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RPI Needs Super Sophs

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 8, 2008

TROY - Tyler Helfrich and Chase Polacek know they carry many of the hopes and wishes of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey fans this season.

The two sophomore forwards were the Engineers' top two scorers as freshmen last season, quickly establishing themselves as the top forward line on the team.

That designation carries over to their sophomore year and now, they'll have an incoming freshman, left winger Patrick Cullen, joining the line. Helfrich and Polacek each knows what's expected of him - and the line in general.

"Obviously," Helfrich said. "I think we're expected to be the go-to guys here. I've been in situations like that before and we're just looking forward to helping this team win."

"Yeah, obviously we have to keep (up) what we did last year," Polacek said, "and improve in certain areas to help us become offensive producers. We will be expected to score goals in key situations and we're excited to be (given) those opportunities."

With the responsibility comes pressure but that doesn't seem to bother either player. "Pressure - no," Polacek said. "It's not really pressure, it's fun."

"No," Helfrich concurred. "It's a challenge."

It's the nature of college hockey - most notably in ECAC Hockey - that the majority of freshmen who put up 18-20 points, or more, see their numbers fall off significantly during the sophomore campaign.

Helfrich, who tallied nine goals, 20 assists for 29 points last season, and Polacek (7-21-28) both know that can't happen to them.

"It's something you hear a lot about," Helfrich said. "But one of the things the coaches have told us is that it never gets easier. And a lot of guys come in (for their second season) expecting that to happen and that's a mistake that's commonly made." "It's not going to get any easier, as Helch said," Polacek said. "But we worked hard over the summer and we've been working hard in this preseason to give ourselves the best chance to continue to put up good numbers."

One thing is certain; neither player will have to worry about ice time. Theirs is the top line and each is on the Engineers' top power-play unit.

Oh, yeah, the RPI power play. That established a new definition of the word 'futility' last season, as the Engineers were dead last in the nation - by a wide margin - scoring on just 7.3 percent of their manpower advantages (12 of 164).

Polacek and Helfrich were asked what comes into their minds first when they hear the phrase, RPI power play.

"Improvement - lot of it," Helfrich said. "We're looking forward to it. We feel good in practice and we're going to do better."

"We looked at some tape of what we've been doing wrong and we know we have to do better this year and that's what we're looking forward to," Polacek said. Helfrich, a right-handed shot, played mostly left wing last year but, with the addition of the talented Cullen, can move back to his natural position of right wing. "It's good," he said. "It's nice to have a wall there in the defensive zone. And there's little bonuses, like Chase being a right-handed shot, coming on the attack there's more (occasion) for one-timers (by Polacek)."

Polacek was recruited to play wing, a position at which RPI has been overloaded in recent years but made the move to the middle after about 10 games last season.

It wasn't much of an adjustment for him.

"I played both through high school," he said. "Actually, I like playing center a little more. You get a little more speed into the offensive zone."

Cullen and several other Rensselaer freshmen have looked good throughout training camp and sparkled in the annual Red-White Intrasquad game. They have upgraded the team's talent level and though most observers believe the Engineers are a year away from title contention, RPI players are optimistic.

Rensselaer has won just 21 of 74 games (21-41-12) during the past two seasons but Helfrich and Polacek are confident the team can have a winning season - which would be RPI's first since 2003-04.

"Yeah, definitely," Polacek said. "The freshmen bring a lot of speed and talent and hopefully they'll come quickly like we did last year and hopefully we'll help get off to a good start, give them confidence and they can produce and help us have a winning record."

"Yeah, they're a good group of guys and we've all bonded pretty well," Helfrich said of the RPI freshmen. "They've got skill, they've got a little bit of everything and we're excited to get the year going."

The Engineers will do that at 4 p.m. Saturday, meeting Vermont at Quebec City.