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RPI Faces a Bear of an Opponent

Engineers Play at Brown, Where Bears Are Unbeaten in Their Past 10 Games

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, November 29, 2002

TROY - Three weeks ago, the Brown Bears were riding high, winning hockey games and perched firmly in the unfamiliar position of leading the Eastern Colleges Athletic Conference.

Then the Bears hit the road.

The contrast has been startling. And when Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hits the ice at Brown's Meehan Auditorium tonight at 7, the Engineers will find a struggling Bears team.

Brown was shut out in its last two games at Colgate and Cornell, dropping them to 4-3-0 in the ECAC and into fifth place.

"Let's hope they're still struggling (tonight)," said RPI coach Dan Fridgen. "But they're a very solid hockey team, strong in their own end with an outstanding guy in the net (Yann Danis) and they don't need to score many goals to win games."

For their first three games, the Bears were unbeatable. Danis shut out Harvard and Vermont. Then the Bears downed Dartmouth (4-2), which has been the ECAC's hottest team since.

On the road, though, Brown won only one of four games and was outscored 14-6, including 13-1 among the three losses.

It was a dramatic exclamation of a trend the Bears have exhibited over the last couple seasons as they try to build themselves into an ECAC contender.

While Brown has won its past 10 home games, the Bears have won only three of their previous 15 road games (3-11-1) and have lost the last eight (two playoff games at Harvard last March are included).

Brown coach Roger Grillo admits that his team will be "a lot more confident to get back home."

To have a chance at finishing the season among the top four and thus enjoying a first-round bye in the playoffs, however, Grillo knows the Bears will have to "play a lot better on the road."

Meanwhile, RPI has its own problems; winning on the road, winning tight games, putting together a little winning streak are all areas where the Engineers need to improve.

And they face a tough task this weekend. After they try to end Brown's home ice winning streak tonight, the Engineers must travel up I-95 to meet Harvard on Saturday night. Awaiting them will be the second-place Crimson (5-2-0 in ECAC play) who'll be bent on avenging a 5-1 pasting RPI put on them in Cambridge last season.

So, at 1-3-0 in the ECAC, the Engineers (5-7-0 overall) could find themselves tied for last place (with Princeton) if they come out of the tough weekend without a point in the standings.

It's a light weekend in ECAC play; the Rensselaer/Union-Brown/Harvard matchups are the only conference contests being played.

The RPI offense has shown some signs of life over the past two games after struggling to get goals for four weeks.

A new line centered by Ben Barr (his first game at center) with Nick Economakos at right wing and Eric Cavosie on the left netted three goals in last week's 5-3 victory over Mercyhurst.

Strictly in terms of points production, Mikael Hammarstrom (4 goals-3 assists- 7 points), freshman right winger Kevin Croxton (4-4-8) and sophomore left winger Vic Pereira (1-6-7) has become RPI's top line. And Conrad Barnes' line has been strengthened with the addition of freshman right winger Kirk MacDonald, who made his first appearance against Mercyhurst after missing the first 12 games with a virus.

"We're just trying to put the puck on net with some consistency ... getting back to basics," Barr said.

"We're not scoring a lot of goals but we're getting some from a lot of guys and that helps," Hammarstrom said.

Harvard, with the ECAC's deepest group of forwards, is coming off a 3-0 loss at Boston University.

The Crimson had 10 of 12 forwards hit the scoring column in a recent victory over Colgate and five Harvard players - left winger Tim Pettit, left winger Tyler Kolarik, center Dominic Moore, center Brett Nowak and defenseman Noah Welch are all averaging one point per game or better.

And while he doesn't get the notoriety of some other goalies in the ECAC, Harvard's Dov Grumet-Morris permits just 2.13 goals per game.

This weekend's games figure to be close-checking and low-scoring but if the Engineers are to win one, they'll need to get some key goals.

A victory in either game this weekend could certainly help the Engineers season gain some steam. Discounting teams from the lower-level Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, RPI has yet to win two straight games this season. The Engineers have scored more than three goals in a game just three times and the have a 1-3 record in games decided by one goal.