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RPI Looks to Snap Four-game Losing Streak

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 6, 2008

TROY - Both Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the University of Maine hockey teams are struggling as the Engineers and Black Bears battle today for the first time since the 1994-95 season.

Neither team will feel sorry for the other.

Rensselaer, 8-9-3 overall, will enter the resumption of the ECAC Hockey season with five straight losses if it loses today.

Maine, 6-9-2, will almost certainly see its string of 20-win seasons halted at nine and the goal-starved Black Bears are just trying to be as good as they can.

The teams collide at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, home of the American Hockey League's Portland Pirates and two hours closer to Troy than the Maine campus in Orono.

Maine is coming of a 7-3 pounding at the hands of Hockey East-leading Northeastern on Friday night in which backup goalie Dave Wilson made his first collegiate start and was not effective.

The Engineers will almost certainly see veteran star Ben Bishop between the Black Bears' goalposts.

Meanwhile, RPI coach Seth Appert hasn't decided that junior Mathias Lange has earned the No. 1 goaltender's role and senior Jordan Alford could be in net today. The pair has shared the netminding duties to date.

It's too harsh to say that Rensselaer is 'desperate for a victory' with ECACH action looming but Appert agrees today's game is a crucial one.

"I don't think we're desperate," he said. "We want to win games, of course. We're not happy with the fact that we've lost four straight games, albeit to Top 5 teams but we had opportunities to win some of those games."

"We want to get a win to get a little bit of a confidence boost going back into the league season," Appert added.

Maine coach Tim Whitehead took over for Shawn Walsh when the legendary Black Bears leader died of cancer after the 2000-0 season. Whitehead kept the string of 20-wins seasons alive, and then some, posting a 154-69-26 record prior to this season, leading the Bears to the NCAA Tournament each season and reaching the Frozen Four in 2002, his first season, 2006 and last year.

The Black Bears lost 58 goals and 136 points to the graduation of forwards Josh Soares, Michel Leveille, Keith Johnson and Mike Hamilton and winger and former RPI recruit Teddy Purcell (16-27-43) left for the pros after one season. The Bears have struggled to fill the production void.

While Maine leaders Wes Clark, a senior center, and Chris Hahn, a junior left winger, have missed four and five games (respectively), things have not been good for the Black Bears this season.

Whitehead says the team has had an uncharacteristic amount of breakdowns and the many seniors have tried to make things up on his own.

"We've got a proud group of seniors who have played a big part in our success the last three years and they want to win in the worst way," said Whitehead. "They have tried to do too much at times and if you do that in hockey, it can lead to problems. They just need to play within themselves and we need to play well as a team. When we've done that, we've been very successful."

The Engineers won't take the Bears lightly. Hey, any Hockey East team with five seniors - and a junior goalie such as Bishop - among its top eight players must be considered dangerous.

"Well," Appert said, "I know Tim Whitehead's teams and there have been years when they started off slowly and people say, 'what's wrong with Maine' or 'this is Maine's fall year' and then a few months later (Maine's) in the Frozen Four."

The Engineers return home next weekend, and to their ECACH schedule, hosting Cornell and Colgate.