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Freshman Tyler Helfrich Getting It Done for Engineers

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, February 7, 2008

TROY - "They sure could use a couple more like Helfrich."

A Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute fan was speaking of freshman winger Tyler Helfrich, a 5-foot-9 passing wizard who has taken over the team scoring lead. He has four goals and 18 assists for 22 points.

Even though he's not a centerman and even though RPI doesn't have a big-time goal-scorer, those 22 assists put Helfrich among the leaders within the ECAC Hockey. "Imagine what he could do with some real goal-scorers out there," that same fan said of Helfrich. "I don't know, that's not something I've really thought about," Helfrich said.

"I'm just doing my job and obviously I'm not a pure goal-scorer, not yet at least. I'd like to do that some day but right now my job is to set up other guys and give them opportunities to score. If I'm doing that, then I'm doing my job and helping the team win."

Last week, three different RPI players were given excellent setup passes from Helfrich and either didn't feel the pass cleanly or missed the net with their shot.

"He has very good vision, he's an extremely intelligent and gifted passer who, when he's locked in and playing the way he needs to play, can really make his teammates better," says RPI head coach Seth Appert. "He's having a good freshmen year. When he's competitive and when he's moving his feet and being aggressive, with his skating and with the puck, he's an impact player – already."

Helfrich knows that since the local stars Matt Murley and Marc Cavosie left RPI - each of whom had a 23-goal season - the Engineers haven't even had a player score any more than 18 in one campaign.

Helfrich feels he can hit those numbers.

"It's pretty obvious that the one thing I need to get better at is my agility, my explosiveness," he said. "We have a young team and we're going to be good down the road. I don't want to think too far ahead but I do believe I can be a 20-goal scorer some day but as of right now my job is to get guys the puck and give them the opportunity to score."

Appert says, "Tyler knows how to score. I think he's always going to be a guy who's going to have more assists than goals but I don't think there's any reason, as he builds his career, that he can't be a 15-goal scorer in college hockey."

Scoring goals has been a major difficulty for the Engineers this season. They've totaled just 20 in their 13 home games after the opening-night 4-0 victory over Bentley. In eight home league games, they've scored only 11.

As the top scorer on the team, those figures could put extra weight around Helfrich's shoulders, especially since he and fellow freshman Chase Polacek dominated the only game RPI has won among its past 13.

"Maybe a bit throughout the week, maybe it's some thing that crosses our mind," he said. "But when it comes to game time, it's something that you have to cancel out and focus on your game and the systems you play."

"We're trying not to let it bother us, and that's tough," Helfrich said. "It's a little frustrating. Obviously, we want to put on a good show for our fans with how great they are and how much they support us, even through the rough times we're going through. But we're just trying to put the puck on the net."

Helfrich is 23 years old but he is a freshman. He's established himself as a team leader and will likely be voted a team captain in the future. "In go-to situations, when I'm needed, I get thrown out there," he said, "I do the best I can; try to get the guys going by generating offense. I find that my best leadership asset as of right now. It's tough being a freshman but just because you're not wearing a (captain's) letter, just because you're a (rookie), doesn't mean you can't be a leader."

Helfrich was passed over in the National Hockey League draft during his junior hockey days.

"If you're under 6-feet, (with NHL teams) there's premium on speed," Appert says. "Tyler strong on the puck, he's got great vision and hands but skating is one thing he's been working on, his explosiveness. Speed and playing at a higher speed consistently is very important, not only in the college game but (especially) in the pro game if you're under six feet."

"Not being drafted is something that has been on my mind," Helfrich said. "That's something (nice) to look back on, something pretty cool when you're older. Again, my explosiveness needs to get better. And everything happens for a reason."

Helfrich was asked if the Engineers - again, losers of 12 of their past 13 games and winners of just nine of 29 games overall (9-17-3) - get any better as the postseason approaches.

"Absolutely," he said. "Right now, we're preparing to be better and due some damage in the playoffs. There are a couple things that we've changed within our (general) game plan that we're working on and getting better at and we're moving forward."