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Goal-Starved Engineers May Be Without Leaders Again

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 7, 2009

TROY - For a team averaging just 1.78 goals per game, playing without two of its top three scorers is not an ideal situation.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute did so last week and may well have to again this weekend as the Engineers return to ECAC Hockey action.

Tyler Helfrich skated Tuesday for the first time since incurring an MCL injury on Dec. 13. He did so with some pain, however, and is listed as doubtful for Friday night's game at Quinnipiac.

Leading goal-scorer and second-leading scorer Patrick Cullen is suffering from strep throat and not only hasn't skated in days, he hasn't eaten, either.

"No, I haven't eaten in six days," the freshman winger said. "I'm pretty weak right now. But I hope to get some food in me the next couple of days and hopefully I'll be ready to go (on the bus) Thursday."

Cullen, who has seven goals-five assists for 12 points, is questionable for the road trip, which also contains a game at No. 8 Princeton on Saturday.

"It still remains to be seen but I think he'll be able to go," RPI head coach Seth Appert said of Cullen. "It's going to be a matter of, as he feels better and works out or skates (today), how quickly he can restore his energy, what kind of food he can get into his body in the next couple days. He's done a good job of continuing to take liquids and energy drinks, so he's tried to keep his levels up."

As for whether or not Cullen, a left winger who plays on the Engineers' top line with Helfrich and center Chase Polacek, plays on Friday night, Appert says it "will be determined on how his body responds in the next couple days."

Helfrich had a slight limp after his short skating session Tuesday.

"I don't know if I can play," he said. "Hopefully, it'll (pain) let up."

The right-handed Helfrich says he feels pain behind his injured right knee when he tries to simulate a backhand shot or pass.

"I think it's questionable to doubtful," Appert said of the chance that Helfrich will dress on Friday night. "My gut feeling is no, but we'll see. People recover at different rates."

Helfrich led the Engineers in scoring last season with 29 points (9-20-29) and is third with 10 (3-7-10) this season.

"We played without those guys (last) weekend," Appert said, recalling RPI's 6-2 loss to No. 3 Boston University and a dismal, 4-3 loss to Holy Cross in which the Engineers blew a 2-0 lead.

"And we played for most of the games, played pretty well," he added.

"Their playing may have added to our offense," Appert said. "But (their absence) didn't contribute to our struggles. That was our own mental inconsistency, our own physical inconsistency and the (lack of) demands that our players put on themselves to play the same way, shift in, shift out for 60 minutes."

Despite the manpower shortage, Appert says the team has practiced well.

"Practices have been great since Christmas," Appert said. "(Tuesday) was outstanding. The physicality was really high. So, you can only control the guys you have out there and not the guys in the training room."

Rensselaer has dropped 10 of its past 11 games and is 3-15-1 overall. The Engineers share the 10th place in the 12-team ECACH with a 2-5-0 mark.

New line shines: Senior center Matt Angers-Goulet and his brother Alex, a freshman left winger, were put together again last week, this time with senior lefty Kurt Colling on the off right wing.

The line clicked right away, netting two goals in both games. Alex scored his first two college goals against BU, Colling and defenseman Peter Merth scoring against Holy Cross, with both Colling and A. Angers-Goulet assisting. Colling and Merth had not scored before the weekend. Obviously, the anemic RPI attack can take an infusion from anywhere.

"Finally, some points," said Colling, who has nine goals, 22 assists in 108 games at RPI.

Colling had never played right wing before.

"It was different," he said. "I gotta admit I was nervous and a bit apprehensive. Really, though, the only (difficult) part is the defensive zone where it's tougher (to play off wing). But the Gou brothers helped me out a lot, talking to me, letting me know when I had time along the wall. And we were lucky enough to play a lot of time in the other team's end, which is easy."

"Obviously, wins would have been nicer," Colling said, "but hopefully that's something we're working towards."

Alex Angers-Goulet had just the second four-point weekend by an RPI player this season (Cullen had the other).

"It's pretty good," he said. "I had a great weekend. It was great to play with my brother and Kurt. We had real good chemistry and everything clicked well."

Is the MAG line the team's top one right now, Alex was asked.

"Oh, I couldn't say that," he said. "We know our jobs, we do what we can, we win puck battles, just keep to basics and try to bring the puck to the net."

Appert will likely keep the trio together on Friday night.

"It would be tough not to," Appert said. "It was something we kind of stumbled across. The week before Denver, we essentially didn't have lines with so many forwards out of the lineup. We just wanted to see if other guys clicked together."

"And Monty and Kurly (assistant coaches Jim Montgomery and Shawn Kurulak) were on the road and I kept calling them and saying, 'Alex, Matt and Kurt have been really good together', so we kept them together for the games and obviously they were real strong, probably our best line both nights."

For the other lines, including Polacek's, of course, Appert has some big decisions to make for this weekend, especially if both Helfrich and Cullen are not able to play.

"Other lines will be some juggling," he said.

Appert said sophomore right winger Scott Halpern played well last weekend and is "starting to develop that offensive confidence that he started to acquire the second half of last year."

And freshman winger Josh Rabbani has played well lately.

Veteran forward Paul Kerins is due back from an ankle injury.

"Obviously we need to find some players to complement Chase," Appert said. "Chase is our top offensive player," Appert said. "We can't just leave him out there on an island to play alone. That's going to be critical to find some players to complement him and then we can get a couple of offensive lines, and maybe get a couple good energy lines and ... we'll go at it that way."