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Engineers Peaking at the Right Time

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, March 10, 2003

That old saying about a hockey team peaking just before playoff time doesn't sound so cliched when applied to the 2002-03 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers; not after they posted two improbable victories over Union to sweep their ECAC first-round series.

Penalty killers were the story for the Engineers in both games.

They kept Union off the scoreboard in all seven chances in Game 1 Friday night, a 2-1 victory, and then after surrendering two power-play goals amidst repeated trips to the penalty box, they turned around Game 2 Saturday with a pair of quick shorthanded goals - on the same penalty - in a 3-2 victory.

Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen said that the Engineers won despite a noticeable lack of discipline.

"I thought we gave Union way too many power-play opportunities that I felt were unnecessary."

To have any chance in the quarterfinal-round series at top-seeded (and No. 2 nationally) Cornell (24-5-1), Fridgen said the Engineers will "have to play with a lot more discipline."

On both of Ben Barr's shorthanded goals, Union goalie Kris Mayotte had come out of the net in a race to the puck in the upper slot area of the Union zone. Both times Mayotte got to the puck first. Each time, Barr wound up with it and scored sharp-angle goals from the right side to totally turn the game around and help the Engineers close out the series.

On the first, Scott Basiuk sent Nick Economakos into the Union zone alone and Mayotte poked the puck away from him. It slowly squirted over to Barr and before Mayotte could get back to the crease, Barr found a spot between two Union skaters and slid in the tying goal with 8:13 remaining.

Only 50 seconds later, the puck was sent into the Union zone slowly, Mayotte coming out again, Barr chasing it from the other side.

Barr described his game-winner - 50 seconds later - which grazed the far goalpost as it went in.

"I had a bad angle," he said. "I had the whole net (at which to shoot), so I didn't want to fire it. I'd probably miss the net, knowing me, so I just tried to finesse it in there and it hit the post and just trickled in."

Those goals were as similar to each other as they were weird - Nick Economakos and Scott Basiuk assisting on each, 50 seconds apart. Fridgen was thus asked if it was his strangest win at RPI.

"You have to play hard for 60 full minutes because anything can happen," he said. "But we certainly did feel the momentum switch, so is it one of the stranger victories? We got a couple of bounces. I don't know if (the bounces) get any stranger."

Fridgen said he couldn't remember being involved in a game where two shorthanded goals were scored on the same play. But he can see how easily it can happen, perhaps even wonder why it doesn't happen a bit more often.

"You can almost call it a false sense of security," he said, "when you're going on the power play, there's not much time left on the clock, you're up 2-1 and it just goes to show how quickly a game can turn around. We were fortunate to get a couple of bounces and (after attaining the lead), Nate came up big for us in the pipes."

The teams played a scoreless first period for a second straight night, then Scott Seney's power-play goal put Union ahead 6:34 into the second.

Carson Butterwick flipped in a backhand rebound of an Eric Cavosie blast with 2:16 remaining in the second.

"That's one of the nicest goals I've scored, even though it was just a little backhander from the side of the net," said Butterwick, who stepped up his scoring late in the season. "Down by one, it was nice. We didn't want to play (Sunday night). That (decisive game) is anybody's game type of situation. We wanted to wrap it up."

Butterwick, a 13-goal scorer last season, has six goals in his last 12 games after netting just one in his first 23 outings.

Powerful Cornell, which blanked the Engineers 5-0 two weeks ago, will present a much tougher challenge.

A real quirk: Prior to Saturday night's game, neither the Engineers or Union had won a game that was tied after two periods.

Rensselaer had been 0-3-1, Union 0-2-2.

Goalie still serious: Merrimack College goalie Joe Exter, who beat RPI, 2-1 in the first round of the Rensselaer Holiday Tournament in December, remains hospitalized in serious condition after sustaining a serious head injury in a collision with a Boston College player on Friday night.

Exter was carried off the ice on a stretcher Friday night after he left the crease chasing a loose puck 35 feet in front of the net and was hit by Eagles forward Patrick Eaves in the third period of their Hockey East playoff game.

The collision left Exter unconscious on the ice and delayed play for about 20 minutes. Exter was taken to Boston's Beth Israel-Deaconess Medical Center, where a hospital spokeswoman said he was in serious condition.

Merrimack coach Chris Serino said he doesn't believe Eaves was trying to hurt Exter, a Merrimack team captain.

Boston College won Friday's game, 4-1, and swept the series with a 2-1 triumph on Saturday night.