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Cut to the Chase

Freshman Chase Polacek Has Played Well Enough to Center RPI's Top Line

Troy Record, January 31, 2008

TROY — Speedy Chase Polacek never dreamed that he'd be centering Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's top forward line as the hockey season enters the stretch run.

The soft-spoken Edina, Minn. native isn't at all affected by the huge responsibility that duty entails.

Polacek and his all-freshmen linemates Tyler Helfrich and Scott Halpern have given the RPI offense big shot in the arm, producing six of the team's eight goals last week.

He says he doesn't feel any added responsibility as the team top-line centerman.

"I don't really," he said. "I just go out there and do what I can do to help the team be successful, striving to do whatever I can and try to be successful in (the offensive) aspect of my game."

He does admit to feeling some satisfaction for the recent output which has seen him vault to No. 2 behind Helfrich on RPI's scoring list with six goals and 13 assists for 19 points.

"It feels great," Polacek said after Wednesday's practice. "Scoring goals is always fun," Polacek said, "no matter which way you score, a pretty good or a grinding goal, they all feel the same. It was really great to see we got a few good bounces and found the back of the net."

Don't undersell Polacek's speed skills.

"That's what we noticed most of all," RPI head coach Seth Appert said. "He's going to be an outstanding offensive player for us."

Polacek says that the team's other lines, with upperclassmen such as Jake Morissette, Jon Ornelas, Andrei Uryadov, Paul Kerins, Matt Angers-Goulet, will increase their production soon.

That group has 30 goals on the season – certainly not an imposing number but at the same time, they represent the heart of RPI's offense. Angers-Goulet's goal at St. Lawrence, however, was just that group's second in eight games.

"I think they'll get going," Polacek said. "We're having a good week in practice and the guys are doing well."

Polacek was a big goal-scorer at The Academy of the Holy Angels in Richfield, Minn., where high school hockey stands above those of every other state. As a senior, he had 26 goals and 38 assists in 28 games.

"I had a good goal-scoring career," he said. "As you go up in levels, scoring goals gets harder. But it's all natural (abilities) and instincts and it's the same as it was when you were a Squirt or a Mite. Goalies are bigger, better and you just have to find the holes."

"Minnesota high school hockey," Polacek says, "is the top high-school program in the country. It's a great league, with great teams. It's a tough team to be successful in."

With his goal-scoring background, Polacek may have felt a personal pressure to put some pucks into the net when the Engineers were in such a profound struggle to score, totaling nine goals in eight games at one point.

"I wouldn't say I felt pressure to," Polacek said, "but I knew I was capable, that I would like to and give us the best chance to win a game. But, during that time, the bounces weren't there. That's unfortunate, but sometimes, you have to deal with it and pick your head up and go on the next game."

Helfrich and Polacek developed a good chemistry soon after they became linemates on a line centered by Angers-Goulet for the game with Harvard on Dec. 4, the last time RPI won before its 10-game losing streak.

"He's fun to play with, and he sure makes my job a lot easier," Helfrich said of Polacek. "He often seems to get open and it's real easy getting him the puck."

Polacek returns the compliments.

"He has great sense of where everyone is one the ice," Polacek said of Helfrich. "Great stick skills; he can find anyone out there. I always have to be ready for when he's going to get me the puck and when I have it, I know he's going to be open."

Halpern, who scored the game's first goal against St. Lawrence, getting the Engineers started toward ending that awful losing streak, explained the Polacek line's chemistry.

"We've got some speed, with Polie and myself," he said. "Tyler is obviously a great passer and uses his body well to protect the puck and makes great plays. So that works well with Polacek and me and our speed."

Halpern says the freshmen line will continue to generate scoring chances but must also "make sure we're playing tough defense and just jumping into the offense all the time."

Lots of responsibilities for rookies, right?

Polacek just smiled.