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RPI an Underdog vs Yale

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, November 15, 2002

TROY - It's been a while since Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute went into a game with Yale as a decided underdog.

The Engineers will tonight (7:00), though, when the two teams face off at Yale's Ingalls Rink.

With super sophomore Christopher Higgins and several other veteran forwards, the Bulldogs - if they can get some decent goaltending - hope to finish at least in the middle of the ECAC pack this season. They scrambled just to make the playoffs in each of the past two years. They went 4-2-1 in their last seven games of the 2000 season to gain the No. 8 seed and won their last four - after a six-game losing streak - to nab the final playoff berth.

The playoffs are open to all 12 teams this year but Yale figures to be well above the 11 and 12 slots. They're likely to be among the higher-scoring teams in the conference and should challenge RPI's tight goaltending and defense tonight.

The Engineers travel down I-95 after tonight's game and face Princeton (0-2-0, 0-4-0) on Saturday night.

After Higgins, senior left winger Nick Deschenes, offensive defenseman Jeff Dwyer and two other Bulldogs were involved in a late-game brawl with North Dakota a couple weeks back, the Bulldogs had to play at defending regular-season champion Cornell without them.

They were soundly beaten, 6-2, but bounced back to whip Colgate the following night, 6-1.

The Bulldogs goaltending isn't settled yet between sophomore Peter Cohen and junior Peter Debrowoloski. Neither had much experience before this season and neither has been sharp thus far this year.

Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen says the Engineers must fight hard for the puck along the end boards tonight - and come away with it more often than the Bulldogs.

"Yale is great in transition," he said, "so we're going to have to get the puck deep and work it, and really work hard for our opportunities. I think they understand that the guy between the pipes isn't as strong as some goaltenders in the league and they do a great job of packing it in and making sure he sees a limited amount of shots.

"So we're going to have really fight through our checks and work hard at generating some offense so we can get some shots on him."

The Engineers didn't exactly embrace the underdog role.

"Are we (underdogs)," asked senior center Nolan Graham. "I don't know, if we are. I'm sure they're a very good team, and they're very quick. We usually have close games against them."

Graham added that the Engineers have only allowed four goals in their last three games.

"I guess (we're underdogs)," said junior center Mikael Hammarstrom. "But (my) freshman year, we were behind 4-1 and wound up winning 5-4 in overtime (Carson Butterwick's goal)."

Later that season, 7-10-0 Yale came to Houston Field House and put a 6-3 thumping on the 14-11-2 Engineers.

After some horrible defensive play early on, Rensselaer has allowed just seven goals in its last six games. They lost two of those games, though.

"Offensively," Graham said, "we've just got to throw it on net and show the upperclassmen they've got to step it up a little bit."

Yes, Graham was including himself and linemate Butterwick in that statement.

Graham is second on the team in scoring with seven points (3-4-7) but hasn't scored in four games.

Senior right winger Butterwick scored 13 goals with 13 assists last season but has just four points (1-3-4) thus far.

"We'll be all right," Graham promised.

As for Princeton, Fridgen reluctantly agreed the 0-4-0 Tigers are not among the better teams in the league but quickly pointed out that they won (4-2) at Houston Field House last season.

"They're a funny team, tough to read," he said. "They didn't look strong last year when they came in here and waxed us. You just hope that, while they're trying to find some continuity, that they're not going to find it against you."