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Frustrating Year in Store for RPI Hockey Fans

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, November 15, 2002

TROY - The 2002-03 version of the Rensselaer hockey team will frustrate its fans.

But Engineers backers should be used to that.

For the last three seasons, the Matt Murley-Marc Cavosie Era of RPI hockey was one of underachievement.

The team never finished better than a tie for third place - a four-way tie, so that's in effect a tie for sixth - in the ECAC.

The excruciating upset defeats were almost common. For whatever reasons, the previous teams just didn't consistently perform to their abilities, didn't meet our high but reasonable expectations.

We won't refer back to them again but remember this: with all the All-American awards and all-star teams racked by the Joel Laings, Brad Tappers, Brian Pothiers, Cavosies and Murleys, the 2000, 2001 and 2002 RPI teams won just 32 of 65 (32-27-6) ECAC contests. This year's bunch could match that mark.

This year's Engineers won't score much, will lose more tight games like last week's 2-1 toughie to Clarkson. But they look like they'll play hard every night. And they'll get better.

Change in Potsdam?: It's likely - expected by most observers in the North Country.

It doesn't appear as if Mark Morris will be able to save his job at Clarkson.

Perhaps in a different era but in this day and age, with the lawsuit mentality that abounds, schools are reluctant to keep on coaches who have a physical confrontation such as the one Morris and junior right winger Zach Schwan had a couple weeks back.

That confrontation followed Schwan's hard body check of Morris during an after-practice 3-on-3 game.

Hockey, due to the nature of the game, is one of few sports where coaches can still be competitive with the young guys and playing 3-on-3 games with coaches and players are commonplace.

And players have been taking coaches into the boards for decades.

Of course, in this case, it's not known where Schwan's stick was when he hit Morris or from how far he came. What was said between the two is also unclear but after Morris retaliated heavily, Schwan, a Clifton Park resident, filed an official complaint with the university and is said to be considering legal action.

The sordid affair came when the veteran Golden Knights - Clarkson has reached the ECAC Tournament semifinals in nine of the past 10 seasons - developed a preseason discipline problem.

"Some guys came late to a practice," said a source close to Clarkson who asked not to be identified.

"There were six of them, including the captains (senior captains Kevin O'Flaherty and Dave Reid and assistant captain Chris Bahen - Dustin Traylen, Randy Jones and Jay Latulippe were thought to be the other three).

"He suspended them for their (ECAC) opener against St. Lawrence," the source said. "Then I guess he reconsidered and held it open for a team vote. The guys said, 'yeah, we want them to play.' Well, they played after the first period, they lost (2-1) anyway and things started to simmer."

Bahen told North Country media members that "it wasn't really that big of a deal."

"Well, some of the other players who were then on the bench (for the remainder of the SLU game) were not very happy," the source said.

A number of players took regular shifts in the first period but then saw little or no time when 'A' liners O'Flaherty and Latulippe and regular defensemen Reid and Bahen hit the ice.

"And they didn't like it," the source said.

"It looks a lot like they're going to make a (coaching) change," said the source. "Whether they do it (soon) or wait until after the season when they can open it up for a lot of applicants, who knows?

"Maybe they're taking some time, trying to talk to a lot of people and find some who'll say what a great guy Mark is so they can let him off easy."

Clarkson officials will not speculate on how long it will take for a decision in the matter. First-year assistant Fred Parker continues to lead the Knights, who host ECAC contenders Brown and Harvard this weekend. The Knights posted a 2-1 victory over the Engineers in their first game without Morris and played a 2-2 tie at Union the following night.

Clarkson is the only head coaching job Morris has ever had. A native of New York's North Country, Morris was an assistant for St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh before taking over the Golden Knights program in 1988. He was hired by then-athletic director Bill O'Flaherty, who was also Clarkson coach at one point and is now player personnel director for the NHL's Los Angeles Kings.

Morris' teams posted 10 consecutive 20-victory seasons and nine of those teams earned NCAA Tournament appearances. The 1990-91 team went 29-9-2 and made the Frozen Four.

Should the Knights fail to reach the NCAA event this year, though, it will mark the fourth straight time.

Morris owns an overall 306-156-42 while at Clarkson, the only head coaching job he's ever had.