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Engineers' Troubles Continue

Rensselaer falls to weak Princeton team in tourney consolation game

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, December 30, 2002

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's 2-1 loss to Merrimack on Saturday was a frustrating one.

Sunday's 4-3 loss to Princeton was downright tough to swallow.

For the second time this season, the Engineers permitted one of the weakest offensive teams in the nation to push them around and build a two-goal lead that RPI couldn't overcome.

Freshman right winger Kevin Croxton continued his hot scoring with a pair of goals for RPI and Ben Barr scored his fifth on a pretty 3-on-2, but the Engineers were beaten by their own sloppy play.

The loss relegated the Engineers to a rare last-place finish in the 52nd Annual Rensselaer Holiday Tournament.

When they showed emotion, the Engineers dominated the Tigers - just as in their previous 4-3 loss at Princeton - but there were lengthy stretches of play when it appeared they'd rather be somewhere else.

Later, Merrimack won the tournament championship game with a 4-1 win over Wayne State.

Princeton's two victories over RPI this season are the Tigers' only successes; they are 2-14-0 overall. And while the Tigers have eight goals in their two games with Rensselaer, they average just 1.87 in their other 14 games.

The defeat dropped the Engineers to 7-11-1 - and it wasn't pretty. Even after RPI pulled within 4-3 on Croxton's second goal early in the third period, Princeton was still beating the Engineers to loose pucks and out-muscled them for control.

"We just waited too long," RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. "We didn't elevate our play until we were behind the 8-ball."

That 8-ball was a 3-1 deficit after Croxton had taken a perfect pass from defenseman Alexander Valentin in the lower left slot and beaten Princeton goalie Trevor Clay for a 1-0 lead with 4:04 remaining in the first period.

Princeton, taking advantage of some pillion-like RPI defense, scored twice in that 4:04 though, and went ahead 3-1 just 2:45 into the second period.

Then Barr banged in his own rebound to pull the Engineers within 3-2 at 12:22 of the second period. And RPI had loads of momentum, was swarming the Princeton net and was on the power play.

Then came the play of the game.

Princeton's Scott Prime deflected a pass out of the Tigers' zone and raced up ice with RPI defenseman Alexander Valentin, who beat Prime to the puck by a fraction of a second. Valentin could not keep his footing though, and Prime picked up the puck and found Mike Patton streaking down the slot alone. Prime fired the puck to Patton, who beat RPI goalie Nathan Marsters with a wrist shot, rebuilding the Tigers' lead to two goals and taking the drive out of the Engineers.

"A questionable play, I thought our guy got taken down," Fridgen said.

Valentin was more emphatic.

"Yeah, I think he (Prime) tripped me from behind," Valentin said. "The ref didn't see it. I got the puck under control and he tripped me."

Less than one minute after Croxton gave the Engineers a 1-0 lead, the Engineers lost focus. They allowed Princeton's Neil Stevenson-Moore to skate around from one side of the net to the other and stuff the puck under the pads of goalie Nathan Marsters at 16:47.

Just 22 seconds later, a neutral-zone turnover gave Princeton a 3-on-2 breakout and Dustin Sproat gave Patrick Neundorfer a clear breakaway along right wing. Neundorfer beat Marsters to the short side for his third goal of the season and a 2-1 Princeton lead.

Neundorfer skated right around an RPI defender early in the third period and beat Marsters to the far side.

Fridgen said he's "always said (Princeton) was a better team than their record indicated."

"And they were a totally different team than I saw (Saturday night, a 7-0 loss to Wayne State). They obviously have a lot of confidence against us and they played very hard."

"We're still not playing 60 minutes of hockey," RPI captain Danny Eberly said. "They played hard and we played hard but they did (so) for the whole game."