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Engineers Need to Cram Quickly to Raise Second-semester Grades

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, December 12, 2002

TROY - When Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hits the ice again on Dec. 28th, it will mark the Engineers' 18th game - half of their 36-game schedule.

So, it's time for their midseason report card. Each category is based on a 4.0 grading system - just like the Engineers are graded in the classroom.

The Engineers 7-9-1 overall record includes a 3-0-0 mark against the weaker Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Here's how they grade out thus far:

Offense: There's only one way to score in hockey: put the puck in the net. And there was little doubt that the Engineers were going to struggle in that regard - at least early on. Oh, how they have!

For large periods of time, the Engineers simply did not create many scoring chances. One look at shot charts supports that premise. Until recently, only a slim minority of shots came from the lower slot area. Quality chances were rare. Puck movement and passing have been inconsistent.

Freshman winger Kevin Croxton looks to be a future star. Junior Mikael Hammarstrom has stepped his production dramatically from his first two seasons. Fellow juniors Ryan Shields and Ben Barr have played hard and produced.

Seniors Carson Butterwick and Nolan Graham have been disappointing, even considering that much of their strong production of previous came from the fact that star left winger Matt Murley was their linemate.

Captain Danny Eberly has developed into an offensive force at defense and freshman Brad Farynuk has shown he's also an offensive defenseman.

The bottom line is the Engineers have scored one or zero goals six times, and have scored more than two goals in just two of seven ECAC games. They are averaging just 2.4 goals per game. One can site their inexperience as an excuse for the first half of the season but it won't wash in the second half.

Rating: C

Transition: With a number of freshmen and sophomores of little experience, transition was also expected to be a problem early. Also, the Engineers clearly are no longer one of the ECAC's faster teams.

In conference road games at Yale, Princeton and Brown, the Engineers gave up so many odd-man breakouts it gave observers stiff necks.

In all but a few games - notably those against teams from the weaker Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference - RPI opponents have controlled center ice. That's improved lately and for the Engineers' sake, needs to continue to do so.

Rating: C

Forechecking: It's been fine at times, ineffective at others. But it helped beat Union last week and pull victory from defeat against St. Lawrence.

Again it's a learning process. The more effective forecheckers of the past two seasons are gone but Shields, Barr and Graham have done well at times.

Rating: C

Faceoffs: Graham and Barnes did well earlier in the season but since, the Engineers have been beaten badly on faceoffs in all three zones. Repeated losses, it can be argued, cost them games at UMass and Princeton. Big improvements are needed here.

Rating: D+

Defense: Early on , it was dismal. Against Boston University and UMass-Lowell, it was difficult to watch.

With four freshmen defensemen getting plenty of ice time, it was a growing process but the Engineers turned things around quickly. Freshmen mistakes still occur - there were several in the second defeat to BU earlier this week - but RPI is a strong defensive team at this point.

Rating: B+

Power play: Believe it or not, it's been more consistent than most of last season when the Engineers had two veteran-laden power play units with several stars. This time, while they've often failed to generate many shots, the power play has been fairly productive. It's produced at least one goal in 14 of 17 games and for the season is a decent 18.51 percent (19-of-105).

Rating: B

Penalty killing: For most of the year it's been great, especially since several players had little previous PK time. The RPI killers began the season killing 23 of 26, then slipped (seven goals in 19 tries) but killed 24 of the last 25. The overall efficiency mark is a solid 84.6 percent (77 of 91).

They're tying up sticks in front well, but need to be a bit better at clearing the puck. Overall, it's been sharp.

Rating: B+

Goaltending: Both Nathan Marsters and Kevin Kurk began the season slowly - Marsters so much so that he lost the starting job to Kurk. Each has come on strong after the first couple weeks. Kurk's 2.50 goals against average is among the ECAC leaders. Marsters has improved his numbers dramatically despite playing backup.

Kurk still needs to control rebounds better and remain focused when the puck is behind his net. Marsters can improve his angles. The goaltending, though, has shown that it's good enough for the Engineers to rise several notches in the ECAC standings if the rest of their game improves.

Rating: B

Physical play: At times, outstanding, other times - like against BU the other night, just not there.

The Engineers are not an intimidating physical team. They don't need to be. Just being a little aggressive in the neutral zone and being a little more consistent at finishing their checks will do just fine. Also, they've done a decent job staying out of the penalty box for the most part, with 14 more power plays than shorthanded situations.

Rating: C

Motivation and intensity: The team's major problem over the previous two seasons when the Engineers were much more of a veteran team. It's certainly waned at times this year, too. But they bounced back from defeat to beat nationally-ranked St. Cloud State on its own ice, and showed more emotion against Union last week than they have in years. They seem to want to play hard for 60 minutes more so than last year's underachieving team,

But they showed nothing early in losses to UMass-Lowell and Princeton, or in their 2-1 victory over St. Lawrence. They've been outscored 21-12 in first periods of games and they must close that gap.

Rating: C+

Overall rating: 2.5 or C+, with their inexperience taken into account. Much more will be expected from here on.