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RPI Goes for Challenge

Engineers Play Merrimack of Hockey East in Their First Game of Tournament

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, December 28, 2002

TROY - Last year it took two overtime victories to give RPI its first Holiday Hockey Tournament title in three years, and it appears the task may be at least as formidable for the Engineers this weekend.

RPI plays "paper favorite" Merrimack in the opening round, and if the Engineers escape that game, they could face Princeton in the championship game. That may not sound too difficult since Princeton has a 1-13 record, but that lone victory came against RPI.

Merrimack holds a 4-3-1 record this season in the tough Hockey East conference, one that has given the Engineers plenty of trouble in non-league play.

"It's gonna be a tough tournament," said RPI captain Danny Eberly. "We've had trouble with Hockey East teams (0-4)."

Actually the defense has been performing pretty well for the Engineers (7-9-1 overall), who have given up 47 goals in 17 games - 2.75 per game. The problem has been on the other end as RPI's offense is netting only 2.4 goals per game this season (3.24 last season).

Two of RPI's top four scorers are defensemen (Eberly and freshman Brad Farynuk), but that isn't necessarily a bad thing, according to coach Dan Fridgen.

"I think that's because we've got a couple of guys back there that can get (the puck) to the net," he said. "We just have to look to get some goals that you wouldn't consider ESPN highlight goals - picking up garbage around the crease area off rebounds or it's going in off somebody."

Meanwhile, Eberly has already scored six goals for the Engineers. In his previous 84 games at RPI, the 195-pound defenseman from Massachusetts had scored only eight goals.

"There's really no science to it," Fridgen said. "He's been doing a real good job of shooting the puck when he's had the opportunity, just getting it on the net. Some of the shots haven't been very hard, but we've had traffic in front and they seem to find the back."

Things haven't gone so well for forwards Carson Butterwick and Nolan Graham, who have managed only four goals between them. Butterwick, the team's leading returning scorer, has only one goal after scoring 13 last year.

"I'm sure he's getting frustrated," Fridgen said. "I usually don't speak to players about stuff like that. I think what he's done is he's looked at how he can contribute as far as the team is concerned and he's done a real good job killing penalties. He's been providing some physical play for us. I think that (scoring) is something that will come."

Surprisingly, Fridgen elected to play Merrimack in the first round.

"We're looking to use this (tournament) as a springboard into the second third of the season," Fridgen said. "I think we're doing a pretty good job as far as our special teams are concerned. I'd like to see us be more disciplined as far as 5-on-5 play. I don't think we've done a particularly good job of staying out of the penalty box. I'd like to see us be more consistent with our overall team play."

Fridgen said one of the things he's been satisfied with is the play in the Engineers' own end.

Eberly has played a significant role on the blue line along with co-captain Scott Basiuk, sophomores Blake Pickett and Matt McNeely, and freshmen Farynuk, Scott Romfo, Keith McWilliams, and Alexander Valentin.

Eberly, a member of last year's all-tournament team, would love to get one more tournament championship before he graduates.

"It's got a lot of history," he said. "We've got to beat Merrimack to put ourselves in contention, then see how it goes."