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'D' May Be Key For Turnaround

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 8, 2003

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute had major problems on defense last hockey season.

Four freshman blue-liners were called on to play regularly from the outset, senior defenseman and captain Danny Eberly - frustrated - tried to do too much, then missed nine games with an injury.

Assistant captain and junior Scott Basiuk also missed a half-dozen games early on.

The freshmen seemed intimidated at times by their thrown-into-the-fire, learn-on-the-job status and the team's goals allowed column shot up from previous seasons.

If the Engineers are to improve upon their 11th-place finish in the 12-team ECAC and their overall record of 12-25-3, the defensive corps must be much more consistent this season.

Basiuk, the team's co-captain again, is well aware of that fact.

The Engineers allowed 40 goals more than they scored last season. Basiuk vows that differential will be significantly lessened.

"Oh yeah, definitely," he said. "We've improved a lot on 'D'. We had a lot of injuries last year.

"It was a real mess, we just had a tough year altogether," Basiuk said. "We had so many young guys. They played well but it's hard to depend on four freshmen."

Junior defensemen Matt McNeely says, "It's going to be a different mindset throughout the defensemen this year. We're a lot bigger, a lot stronger and we're going to be a more-experienced group."

One of those freshmen was Alexander Valentin, who struggled. The Slovakian native wasn't sure if intimidation was the right word but said he certainly felt a lack of confidence.

"We had a losing streak where we couldn't win a game (RPI was 0-7-2 in one stretch) and you could feel your confidence going down," Valentin said. "Especially me, because I'm pretty hard on myself. I didn't play well but I feel pretty confident this year. We played a lot more minutes than freshmen on other teams, so we're more confident this year."

Brad Farynuk, another sophomore this year, echoed Valentin's words.

"I played inconsistent and I lost confidence from time-to-time," Farynuk said. "For me to help our 'D' corps get better I've got to know that I'm better than the guy who's coming up against me."

Rensselaer head coach Dan Fridgen says flatly, "yes, no question" when asked if he thinks the defense will be better this season.

"Last year we were very young back there," he said. "I think they learned a lot last season, not just with regards to what it takes to defend in our league, but also the adversity we faced. I think the year of experience will certainly make a difference with the guys back there."

"A year really does help mature the younger guys," McNeely said. "We'll be better."

Also, the two freshmen defensemen this year, rugged Jake Luthi and 6-foot-3, 215-pound Ryan Swanson, can be worked into the lineup slowly, though each is capable of contributing right away.

"Everybody is pretty sick of losing," Valentin said. "We want to have a better season than last year and prove to, not just to ourselves but to everybody, that we're a better team than (we showed) last year."

The others agreed.

"We've come a long way," said junior Blake Pickett. "We've all been together for a year and we've really developed as a corps. We only lost one guy (Eberly). We push each other in practice every day and in games. I think we'll be a lot more consistent this year."