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Engineers Refuse to Get Distracted

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, September 27, 2003

TROY - The one thing that the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey team wants to focus on this year is improving on last year's disastrous 11th-place finish in the ECAC.

But in the past two months, the Engineers have had to deal with two off-ice distractions.

One is the NCAA Division III reform package that threatens to take away the hockey team's athletic scholarships. The other involves three players who will appear in Troy City Court Tuesday after they were accused of serving alcohol to minors.

As they started practice Friday at Houston Field House, the Engineers vowed not to be distracted by these events.

"It doesn't even come into play," RPI senior defenseman and co-captain Scott Basiuk said. "It's kind of out of our control. We don't even think about the D-III thing. It's up to the athletic director [Ken Ralph] and the president [Dr. Shirley Ann Jackson], and they're doing a heck of a job dealing with that."

Discussions will take place next month on whether the legislation on the scholarship issue makes it to the NCAA Convention floor in January. Seven other Division III schools that offer a Division I sport with athletic scholarships are also affected by the proposal.

RPI coach Dan Fridgen isn't forecasting how things will turn out.

"I've seen how you think they're headed one way, and all of a sudden, they turn and go in a different direction," Fridgen said. "It's very difficult to predict. That's probably why I'm not giving it a lot of attention right now. All we can do is, when the opportunity presents itself, state the facts as they are, as far as what the scholarships mean to us, the tradition that was here and the fact that we were playing Division I hockey here even before there was an NCAA to govern us."

The Engineers also have to deal with juniors Nick Economakos, Matt McNeely and Vic Pereira, who were issued court tickets after they were charged with misdemeanor counts of unlawfully dealing with a child during an Aug. 31 party at their home.

"It's inappropriate to discuss their lives in a public forum," said Fridgen, who did say the players will be allowed to practice.

"It's their personal business," RPI senior forward and co-captain Ben Barr said. "We haven't been inclined to comment on what happened there. But we're behind them 100 percent on whatever happens. Those guys come here every day, working their butts off. It hasn't affected anything."

Twenty players return from last year's 12-25-3 season. The Engineers salvaged their year when they upset Union in the first round of the ECAC tournament. Though they were ousted in the quarterfinals by Cornell, the Engineers battled hard in both games.

Those four games give RPI hope for an improved 2003-04 season.

"The guys are really pumped up," Barr said. "We weren't ready to be done. We were playing our best hockey of the year when the season ended."