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Blue Prints: Part II

Coach Dan Fridgen & Co. Start Their Second Year of Rebuilding the Engineers. That May Be Quite a

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 8, 2003

TROY - Most observers knew Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute faced a rebuilding hockey season one year ago. And it certainly didn't figure to be a one-year process. The biggest chore for head coach Dan Fridgen and the Engineers comes this season.

After winning just four games in the Eastern College Athletic Conference, finishing 11th in the 12-team league and suffering a school record for defeats with 25 (12-25-3), the Engineers hope to pick themselves up off the ice and climb a few notches in the standings. It won't be easy.

Fridgen feels confident, though, and explained why.

"We've got great leadership with Benny and Scott (co-captains Ben Barr and Scott Basiuk)," he said. "And there's a different sense with this group. They've got a business aura around them. They realize that, hey, you have a job to do. You can have fun but how (much) fun you have is determined by how hard you work and this team has an excellent work ethic."

"And the other thing is, we were very young last year on defense. Those guys are now a year older, which is certainly going to help us in the close games where they need to remain patient, calm, and confident."

Defensemen Keith MCWilliams, Brad Farynuk, Alexander Valentin and Scott Romfo aren't freshmen anymore. Each was inconsistent in the defensive zone last season but each figures to be better this season. With senior co-captain Scott Basiuk and juniors Matt McNeely and Blake Pickett back, joined by physical, intense freshman Jake Luthi, the blue line group should be much better.

Rensselaer opens its season at 7 p.m. Saturday at Boston University. The Engineers visit Providence College Sunday at 7. Their home opener is Friday, Oct. 17 against Connecticut.

Fridgen pointed out the Engineers dropped many "one-goal losses and games that could have gone either way."

The Engineers were 4-9 in one-goal decisions, 2-8 during the regular season and went 0-2-1 vs. last-place Princeton. The Tigers were 1-25-1 over the remainder of their schedule.

"And experience is certainly going to help us," he added. "I think we're going to be a better team this year because we have experienced that (frustration) and it left a pretty sour taste in our mouth," Fridgen said. "With that experience, I expect us to grow with it. I was real happy with the way they worked on their classroom work off the ice. And I expect that those close game that were not going our way last year, I expect us to win some of those games this year."

Basiuk says "our season would have been completely different if we could have won those one-goal games."

Rensselaer was outscored 134-94 last season, 84-49 in ECAC games.

"As I said, I expect the defense to be much stronger," Fridgen said. "Hey, we may not score more goals than we scored last year. But I don't think we'll give up as many. I think we'll be a lot better defensively. We don't mind winning 2-1 or 3-2 as opposed to having to win by filling the net."

Another reason for optimism is senior goaltender Nathan Marsters.

The Grimsby, Ont. Native made the ECAC All-Rookie Team as a freshman (14 wins, 2.35 goals against, 92.9 saves %) but his numbers dropped over the past two seasons.

In the 2003 playoffs, however, Marsters showed that first-year form, beating Union 2-1, and 3-2.

"I was real happy to see Nate back in his freshman form in the playoffs last year and you could see what a difference that made with the team enjoying success in those close games."

After 10 games last season, the Engineers were 1-1-0 within the ECAC and 5-5-0 overall and things looked promising.

Then they won just one of their next 13 ECAC games (1-10-2) and saw their hopes for homeice advantage in the first-round of the ECAC playoffs dissolve.

"During that time, there was a nine-game stretch where we didn't have a win," Fridgen recalled/ "Sometimes, when that happens, the confidence of the players becomes very fragile. They start to ask a lot of questions. They question themselves and it wasn't like we were getting blown out of games."

"It was very, very frustrating," Fridgen added, "but I have to say, they stayed real positive. As much as they could have gone the other way and just packed it in, I never truly felt that (they did so)."

Now it's time to put some teeth into that rebuilding program.

Putting a few wins together early - something they were never able to do last season until the final regular-season game (Vermont) and the two playoff victories at Union - would be a huge plus.

Offensively, right winger Kevin Croxton (15-15-30) led the team in scoring and (current) senior Barr, moved to center, had a breakout year with an 11-13-24 scoring line.

Left winger Nick Economakos notched just four points in 12 games as a freshman but came on strong last year with 18 points (8-10).

Getting a solid second line and some contributions from a third will be Fridgen's main objective on the offensive end.

Senior winger Ryan Shields (7-11-18) has 17 goals and 23 assists in 105 career games.

Added productivity from him would be a huge plus.

Senior center Mikael Hammarstrom (4-10-14), junior left winger Vic Pereira (3-7-10) and soph right winger Kirk MacDonald (4-2-6) are others who could step up.

Center Oren Eizenman, a scorer and solid all-around player, is tops among freshman and C-RW Tommy Green also shows promise.

Both Basiuk (6 goals, 8 assists, 14 points in 29 games) and Farynuk (3-12-15) will be important on the power play, firing their hard shots from the blue line.

"All the guys are anxious to get going," Barr said.