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RPI Entertains Northern Foes This Weekend

Engineers Play Host to St. Lawrence, Clarkson in Crucial Set

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, February 8, 2002

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coach Dan Fridgen believes his team played generally well enough to win in its previous meetings with St. Lawrence and Clarkson.

But the Engineers lost both games by three goals.

Yes - the key word above is generally - and RPI's mistakes in both games were of large magnitude.

The Engineers host St. Lawrence tonight and Clarkson on Big Red Freakout! night Saturday (both at 7) in a big weekend, hoping to move up a notch or two in the ECAC standings or at least hold their own. A pair of losses would likely drop RPI back into 11th place in the ECAC and severely hurt the Engineers' chances to obtain a seed in the 5-7 range.

The Engineers were 1-7-0 in their first eight road games, but last week earned a tie at Dartmouth and a win at Vermont. Similar results this weekend could go a long way to salvaging a season that already had as many losses (10) as many fans had expected for the entire season and postseason.

The 10-10-4 Engineers bring a 4-7-4 ECAC record (11 points) into the weekend and are siting in 10th place. The top 10 finishers qualify for the ECAC playoffs.

Eleventh-place Brown (4-8-2) is just one point behind the Engineers, while St. Lawrence (6-8-0, 8-16-0) is among three teams (Princeton and Yale) with 12 points. Union (6-6-2, 11-8-5) is in sixth place with 14 points and is eyeing the fifth and final home-ice seed for the playoffs' first round.

"It's a huge weekend," co-captain Matt Murley said. "We've got a chance to really make a move. St. Lawrence is right in front of us and Saturday it's Clarkson in the Freakout. It can't be more exciting than that."

In the Engineers' trip to the North Country, they paraded to the penalty box soon after tying each game. Communication and defensive breakdowns and careless clearing passes took them right out of the 5-2 loss at St. Lawrence.

"Right after tying the game we're taking penalties and when you have a team as opportunistic and talented as (SLU), that's what happens. They took advantage of their opportunities and took control of the game."

And, Murley said, the Engineers need to "capitalize on our chances," tonight. "We didn't do that up there. We could have had a lead."

Key defensive breakdowns in both games also led to goals for the opposition.

The Engineers are 3-1-2 in their past six outings, but must improve even more on mental toughness.

"We have to play strong on defense and be more committed to playing defense in our own end," Fridgen said. "We can't keep giving up goals in 5-on-5 situations because of defensive breakdowns."

"Mistakes have to be very infrequent this weekend."

In last week's victory over Vermont, in which Marc Cavosie was sidelined by injury and Nolan Graham benched, other players filled the void well.

Center Jim Henkel notched a pair of goals and Andrew McPherson had a goal and an assist and now has three goals and three assists in his last seven games.

The Engineers blew a 3-1 lead, but took command in the final period of a 6-4 triumph.

"We stepped it up and we just kept coming back hard and got some key goals from key guys," Fridgen said.

The confidence levels of the other forwards were lifted by the clutch production.

"Oh, definitely," Henkel said. "Anytime you got two key guys out of the lineup and other guys step up, it gives everybody a confidence boost. With them back, we just have to keep the same mindset that we can go with four lines and we can score with four lines."

Cavosie, the ECAC's leading scorer with 16 goals, 19 assists and 35 points, is expected to play tonight.

Murley, meanwhile, has moved into second place among ECAC scorers at 16-14-30.

Henkel had an 11-19-30 scoring line last season and many of those 11 goals came late in the campaign when the RPI attack was sputtering.

If the Hazlett, N.J. native can duplicate such a spurt, say six or seven more goals, and Cavosie and Murley remain hot, the Engineers could make a run down the stretch and climb up the standings.

"You've got to have balanced scoring to win the league or even finish up near the top," Murley said. "You can't win (long-range) with just two guys doing it. The other top teams have it (balance)."