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Engineers Upbeat after Solid Weekend Play

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 14, 2009

TROY - The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers have returned to the ice the past two days feeling pretty good about themselves.

They had completed their first unbeaten ECAC Hockey weekend in nearly one year - both opponents having winning records - and on the road, to boot.

Having been outscored 32-8 in the third periods of their first 19 games, the Engineers outscored No. 7 Princeton 2-0 in the third for a 5-1 victory.

And they did so without 'A' line forward Tyler Helfrich.

Further, though the streak goes all the way back to Dec. 6's 7-2 victory at Brown, the Engineers are unbeaten (2-0-1) over their past three ECACH games.

Leading scorer Chase Polacek was asked how it felt to finally win a third period against a quality team.

"It was great," Polacek said. "Against Quinnipiac (2-2 tie after RPI led 2-0 through two periods), I thought we came out hard, didn't give up, kept trying to give it to them (aggressively). Then against Princeton, we never stopped going. We were out there winning puck battles, winning puck battles and going to the net hard."

"So, it was good to see that consistent game," Polacek added.

"It felt great," said captain Matt Angers-Goulet. "Princeton's a very good team and it was a tough game. It was 3-0 and they scored on us."

And a lot of RPI followers may have been weary over another third-period collapse.

"We have that belief now," Angers-Goulet said. "We talked about it between periods a little bit. We want to keep attacking and not sit back and watch another team come back against us."

Head coach Seth Appert, when asked Monday about the strong third period, repeated what he said after the game Saturday night, said, "it was nice."

That's it - "it was nice?"

"Well, that's what I expect," Appert said. "I don't expect us to blow two-goal leads," let alone get outscored 32-8.

"The third period, Friday night, we were aggressive. We made mistakes and Quinnipiac capitalized. But it was an individual-play meltdown, it wasn't a team meltdown or a team passive mentality."

"Saturday, we were really, really strong. We were physical, we were disciplined. Probably the best we've been all year at being physical at combining extremely physical play with not taking penalties, that balance of discipline and aggression. Because of that, we had the puck a lot in the third period."

Colgate game a huge one: The Engineers finally - after nine straight games away - return home Friday night with a huge league game against Colgate.

At 3-5-1, Rensselaer is in eighth place in the 12-team ECAC Hockey league and thus, if the season ended today, the Engineers would be at home - against ninth-seeded Colgate - in the preliminary round of the league playoffs. The Engineers haven't hosted a playoff series since 2004-06. Rensselaer hasn't won a postseason game since 2004, going 0-10 since then.

The Engineers haven't played at home since Thanksgiving Weekend and the Colgate game will be their first ECACH encounter at Houston Field House since Nov. 15.

Since the Raiders are one of four teams behind RPI in the standings (St. Lawrence, Brown, Clarkson the others), it's a huge game for the Engineers.

Offensive-zone time increases ...: A big part of the Engineers' problems this season was a weakness of creating scoring chances. Part of that is due to the fact that RPI is an average stick-handling team at best and also, the Engineers haven't maintained the puck in the offensive zone.

Probably none, other than Appert, noticed more than goaltender Mathias Lange.

"A lot more," he said. "Very noticeable (from the other end of the ice). Everybody played well and that's what happens when everybody plays hard for 60 minutes."

"A lot more," Appert said, echoing Lange. "You spend more time in the offensive zone if you spend less time in the defensive zone. You spend less time in the defensive zone if you spend more time in the offensive zone."

Moreover, spending more time in the attacking zone than the Engineers had done previously this season means a team doesn't get as tired playing defense in the third period.

Again, RPI had been outscored 32-8 in the third stanza prior to the Princeton game.

"That's true," Appert said, "but as important is defending, transitioning the puck quickly, backchecking to create turnovers. The number of odd-man rushes we had against Princeton was probably eight or nine and it was all because of how hard we backchecked and how hard we defended. They go hand-in-hand and it is important to spend less time in your 'D' zone and we've worked on that with taking time and space away, with our defensemen and centermen being more aggressive, with our wingers doing a better job on the point coverage."

"At the same time," Appert continued, "we've a lot in the offensive zone, protecting the puck better, cycling and doing the kind of things that will allow us to have (more) possession time. You don't always score in the first 10 seconds of a shift but you may wear a team down over the course of a shift, a period or a game."

Winning puck battles in the offensive zone was also a highlight of the weekend.

"We did, both nights," Appert said. "And the catalyst of that was the Goulet line (left-to-right, Alex Angers-Goulet, his brother, Kurt Colling) over the past four games. We're creating more offense from our down-low play because of how hard those three are playing. Josh Rabbani is another guy who wins those puck battles, being difficult to play against down low, maintaining possession, making the opponent defend. Seeing other guys do it can make it contagious."

Young Angers-Goulet sizzling: Freshman left winger A. Angers-Goulet had just one point (an assist) over his first 15 collegiate games. In his four games since, he has three goals, three assists.

Polacek's 1-6-7 output was the only more productive four-game streak by an RPI player this season.