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Victory's Nice, But RPI Attack Still Struggling

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 27, 2008

ALBANY - Victory was sweet for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's hockey team on Saturday night, to be sure. Yet neither head coach Seth Appert nor the players approached exuberance with the 2-1 victory over Robert Morris University in the consolation game of the Governor's Cup tournament.

Certainly, 1-4-1 feels (and reads) much better than 0-5-1 but the Colonials are not among the nation's top teams and the Engineers' offense continues in its mighty struggle to score goals.

In four games against teams from college hockey's four major conferences this season, the Engineers have totaled just two goals.

The ever-optimistic Appert didn't foresee how the Engineers would struggle offensively and, though it's early this season, he's concerned with the attack. He's still confident the goals will come, but he's worried.

"I am a little concerned about it, yeah," Appert said. "That's an area of concern but I think we're better able to win games different ways than we were last year. Mathias Lange has worked to make himself a premier goaltender and I think Allen York is one of the best young goalies in the league. And having more experience on our 'D' corps than we've had will allow us to win more games defensively."

"And we put a lot more pucks toward the net this past weekend," Appert said. "We just have to hit the net more often instead of shooting wide so much and as we continue to crash the net and as the confidence of our young forwards grows, I think we'll start to score some more goals."

Further, Rensselaer did go two games without defeat over the weekend, as their first-round Shootout loss to Union is officially a 1-1 tie.

And the defense was much more sound than it was in the two previous games against Bentley and UMass. Regardless of the offensive production, it will ultimately be the defense and goaltending that will determine RPI's success this season.

How about that power play?: For one year now, RPI's anemic power play has received as much documentation as the nation's top power-play units.

The Engineers had gone 41 straight power-play chances without a score, dating back to Feb. 23.

On that night, Jon Ornelas scored a 6-on-4 power play goal with one second remaining in the game as the Engineers avoided a shutout in a 3-1 loss to rival Clarkson.

"We saw signs of life on the power play (Friday) night," Appert said, referring to the 1-1 tie (and Shootout loss) against Union. "Actually more from (Bryan) Brutlag's unit (Brutlag with forwards Andrei Uryadov, Alex Angers-Goulet, Josh Rabbani and Seth Klerer) than from the Helfrich unit."

"But I thought the Helfrich unit (Saturday) was outstanding," Appert said.

Sophomore defenseman and Bentley transfer Mark Zarbo didn't play Friday night and has been a healthy scratch for half of RPI's games, was quarterbacking the top power-play unit, with Helfrich on the blue line with him and forwards Chase Polacek, Scott Halpern and Patrick Cullen up front.

"I thought Mark Zarbo, hasn't played a lot of hockey the past couple years but did a really good job of quarterbacking that unit," Appert said.

The puck movement on Rensselaer power plays had been dreadful and even though they had several more power plays without a shot on goal over the weekend, the puck movement was much better.

"We had good puck movement on the power play ... but we shot the puck wide about 30 times," Appert said of RPI's three third-period power plays on Saturday.

How much will the victory and the power play goal pump up the Engineers' confidence, and will they be able to put together some victories and enjoy a good start to ECAC Hockey league play are questions that are tough to analyze. And those questions can only be answered by the players.

After the game at Harvard, RPI plays four straight league home games, against Harvard, Dartmouth, defending-playoff champion and preseason favorite Princeton, and high-scoring Quinnipiac. Then they have games at Yale and Brown.

Long layoff: The Engineers, who played five games in nine days, are not off until the game at Harvard on Nov. 4. That's to give the team a break headed into league play.

"We wanted a lot of games early so we could get a lot of different guys into games and see what they could do," Appert said. "Now, with the break, it lets us get refocused, work on our habits and get some practice time in with these five league games coming up."

Strong third period: Appert was asked if he was worried Saturday when Robert Morris scored late in the second period to pull within 2-1, since RPI has been outscored 57-19 during the third period since the outset of last season.

"This is a new year," he said with a laugh.

All right, it's 7-1 this season.

"I didn't notice that," he said.

"No," he added. "We're in such a young process of trying to learn how to win, how to develop our habits. What I liked was, for the most part in the third period, we were aggressive. We didn't sit back, we didn't have a ton of attack time against us. We drew power plays ... we protected our net pretty well except for that one flurry when Yorkie made the big saves."

Win the close ones: The victory over Robert Morris was the Engineers' first one-goal triumph of the season.

Including last season, RPI had dropped 10 of its past 11 games decided by the slimmest of margins.

In 2006-07 season, Appert's first, the Engineers, extremely young on defense, were able to score some key goals and win nine of 12 one-goal decisions, including a 6-2 mark in ECAC Hockey games.

Without those clutch victories, the Engineers' records of 6-11-5 (ECACH) and 10-18-8 would have been much worse.

With the offense struggling as it did last season, RPI wasn't able to win many of those games and finished 2-4 in league play, 4-10 overall. The Engineers finished 6-13-3 within the ECACH and 11-23-4 overall.

NOTES: Just six games into the season, both Rensselaer goaltenders can already claim 40-save games. Freshman York turned away 40 of RMU's 41 shots on Saturday and senior Lange had stopped 40 shots in an earlier 1-0 loss to New Hampshire. ... Polacek leads the Engineers in shots on goal, while Helfrich (12), A. Angers-Goulet (10) and Brutlag (nine) have at least one in every game in which they've played. So does freshman forward Rabbani, though he's missed two games. ... The Engineers are eighth nationally in penalty killing at 93.9 percent (31-of-33). ... Rensselaer may have a slight advantage playing both Harvard games so early. The Crimson, who don't open until Friday, lost regular goaltender Kyle Richter, who won 17 games as a freshman, and solid, senior defenseman Jack Christian, both of whom left the team.