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Engineers Optimistic about Future

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, March 11, 2008

TROY - The 2007-08 hockey season certainly wasn't a memorable one from a won-loss standpoint, to be sure.

The 23 losses among the Engineers' 38 games (11-23-4) are the second most in school history, for one thing.

And for the first time, RPI suffered a fourth straight losing season (discounting the 1930s, when RPI teams played just 3-6 games per season).

For the future, however, the Engineers took a major step.

Freshman forwards Tyler Helfrich and Chase Polacek emerged as future stars and freshmen defensemen Jeff Foss, Bryan Brutlag and John Kennedy came in to combine with four sophomore blue-liners to make the RPI defensive corps a solid one for the next few years.

With those players and an improved Matt Angers-Goulet and Andrei Uryadov, and a good senior leadership with Jake Morissette, Jonathan Ornelas and Andrew Lord, the Engineers looked solid with a 5-2-0 start and No. 16 national ranking.

Second-year coach Seth Appert had promised "a lot more goals" than the 2006-07 team scored and strongly suggested the team would improve its records as well.

Neither happened, and disaster would soon set in for the team.

The Engineers could manage just 45 goals in their 22 ECAC Hockey games - a shade over 2.0 per game. That total represented a 20 percent falloff from last season when the Engineers were next-to-last in the 12-team league with 55 goals.

Overall, RPI scored 88 goals in 36 games (2.44 per game) last season, only 79 in 38 games (2.08) this year.

Standings-wise, Rensselaer finished ninth in the ECACH with a 6-11-5 record one year ago, while posting a 10-18-8 overall record. This season was a bit worse; 10th in the final league standings with a 6-13-3 mark, as well as the above-mentioned overall mark.

On the positive side, the improved play of goaltenders Mathias Lange and Jordan Alford and the work of soph defensemen Peter Merth, Christian Jensen, Erik Burgdoerfer and Garett Vassel, as well as better backchecking among forwards, RPI allowed far fewer goals than one year ago. The Engineers surrendered 84 goals in 22 league games last season, just 69 this year, 130 in 36 games (3.61) last season, 112 in 38 games (2.95) this year. Some players looked back at the season for key points.

Ornelas recalled the two-game series with then-No. 2-ranked Miami.

"We played well against them for two periods," Ornelas said, recalling the Engineers held a 3-1 lead in the first game and the second game was tied 1-1 entering the third period.

The talent-deep RedHawks, however, outscored RPI by a combined 9-0 in the third period and romped to victories of 7-3 and 5-1. They merely swatted the Engineers away, it seemed.

"Exactly," Ornelas said. "That was hard to overcome. I know a lot of guys said we didn't look back on that but it was tough not to do that. I think, if we could have gotten a win out of those two games, it could have changed our season." Those two losses ignited RPI's 10-game losing streak.

Morissette, the team captain, felt that loss number four of that awful skein, a one-goal loss to Colorado College, may have severely damaged the Engineers' collective psyche.

It was the opening-round game of the Lightning Classic in Tampa and the Engineers led the 4th-ranked Tigers 2-0 entering the third period.

Colorado College tied the game with 3:21 remaining and won it on a power play with seven seconds remaining on was what virtually a desperation shot, as hero Steve Schultz thought there was less time remaining when he fired the puck from the circle, rather than skate in further on Lange.

The shot found its way past Lange and the Engineers incurred a crestfallen defeat. "I don't know if any one game can typify a season," Morissette said, "but I think that one really hurt us."

Sitting a lockerroom within a National Hockey League Arena, the Engineers remained stunned 20 minutes later.

"Because we had played well in third period and still lost," Appert said. "We had a couple of breakaways in the third period and shot wide. They (CC) had three big scoring chances and found the net on all of them. That's why talent is a difference-maker.

"As a staff, we look to the CC game and the (first) Cornell game as crucial," Appert continued. "We had already played Minnesota, played BC (Boston College) and played Miami twice and we're we were fresh (11 days off) and ready to take what we learned and apply against another strong team." And again, the Engineers played well enough to win but didn't.

Then, on Jan. 11, Appert said, "we played a great game" against Cornell but dropped a 2-1 decision.

"That was a tough loss and it exposed some of our deficiencies," Appert said, "that we don't have enough guys who can create enough offense and we're not physically tough enough yet.

"Those two games I look at most," Appert said.

During the losing streak, Appert took responsibility for the team's shaken confidence, since he was the one who loaded the non-league schedule with Miami, Notre Dame, Colorado College, Boston College and Minnesota. At times during the season, he seemed to waver on whether or not the brutal slate was or was the

right thing.

On Monday, he was firm.

"Yes it was," he said, "because losing our confidence wasn't the only reason we struggled. "We didn't have enough offense. And you learn to win consistently through losing. You don't just go out there, even with good players, and start winning without taking some lumps along the way.

"And we need to play those teams (from perennially strong programs) to see what we need to improve as a team and as a program, and also attract top recruits."

Lange, so intent on "just doing whatever I could do get the team a win," was unaware that he went well over two months without a 'W' personally.

"I just felt for the guys, not myself," the Austrian native said.

Morissette says better days are ahead for the Engineers and he and the other seniors will be watching from afar.

"They've got a lot of good players," Morissette said. "They're going to have a lot of success in the next few years."

Helfrich says the underclassmen have started to talk about the future, "obviously with optimism."

"We've heard about some of the (incoming) freshmen and some of the numbers they put up and we're excited."