen (vs. Colgate) have been whistled for major penalties, and game misconducts, thus far. ... Yale and Brown come to Houston Field House over the weekend as the ECACH league season opens.