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Penalties Spelled Disaster for RPI

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 15, 2002

TROY - Well, at least that horrible trip, where they - and other ECAC teams - seldom win is over for the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers.

That's about the only positive result from the Engineers' North Country trip which produced a 4-1 defeat at Clarkson and a hugely disappointing 5-2 setback at St. Lawrence.

The loss at Clarkson was expected, though the Engineers had a chance to win. The loss to struggling St. Lawrence was surprising - if continued losses and ties by the Engineers can still be considered surprising.

The Saints had lost eight straight games and had their worst six-game ECAC record (1-5-0) in 22 years.

The Engineers were in control of play for most of the game but took foolish penalties, had breakdowns on both of SLU's 4-on-4 goals and inaccurate finishing on strong scoring chances. Those factors combined for a stinging defeat and left RPI with a 2-5-2 record in the ECAC, 7-8-3 overall.

Should the Engineers lose at Union on Wednesday night, they would own the worst conference record in the ECAC.

The Engineers were pressuring the St. Lawrence net on a power play, seeking a tying goal midway through the third period when they gave the puck away deep in their own zone.

Blair Clarance turned that into a back-breaking goal from which the Engineers could not rebound. They put 17 shots on Saints freshman goalie Mike McKenna - often just hitting him with the puck - but couldn't get one past.

Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen, thinking back to all the breakdowns, let-ups, focus freezes and general miscues, said this one may have been the worst.

"The timing couldn't have been worse," Fridgen said, "because my first (power play) unit, Marc's (Cavosie) line, was out there for 56 seconds. So I couldn't come back with them. And I didn't want to take the (one allotted) timeout there, because I would have needed it a little later on."

Giveaways happen - no matter how careless the pass, no matter how big the assumption that a teammate will be there, no matter how big the lapse in focus. And seniors, such as defenseman Jim Vickers, make them with a game on the line.

What had Fridgen, his assistants and RPI fans even more puzzled were the impossible-to-understand penalties taken throughout the second period.

Rensselaer was hurt by two head-scratching no-calls in Friday night's 4-1 loss at Clarkson. Saturday night, the Engineers killed themselves.

Coming out in the second period trailing 1-0, and hoping to take command of the game, Blake Pickett took a tripping penalty well behind the play.

With 46 seconds remaining in an RPI power play, Carson Butterwick gave those precious seconds away by taking an interference penalty in corner, in the offensive zone.

The Engineers killed those penalties but just 36 seconds after Butterwick scored to tie the game at 1-1, Ryan Shields took a boarding penalty along the endboards in the offensive zone.

Then, unnecessary penalties by seniors Jim Henkel and Steve Munn gave SLU a 5-on-3 power play which produced Ziga Petac's tie-breaking goal.

On Friday night, the Engineers were down 2-1 when Matt Murley took a retaliatory penalty away from the puck and Clarkson's Kevin O'Flaherty converted for a 3-1 lead.

Fridgen took responsibility for the breakdowns - mental and physical - thought the Engineers had a silent, four-hour bus ride home late Saturday night to reflect upon their responsibility - and if they will make the commitment necessary to salvage their season.

"It's gut-check time and it's character time," he added.