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Engineers Lamenting Poor Start

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, January 3, 2003

TROY - The end of 2002 was disgusting for Rensselaer hockey coach Dan Fridgen.

Finishing last in the Rensselaer/HSBC Holiday Tournament last weekend was an embarrassment. It also capped what has been an inconsistent first half of the season.

The new year won't start easily for the Engineers; they host Minnesota-Duluth of the WCHA for two non-league contests starting tonight at 7 at Houston Field House. The second game will be at 7 p.m. Saturday.

The Engineers (7-11-1) start 2003 on a three-game losing streak, their third such skid of the season. They have had only one multigame winning streak, a modest two-game roll when they beat Iona and Army Oct. 25-26.

The last time RPI finished last in its tournament was in the 1995-96 season. That was also the last time the Engineers finished with a losing record.

Two of their losses this season have come against ECAC-foe Princeton. Those are the Tigers' only two wins.

"I don't look at the opposition," Fridgen said. "I just look at the fact we didn't play to near what we're capable of playing. I think we're trying to get back to the way we're capable of playing."

A major problem is that the offense and defense can't seem to get in sync.

The Engineers' offense is averaging just 2.37 goals per game. They have scored just one goal in a game six times, including four of the last six contests.

The defense hasn't been bad, giving up an average of 2.79 goals per game. Junior goalie Kevin Kurk's 2.46 goals-against average is fourth among ECAC goalies.

It seems like when the defense plays well, the Engineers can't score. When RPI does score more than one goal in a game, the defense falls apart. It has scored three or more goals in a game nine times, and has just a 5-4 record.

"It seems that we can't put them both together, where we're keeping below three goals and scoring three," Fridgen said. "We have to do a better job, not just playing defense, but everybody taking ownership in that."

Minnesota-Duluth (8-6-4) comes to the Capital Region on a three-game winning streak and a 5-1-1 mark in its last seven games. The Bulldogs, who are tied for fourth in the WCHA, are coming off a two-game sweep of Union last weekend.

The Bulldogs and Engineers met for two games last season in Duluth, Minn. UMD won both games, 4-3 and 6-5.

Senior forward Jon Francisco, who had a hat trick in last Saturday's 5-2 win over Union, leads the Bulldogs in scoring with nine goals and 11 assists. Junior forward Junior Lessard is the team's top goal scorer with 12. Freshman goalie Issac Reichmuth is 8-4-2 with a 2.04 GAA.

"They're a very good hockey team," Fridgen said. "We remember last year when we went there. They took it to us pretty good in both games. We certainly know what we're up against this weekend."

These games are RPI's last non-conference matchups for this season. For some of the Engineers, the time is now for them to make a case to Fridgen that they deserve a permanent place in the lineup heading back into ECAC play.

"We're at that point where trials and errors are kind of gone by the wayside," Fridgen said. "It'll be a time where you start setting your lineup on a consistent basis, at least from my perspective."

Notebook

The Bulldogs lead the all-time series, 5-2. They are 2-1 at Houston Field House. RPI won the last meeting at home, a 4-1 win in the 1998 Rensselaer Holiday Tournament championship game....

UMD is coached by Scott Sandelin, who played in the American Hockey League for Sherbrooke and Hershey in the late 1980s....

RPI freshman forward Kevin Croxton has picked up at least one point in nine of his last 11 games.