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Victories a Case for the Defense

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 28, 2002

TROY - OK, they were just two average Metro Atlantic Conference teams, but Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's two shutout victories over the weekend were quite satisfying.

The Engineers, who pulled even at 3-3-0 overall, had been having all kinds of problems with defensive zone coverage and puck-clearing in their first four games.

While admittedly, Iona and Army forwards don't challenge defenses like those of the three Hockey East teams (Boston University, UMass-Lowell and UMass) that each beat RPI, it must be said that the Engineers improved their defensive play immensely.

The Engineers controlled all three zones throughout in a 2-0 victory over Iona Friday night.

Saturday night at Army, they rode Kevin Kurk's stellar goaltending early and a take-charge third period to a 3-0 triumph.

"This weekend was all about defense," said senior defenseman and captain Danny Eberly. "We really cut down on our mistakes and breakdowns. But the big story was KK (Kurk). He was unbelievable. We had a couple of breakdowns early, but Kurky stepped up and made the big saves."

"I thought Kevin was fantastic," said RPI coach Dan Fridgen after Saturday night's victory. "He really turned the momentum in our favor with two big saves on breakaways early to set the tone for the game. I thought after that, we dominated the first period."

Fridgen said permitting Army to get on the board first could have meant a different result.

"They get a lead and they turn into a different team," he said. "They play with a lot more confidence and they're very tough in this building."

Back to defense.

"The defense played solidly in both games," Eberly said. "We focused on defensive things all week and it showed in both games."

With junior Scott Basiuk out of the last four games with a hand injury, Fridgen pointed out, "except for Danny Eberly, all our defensemen are either freshmen (Brad Farynuk, Keith MCWilliams, Alexander Valentin and Scott Romfo) or sophomores (Blake Pickett and Matt McNeely)."

"They're all eager to do the job," Fridgen says, "but it takes time to get that experience back there."

What's more important, Fridgen said, is "that we were much stronger in our own end, staying with assignments and taking much better care of the puck. That's what we really needed to do and we were able to accomplish that."

Eberly scored his fourth goal of the season on another blue line blast and Farynuk got his second. Six of RPI's 18 goals and five of the last 12 have come from defensemen, but the forwards are also starting to find the target.

Junior dual winger Ryan Shields scored his first of the season against Iona, Mikael Hammarstom netted his second at Army and center Nolan Graham got his third.

Senior right winger Carson Butterwick, the leading goal-scorer last season among returnees with 13, is still without one. He does have three assists, though, and returned to Graham's line over the weekend.

Both he and Graham were robbed several times down low by Iona goalie Ian Vigier on Friday night.

"I'm getting some shots, at least," Butterwick said. "I'll just keep trying. Hopefully, they'll start coming. At least we got a (couple) wins."

Farynuk has been so good offensively (two goals, three assists) and defensively, he's almost become a team leader - at least on the ice - despite having just six games of collegiate experience.

"I don't know if I'm a team leader or not," he said. "On the ice, maybe. I just try to stay in position, play the body a little, move the puck around and try to get it on net when I have a chance to."

"Brad's certainly made the most out of his chance to play right away," Fridgen said.

Things figure to be tough on the road for the Engineers this season. Except for Princeton on Nov. 16, they'll be clear underdogs in their next five road games.

"Two road wins in three games so far, that helps with the confidence," Eberly said.