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Engineers Finding It Hard to Put Victories Together

21 Games Into Season, RPI Has Yet to Win Two Straight Games Against Non-MAAC Opponents

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 6, 2003

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute can't win two in a row.

The Engineers lose most of the one goal decisions they play.

It would be easy to dwell on the negative of RPI's split weekend with Minnesota-Duluth.

The Engineers thoroughly outplayed the quicker Bulldogs in Friday night's 5-2 victory and played well enough to win during Saturday night's 3-2 defeat despite missing several key players.

Discounting MAAC teams, the Engineers have not won two straight games this season.

Last year, they didn't until a late, six-game winning streak that began on Feb. 1

Two seasons ago, they did so only once prior to winning their last three.

One-goal decisions?

Dating back to last season, RPI has won just one of its last eight such games.

While all of that is true, the fact that the Engineers - 8-12-1 overall - were able to come away with one victory is huge as they complete the non-league portion of their schedule.

The remaining 15 games are ECAC contests, with eight of those at home - though five of the next seven are away from Houston Field House.

The Engineers are currently ninth (2-4-1) in the 12-team ECAC. To get home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, they need to move up a notch. Winning Friday night prevented them from going into this 15-game stretch on a 1-8-1 slide.

"It could have been a great weekend," said RPI head coach Dan Fridgen, "(but) I thought it was a good weekend. Again, it tunes us up for our league play. They're (Duluth) an excellent hockey team ... they're quick and they can shoot the puck. We've had real tough competition up to this point ... and it's going to get tougher, so we just have to continue to grow. We've got to put some wins together to get back to .500 and go from there."

Graham comes alive: Though he was blanked on Saturday night, senior center Nolan Graham had a big night Friday, scoring a tie-breaking goal and assisting on all four other RPI scores.

With a new line of Ryan Shields on the left and high-scoring freshman Kevin Croxton on the right, Graham enjoyed one of his best games of the season. He had only 11 points (3-8-11) in the previous 19 games.

"I hadn't been producing," the Nanaimo, B.C. native said. "Hopefully, this will get us going."

Graham had gone 13 games without a goal.

Duluth goalie Isaac Reichmuth made the save of the weekend - one of the best of the season - else Graham would have tied Saturday's game with 6:22 remaining.

Graham faked a backhander to get Reichmuth down to the ice, then flipped a backhander over him.

Somehow, the freshman netminder got his leg high enough to knock it down.

"He'd been working hard but it just hasn't been happening for him," Fridgen said of Graham. "But you keep working hard and be patient (and) keep that work level up, things will start to happen."

Croxton (like Graham) was blanked on Saturday, just the third time in 13 games the Engineers' top scorer (10-10-20) has been held scoreless.

Shields, who'd also been hot (4-4-8 in last seven games), missed Saturday's game with a leg injury, breaking up Graham's new line that so dominated Friday night's game.

That line will certainly be reunited as soon as Shields is ready to return.

Injuries not serious: The injuries to Shields, Danny Eberly (wrist) and Carson Butterwick (concussion) aren't believed to be serious. It's hoped that each will be ready for Union on Friday night, though Eberly is questionable at this point.

First for MacDonald: Freshman right winger Kirk MacDonald, who missed 12 games with mononucleosis, finally scored his first collegiate goal in his ninth game on Saturday.

MacDonald got some help on his first goal from Reichmuth's judgment error.

Reichmuth went behind the net - on an RPI power play - to retrieve the puck but didn't get to it and it bounced right back out front to Ben Barr. Barr had a defender near him but he found MacDonald down low for an easy flip-in before Reichmuth got back.

"It's been tough," MacDonald said. "I guess I was putting pressure on myself, but it was nice to get a gift tonight. Nice to get it off my back."

MacDonald is a strong right winger and Fridgen said of his goal on Saturday, "we hope that's the first of many."

MacDonald could certainly offer the RPI attack a big shot in the arm.

Dutchmen struggling: It's doubtful if even RPI players expected Union to fall into a five-game losing streak following the Engineer' 4-2 victory over the Dutchmen on Dec. 7 (discounting a 4-1 win over the MAAC's Iona).

Union hasn't scored more than two goals in any of those games. The teams collide again Friday night at Achilles Rink.

Rensselaer hasn't beaten Union in two straight meetings since Oct. 23, 1999, and hasn't done so in the same season since Jan. 17, 1998.