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RPI Working Hard in Wake of Down Year

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, October 9, 2003

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute experienced one of the worst seasons ever in the program's 101-year history last season.

The Engineers finished with a 12-25-3 record, the most losses the team has ever recorded, and they finished 11th in the ECAC with a 4-15-3 record. If the ECAC hadn't expanded the playoffs last season to include all 12 teams, the Engineers wouldn't have qualified for postseason play.

And, to top it all off, RPI couldn't even beat the ECAC's worst team, Princeton (3-26-2). The Engineers went 0-2-1 against the Tigers.

But the Engineers salvaged their dismal regular season. They stunned Union in the first round of the ECAC tournament, and gave eventual tournament champion Cornell two good games before getting swept.

The Engineers are hoping to build off the momentum they generated in the postseason. But don't tell RPI coach Dan Fridgen that the team is rebuilding.

"We don't look at it that way," said Fridgen, who begins his 10th year as the team's head coach Saturday, when the Engineers play at Boston University at 7 p.m. "It certainly wasn't a typical year for RPI hockey. I think some of the players were embarrassed by that. They're looking forward to the challenge of getting right back to where we should be."

"Let's just say that we're working the guys pretty hard. They've accepted that challenge, as far as summer workouts were concerned, and are getting stronger. I've been really impressed with the shape they've come back in. So far, I've been real impressed with the leadership that Benny [Barr] and Scott [Basiuk] have shown."

But Fridgen and his players are clearly unhappy with last year's overall results.

"That's evident in their work ethic, and their desire and hunger to get back on the ice," Fridgen said.

"They're looking forward to getting the season going [and] getting some games under their belt entering into league play. They've been very, very committed. They are all on the same page. There's always be some lighthearted moments, but when it comes to working, they've been taking things very, very seriously."

One major problem for the Engineers last season was trying to find someone to replace the goal-scoring talents of Marc Cavosie and Matt Murley.

Two in double figures

Only two players managed to do that. Kevin Croxton, an ECAC All-Rookie Team selection, led the team with 15 goals. Barr, who had just six goals in his first two seasons, had a career-high 11 last year.

They were the only players to score in double figures. The Engineers scored just 94 goals last season, 26 less than in 2001-02. RPI was shut out four times last year and had a 4-9 record in one-goal games.

Fridgen wants his players to do one simple thing - shoot the puck.

"We have to put ourselves into a situation where everything goes at the net, and try and get some ugly ones instead of the ones that always look pretty," Fridgen said. "That's just going to come with hard work and fighting for space around the net. It's just something where you try to create the opportunities, and the only way you're going to create opportunities is to shoot."

RPI has some freshmen who may contribute to the offense. Kevin Broad scored 44 goals and 32 assists for the Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League last season. Oren Eizenman had 25 goals and 32 assists for the Wexford Raiders of the Ontario Provincial Junior Hockey League. Tommy Green had 27 goals and 27 assists for the Melfort Mustangs of the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.

"Everybody's got to step up their game this year," said Basiuk, the team co-captain who anchors the defense. "We only had 'Croxs' last year, and Benny had a solid all-around year. But we have to have all of our older guys going. You can't look for the freshmen to be stepping up."

The Engineers also must play better defense than last season. RPI allowed 134 goals, 33 more than 2001-02. The Engineers allowed 162 more shots on goal than they took. In the first two periods of games last season, opposing teams took 183 more shots than the Engineers. RPI must get improved goaltending from seniors Kevin Kurk and Nathan Marsters. Kurk, who was 5-10-2 with a 3.16 goals-against average, started strong, but he struggled down the stretch and was suspended for the playoffs by Fridgen. Marsters (7-15-1, 3.41 GAA) was the opposite of Kurk. He started slow and didn't dress for two games last October. But he finished strong, making 63 saves in the sweep of Union.

"This year, based on the playoffs, Nate was right back to form," Fridgen said. "He did a great job over at Union, and I thought he did a great job at Cornell. But when you go up against the No. 1 team in the nation at the time and they go on to the Frozen Four, I think it spoke volumes for the kind of team they had. I think we gave them a real good run, and it seemed like Nathan got back to the form he showed as a freshman."