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Engineers Facing Long Road Ahead

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, February 4, 2002

TROY - Okay, it was only Vermont but the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Engineers grouped together and posted a must victory, outlasting the last-place Catamounts 6-4 on Saturday night.

Yeah, they should beat Vermont (they did 6-0 in the first meeting) but the Engineers were shorthanded Saturday and Vermont had a world of momentum after tying the game at 3-3 early in the third period.

Now comes the tough part: St. Lawrence and Clarkson at home, then two road trips, including Harvard, then the ECAC's top team - Cornell - at home.

Rensselaer is in 10th place.

The sigh-of-relief victory, together with Friday night's 2-2 tie at Dartmouth, lifted the Engineers out of 11th place in the ECAC with 11 points (4-7-3). However, they still have to play 11th place Brown (4-8-2 - 10) on the road.

St. Lawrence (6-8-0), Princeton (6-8-0) and Yale (5-7-2) each have 12 points. The top 10 regular-season finishers qualify for the ECAC playoffs.

And for the first time this season, the Engineers did better than a win and loss for a league weekend. Each previous week, they either split or dropped a pair.

Meanwhile, while Union - which has never played a Division I playoff at home - made a strong 5-1-1 spurt over its past seven games to take over the No. 5 slot temporarily, Colgate made an even bigger run. The Red Raiders have taken over the fifth spot with a 7-6-1 - 15 mark, dropping Union to sixth at 6-6-2 - 14.

There was a big positive sign for RPI Saturday: with Marc Cavosie out resting a sore shoulder, the RPI attack got some balance in the goal-scoring department. Senior center Jim Henkel had his first two-goal game of the season; Mikael Hammarstrom netted his first of the season; freshman C.J. Hanafin had a pair of assists and Andrew McPherson had a goal and an assist.

"C.J. played real well, solid for us," Fridgen said, "which we needed ... for other guys to step up and hopefully it'll keep up."

Cavosie's injury took 16 goals, 19 assists out of the Rensselaer lineup but he expects to be ready for Friday night's game against St. Lawrence.

"He's so tough, he wanted to go," Fridgen said. "But he couldn't really get a shot off and I just felt the best thing for him would be to just rest it and hopefully we could squeak one out."

Squeak one out, indeed.

Three killer goals in the two games against Dartmouth had come because RPI put too much pressure on a player behind the goal line, leaving a forward alone in front. Fridgen made junior center Nolan Graham (5-11-16) pay Friday night, benching him for Saturday.

When Cavosie couldn't go, Fridgen may have been tempted to reconsider his decision on Graham. But he did the right thing and the aforementioned guys who aren't high on the scoring sheet responded to the vote of confidence given them.

"I've gotta give credit to all the guys in the locker room," Fridgen said.

"It was such a big road win and something we really needed - to come out of this weekend with three of a possible four points."

Don't think that Fridgen and the Engineers wouldn't take three points in each of the four remaining weekends of the season. That would give the Engineers an 8-7-7 record and 23 points and that total would give them an excellent chance at earning the fifth and final home ice berth for the first round of the ECAC playoffs, providing one of the 'W's comes against Colgate.

Fridgen started to evoke the standard 'can't look too far ahead' cliché but he did give an agreeing smile.

Nathan Marsters is still giving up unnecessary rebounds but at least they're not the throwbacks right in front that hurt him and the team earlier.

"Nate's played very well," Fridgen said. "We had to get him out of that funk he was in and he's responded very well."

There were some troubling signs; doubly troubling because they're so recurring.

The Engineers blew two -goal leads in both games - they've done so eight times this season. They have no hope in the playoffs if they continue the habit.

Also, each time the Engineers scored to go ahead by two goals Saturday night, they took a penalty within one minute later each time.

That, also, is a recipe for postseason disaster.