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RPI Already Thinking Next Year

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, March 17, 2003

ITHACA - There was no big upset at Cornell. There was really no chance.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute played well enough to win in Game 1 and lost, 3-2. In Game 2, the Engineers hung tough for a while, couldn't get many scoring chances, got worn down and played well enough to avoid a total blowout in a 4-0 defeat. One of the goals went off the back of an RPI defenseman, one may have gone off an RPI stick and barely crossed the goal line.

Cornell simply was too good - not only for the 11th-seeded Engineers but pretty much the entire ECAC.

The Engineers came so close to stealing Game 1. Another bounce their way, maybe one fewer Cornell's way; had either of the questionable boarding calls to Ryan Shields or Eric Cavosie not been called, RPI prevails.

In Game 2, a Cornell goal off an RPI defenseman late in the first period ignited them to a stellar performance.

The Big Red, 26-4-1 and ranked No. 2 nationally, are certainly the team to beat - with all due respect to defending-champion Harvard - when they take the ice to open the ECAC semifinals at 3:30 p.m. Friday at Pepsi Arena.

The Engineers, meanwhile, conclude their season at 12-25-3 - wishing their season was just beginning - not ending.

Winners of just two of their previous 19 games (2-15-2), the Engineers won their regular-season finale and then put together their only three-game winning streak by sweeping favored Union in the first round of the playoffs.

The Engineers can do nothing about their school-record for defeats and poor record. They can look forward to next season, and despite the loss of center Nolan Graham (7 goals-16 assists-23 points) and Carson Butterwick (7-8-15), the offense almost certainly will have much more depth next season.

And head coach Dan Fridgen, who spoke to the players for over 40 minutes following Saturday night's game, says the returning Engineers must build off their meager winning streak, and learn from the sound defeat they absorbed on Saturday night at Cornell's storied Lynah Rink.

"We have to take this as a positive," he said. "There's a team in the other lockerroom that was where we are a few years ago. Take this experience and learn (that) this is the time of year where you can't afford to make mistakes. Good teams, and we were playing a very good one this weekend, they'll capitalize on those opportunities. We put ourselves in this (11th-seed) hole through the regular season, got the lower seed and coming up a team like this ... you'd much rather see them on a one-game basis (in the semifinals) in Albany than in a best-of-three series in its own building in the quarterfinals."

It was mentioned that perhaps Cornell's talent was too much for the Engineers but Fridgen said the bigger factor was the Big Red's depth and balance of talent rather than strictly the level of that talent.

"They're pretty deep all the way through," Fridgen said of the Big Red. "They got four lines that play real strong."

The Big Red "never turn the puck over" but force opponents to do so often.

"Territorially, they (did) what they normally do," he said. "They put a lot of pressure on you. They sustain that pressure and they feed off forecheck. And I think we had some youth out there who weren't used to the intensity and the pressure situations that may have cost us."

Junior center Ben Barr said the Big Red are nearly unbeatable at Lynah Rink.

"In this building, they definitely know what they're doing," he said. "They've done it time and time again. I don't know how long it's been since they've lost in this building (25 games, 31-1-1 in last 33). They get that first goal, it's really tough. They grind it out and grind it out. We really had to play almost perfect to have a shot."

Barr, who had three postseason goals and finished second on the team in scoring (11-13-24), said that the solid play of the last two weeks will help him and the rest of the returning players for next season.

"Oh, I definitely think it's better," he said. "You don't want to end your season playing terrible hockey. Hopefully, we'll be able to build on what we've done the last five games and carry through the whole season next year."

Newest Engineer: Marna Moore, wife of RPI assistant coach and former Engineers captain Ivan Moore, gave birth to Andrew Moore Saturday morning. Coach Moore had left the team to be with his wife Friday afternoon.

Butterwick by one: Graham's assist in Game 1 Friday night was the 50th of his career. For their careers, Butterwick finished with 78 points (34-44-78), Graham had 77 (27-50-77).

The score of choice: Rensselaer's 3-2 loss Friday night marked the fourth time the Engineers dropped a decision of that score to Cornell over the past four years. The Engineers are 1-9-0 vs. the Big Red over that time, losing each of the past seven meetings.

Ribbons for Exter: The ECAC passed out ribbons to honor Merrimack goaltender Joe Exter at all four playoff sites on Saturday.

Exter, who led the Warriors to the 2002 Rensselaer Holiday Tournament title with wins over RPI and Wayne State, suffered a severe head injury during the Warriors' Hockey East playoff series with Maine. He remains in serious condition at Boston hospital.

Croxton hits 30: Freshman right winger Kevin Croxton notched an assist on the final RPI goal of the season Friday night. That gave him 30 points (15-15-30) for the season. Only once since 1952 have the Engineers failed to have one player hit the 30 mark.

Tuesday: A look back at RPI's season.