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Engineers' Confidence Fading

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 14, 2008

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey coach Seth Appert wondered where the confidence was as the team returned to ECAC Hockey play mired in a five-game losing streak. In fact, he showed a discernable concern after Thursday's practice.

His fears were borne out over the weekend, as the inability of the Rensselaer offense to find the net reached epidemic proportions.

The weekend produced just one goal - by a natural right winger playing defense, Garett Vassel, as RPI's hopes for a top four finish in ECAC Hockey took a major blow in losses of 2-1 to Cornell and 4-0 to Colgate, a team that had been struggling mightily.

Five times this season, the Engineers have allowed one or two goals and not won the hockey game and even for a team playing in the defense-oriented ECAC Hockey conference, such a statistic is a recipe for disaster.

The 2-1 defeat to Cornell on Friday night was the second of that score and the Engineers have two 1-1 ties and a 2-2 deadlock.

They've scored just seven goals over their past six games and one of those came on an extended 5-on-3 power play.

To begin with, the Engineers are a team that really doesn't have a true, upper-echelon goal-scorer and isn't loaded with stick-skilled forwards. It's easy for any offensive slump into which they fall to become extended.

Moreover, Appert firmly believes Rensselaer's brutal non-conference schedule will pay big dividends in the long run but in the meanwhile, has contributed mightily to the team's broken confidence.

"I firmly believe in the way we scheduled," he said after Saturday night's dismal defeat. "There are multiple reasons that we (made) the non-conference schedule that we did. It's going to make us a better, it has made a better team and we're going to be better off in the playoffs because of it. But in the short term right now, our confidence with the puck is down because of our lack of success while playing pretty darn well (but while scoring few goals)."

"Mostly attacking offensively," Appert said, "either in low (slot) play or on the rush. The confidence level is down."

"We don't have a lot of natural scorers," Appert said. "We have guys who need to do it the hard way."

Scoring leaders not scoring: With three goals and 14 assists, Tyler Helfrich leads the Engineers in scoring. Andrei Uryadov (6-10-16) is second, followed by freshman Chase Polacek (5-9-14), Jake Morissette (6-6-12), Jonathan Ornelas (6-6-12), Andrew Lord (3-9-12), Matt Angers-Goulet (6-3-9) and Paul Kerins (4-4-8).

After that eight, the next group of points producers are defensemen Peter Merth (1-8-9), Christian Jensen (2-5-7) and Bryan Brutlag (1-6-7).

Over the past four games, Helfrich has one assist and the other seven among the above eight players are all scoreless. That's one point among your top eight producers over four games.

Going back to the past six games, Helfrich has three assist, Polacek and Morissette have one goal, one assist each, Kerins one goal and Lord one assist. Uryadov has one goal, one assist over his past 12 games; Angers-Goulet one goal over his past nine games, and that came on an out-of-the-penalty-box breakaway. Since scoring 10 points (5-5-10) in an 11-game stretch, Ornelas is without a single point in six games.

Morissette has eight points (5-3-8) in nine games but as mentioned, is scoreless in four games since.

Kerins is 1-1-2 over his past nine.

These are not all-conference forwards but they are the people RPI need to pop the score sheet to be successful. And they were quite productive earlier in the season.

"We've got to step up and put an end to this," Morissette said. "We're the guys the team counts on, we've got to do it."

"We're all struggling, we're all frustrated," said Uryadov. "We're the ones who have to keep on playing hard and somehow start to find the net."

While there have been some points this season when the Engineers weren't creating many scoring chances, that wasn't the case this past weekend, Appert noted. "We had our players that we want, that we need in positions to score and we had chances, wide open in the slot, probably three in the first (period) and probably four or five in the second before they (Colgate) had their first goal and we didn't capitalize," he said.

"Either we're gripping the stick too tight, or forced a shot or didn't execute properly. And we turned the puck over."

Lineup shakeup: Appert juggled his lineup for the Colgate game, moving one of the few true centers on the team, Angers-Goulet, to left wing, with Morissette, one of the more consistent players this season centering, and Seth Klerer, the only player with more than two goals over the past 10 games, on the right. He also moved Polacek from right wing to center.

As mentioned, the Engineers did have some scoring chances over the first 10 minutes of the game but they were also out of sync and their puck movement was sloppy. Again, it's a matter of confidence, Appert said when asked if he's worrying about the lack of offense snowballing.

"I think it has already snowballed," he said. "That's five periods, where we controlled the play for most of the whole game, large stretches and had better (than the opposition's) offensive chances and didn't capitalize (scoring just once). So, yeah, it's already snowballed."

"Right now, we've had (a few shots) go off the posts," Appert added, "pucks are hitting shin guards and going wide ..." Try to stay confident and positive, Appert said, and "those things even out. You continue to play, continue to play hard and those bounces will end up in the back of our opponent's net, hopefully next weekend (against Union)."

Captains confer: Team captain Morissette and assistant Lord chatted for several minutes at Morissette's locker.

"We're just talking about making sure we keep the guys together," Morissette said. "We're having a little bit of a tough stretch here and it's really important for us to stick together and keep believing in one another. This is a very important time in our season and we've got to stick together."