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RPI in Dutch? Could Be

Engineers, Winless Against Union Since 2000, Will Be Underdog Tonight at Houston

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, December 7, 2002

When Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute junior defenseman and assistant captain Scott Basiuk was on the mend with a hand injury - and contemplating his return - Dec. 7 jumped off the schedule.

Not because today's date is any Day of Infamy to the western Canadian, but because of who the visiting team will be skating onto the Houston Field House ice tonight at 7.

Union.

Perennial underdog. Johnny-come-lately to Division I hockey, usual playoffs spectator, one-time easy conquest.

Emphasize one-time.

As of Dec. 7, 2002, the Dutchmen have long since gone from competitive to contender - and they easily could be more than the Engineers can handle tonight.

Indeed, the Engineers haven't been able to handle the Dutchmen in 35 months.

"I won't miss that game," Basiuk said last month. "I don't care if I haven't skated at all (in the meantime). I'll be out there for Union."

Basiuk missed 10 games and most of the one in which he was injured and returned last weekend on the road against Brown and Harvard. He got his legs and is looking forward to matching up with the Dutchmen.

"Really looking forward to it," the Prince Albert, Sask., native said. "We all are."

Rensselaer, a clear favorite in all, has won only one of the last six meetings (1-4-1) of the teams and was winless (0-2-2) against the Dutchmen in each of the past two seasons.

The Dutchmen. 3-2-1 in ECAC play and 6-5-3 overall, are in sixth place in the conference and loom as a slight favorite against the 10th place Engineers (1-4-1, 6-8-1).

Basiuk and other RPI upperclassmen won't admit it straight out, but they may be getting tired of hearing the 'can't beat Union' refrain from fans and media.

"We're aware of it," RPI captain Danny Eberly said.

Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen points out that the Engineers are focused despite "an unbelievable academic week."

"Projects, tests, writing assignments," he said. "But they've been coming to the rink focused. They seemed to be more focused and not sidetracked and I think they want to take care of (the winless streak against Union.)"

Union coach Kevin Sneddon commented on the Dutchmen's rise from ECAC doormat to legitimate contender.

"It's been a growing process, a culture change from where we were at, when we were just happy to be in a game with good teams," Sneddon said. "Now, we feel we have the talent and the passion in the locker room to play with the best teams in the country and have some success."

While the Dutchmen have scored more goals than the Engineers and would seem to have an advantage in a high-scoring shootout, Sneddon does not want such a game.

"Not at all," he said. "We're getting to that stage (of having an advantage in high-scoring games) but I don't think we're that yet."

Sneddon says he's always "been a big believer that defense wins championships" and would prefer lower-scoring games each time out.

The Dutchmen are a confident bunch.

"We're just playing well as one whole unit right now," says Union senior defenseman Jason Kean. "We're clicking right now, all four lines are going and we have (confidence) every night."

Does that confidence - together with RPI's lack of offensive production - make the Dutchmen comfortable in the favorite's role?

"I'm not sure about that," said Union captain Nathan Gillies, one of the top scorers in the ECAC. "We're evenly matched," he added, "and (tonight) will show who the better team is, I guess."