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Engineers Beset with Saturday Doldrums

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, December 7, 2009

TROY - A bad trend has seemed to have developed with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The Engineers have been playing poorly in the first period of Saturday games - four in a row (Army, St. Lawrence, Union, Colgate).

Each of those games was a loss, three by one goal, while Colgate was a one-goal deficit with two minutes remaining.

After the 5-3 loss to Colgate on Saturday, Appert said, "I'll take full responsibility for it. It's my job to get the team in the right mindset, in the right frame of mind to play how we need to play. I think we've done a good job of that through the week of preparation (for Friday)."

"Maybe that's my fault for how we approach Saturday, but at the end of the day, (players) have to take pride in what you do."

On Sunday, Appert reiterated those words.

"Obviously, it's my job as coach to get the team prepared to play," he said, admitting the first periods have been poor.

Against Army, the Engineers scored one goal (Chase Polacek) among 14 first-period shots but some sloppy puck-handling cost them two-three other glaring scoring chances and they went on to suffer a huge, 2-1 defeat.

Against St.Lawrence, again a 1-0 lead but the Engineers were listless throughout totaling just 15 shots on goal against one of the ECACH's weaker defensive teams in a 2-1 defeat.

Last week's overtime loss to Union, in which the Dutchmen - playing without their top four scorers - jumped to a 3-0 first-period lead over the penalty-plagued Engineers. Rensselaer took a 1-0 lead on Joel Malchuk's goal two minutes into the game but were then dominated by the Raiders for the next 25 minutes. That fact cost them a victory.

"Clearly, we need to do something for Saturdays (preparation)," Appert said. "Now, we're not spend a lot of time preparing for Saturday (opponents) and not prepare for Friday but..."

"Saturday games scare coaches," he added. "You barely get any time to prepare. On Saturday, it's a little more like, 'put the puck down and just play hockey.'"

"Our players haven't responded," Appert said, "especially our upperclassmen."

Preparation is crucial, of course, but it's the players' ultimate responsibility have to play with focus, intensity and aggressiveness, regardless of who the opponent is or what the calendar says.

"Obviously, I need to also get the players to look at themselves and get our leaders to look at themselves," Appert said.

Slump time of season: For some reason, RPI has posted decent records over the first month of the season in recent years, only to take yearly nosedives beginning at some point in November.

In 2006-07, Appert's first season, the Engineers' record was lost just one of their first eight games (4-1-3), then won just two of the next 16 (2-10-4).

The following year (2007-08), the record was 4-2-2 after eight games, just 4-17-2 over the next 23.

Last year wasn't as dramatic, because the Engineers won only seven games all of the regular season. They did however, open 2-5-1, then went 1-10-0 in their next 11.

Even going back to Dan Fridgen's final season of 2005-06, RPI began the campaign 4-2-0, then won just four of the next 14 (4-7-3).

This year is stark, as any RPI backer can tell you. After a 7-3-1 start, the Engineers have dropped five of six to become just a .500 team at 8-8-1.

Why?

"I don't know," Appert said. "There might be a million excuses for it. I'm not overly worried by it. In all honesty, in other years we weren't a very good hockey team. Maybe we did a good job getting the team ready for the season and then some other teams caught up."

"I'd be more concerned if we'd been blown out in some games," he added. "There were a lot of games (in previous seasons) that we weren't even in."

York slumping: Sophomore goaltender Allen York is amidst a personal five-game losing streak - and now has a losing record (6-7-1).

Much of that is due to the poor defensive play in front of him but also, York has been fighting the puck.

He's always had trouble with controlling rebounds but lately has spit some not overly difficult shots right out in front.

The Engineers have needed a big save against Union, Cornell and Colgate but York has been unable to come up big.

"First, let me say that I have all the faith in the world in Allen York," Appert said, adding emphatically, "I don't think rebounds have been a problem."

"I don't think he's played as well the last few games as he did in the past," Appert said, "but people should remember, he was a strong point in our postseason success last year. As a goalie, his work ethic in practice is outstanding."

"The last two games, for whatever reason," Appert said, "(York) has gotten beat on some good shots. He needs to play better and I need to help him play better."

Penalty killing poor: Certainly it has been, but not as bad as a 76.1 efficiency rate (70 of 92) would indicate.

A number of power play goals the Engineers have allowed come from poor 5-on-5 play, not necessarily poor penalty killing.

At UMass, some questionable penalties - and a lazy one - led to a pair of 5-on-3 goals - and another after which the Minutemen scored on the 5-on-4 advantage. Similarly, against Union a week ago, a parade of foolish RPI penalties gave the Dutchmen two prolonged 5-on-3 power plays, both of which produce goals, were well-documented.

At Niagara, the Purple Eagles scored three power-play goals within their 4-1 victory but RPI's play, from a faceoff to final horn, was so uninspired and poor, that the penalty killing can hardly be singled out. Again, their listless play produced lazy penalties that led to NU's power-play goals.

Here comes Union: With York and Brandon Pirri slumping, Jerry D'Amigo less than 100 percent, two-way standout defenseman Mike Bergin still out, the Engineers don't seem to be ready to meet the ECACH's hottest team - Union.

The Dutchmen, who have the league's best record percentage-wise (3-0-3), haven't lost since RPI rallied for a 4-3 overtime victory in a non-league contest at Messa Rink on Oct. 30. The Dutchmen are 4-0-4 since then.

Psychologically, the Engineers might be in a tough place as well but captain John Kennedy says there will be no problem getting up for the Dutchmen.

"Not going to be tough (to get up) at all," Kennedy said. "It's a league game, it's the last (ECACH) one before the Christmas break and it's Union. It won't be a problem."