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Army Game Already a Must-win for RPI

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, October 24, 2003

TROY - After three games, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's hockey team has shown a glimmer of hope - but not much in the results department.

The Engineers were expected to have a tough time in their opener at Boston University and after the first period, certainly did, though they hurt themselves with breakdowns in a 5-2 defeat.

The next night at Providence College, another 5-2 loss, giveaway goals and odd-man breakouts literally cost RPI a chance to win the game, a game they certainly could have won.

In their home opener last week, the Engineers definitely should have won but were held to a 4-4 tie by the University of Connecticut, one of the weaker teams on the RPI schedule. The Huskies skated nine freshmen forwards but visibly outplayed the Engineers, who again hurt themselves with breakouts and failures to clear the puck.

Head coach Dan Fridgen says the Engineers - with ECAC play just three games away - must learn that "you're not going to win games if you continue to beat yourself."

At 0-2-1, the Engineers flat-out need to beat Amy on Saturday night or the team's confidence may take such a hit that it could be weeks to overcome.

Much of the time last season, the RPI offense got consistent production from just one line. With seniors Carson Butterwick and Nolan Graham struggling for much of the season, it was late in season before a dependable second line was intact and the Engineers never were able to build a decent third line.

Right now, Fridgen is still trying different combinations in practice and has broken up the top line of freshman center Oren Eizenman, senior left winger Ryan Shields and sophomore right winger and 2002-03 scoring leader Kevin Croxton (15 goals - 15 assists - 30 points).

"The ideal situation is to get guys together who are going to click and once they perform that way, and once you see it, then you would stick with it."

As for Eizenman's line, Fridgen said, "first of all, if you look at the plus-minus, I want them to take more pride in their defensive game," noting that Shields, Eizenman and Croxton were on the ice for six opposing goals, though one was an empty-netter.

"What would offset that would be if they were putting up a bunch of (offensive) numbers and a bunch of goals, but that's not happening," Fridgen said. "I'm not really seeing the chemistry there that I thought I might see, so I'll switch around until I see some chemistry and hopefully we will."

In the dismal tie with UConn - the three-goal rally from a 4-1 deficit notwithstanding - Fridgen said he thought C.J. Hanafin's line "had it going and really clicked in the UConn game."

That line, left winger Mark Yurkewecz, Hanafin and right winger Conrad Barnes, is probably considered the fourth line.

"They seemed to do a good job together as a unit," Fridgen said. "I think, out of everybody, that's the only line that's consistent right now."

In practice this week, Fridgen had sophomore right winger Kirk MacDonald with Shields and Eizenman and put Croxton on a line with center Ben Barr (13-11-24 last season).

Barr, Croxton and (now) junior Nick Economakos (8-10-18) formed the Engineers' most productive line last season but Vic Pereira, who has a good shot but only played in one of three games thus far this season, has skated with Barr and Croxton this week.

Economakos has been on a line with freshmen Tommy Green at center and Kevin Broad on the right.

Fridgen reiterated that the switches and different combos aren't just to get more goals, or more quality shots on goal, but to get combinations with "guys who'll work together well in all three zones."

Umile takes steps: Longtime New Hampshire coach Dick Umile and school officials took firm action against eight players who disregarded a team directive.

After the Boston Red Sox blew a three-run, eighth-inning lead and lost Game 7 of the American League Championship Series, New England-area students rioted on campus. Though the eight players did not actually take part in the melee, Umile had instructed the players "to stay away from the downtown (Durham) area."

"However, the players were present as bystanders during the incidents on Main Street," a UNH statement read.

Among the players suspended are senior center and leading scorer Nathan Martz (1-3-4). The only other frontline player was junior defenseman Robbie Barker.

Among the reserves suspended is sophomore forward Andrew Leach of Altamont.

"Our student-athletes are role models and are held to a higher standard and their actions are a reflection of UNH athletics, their teams and the university," said UNH athletic director Marty Scarano. "On this particular night, some of (them) made poor choices."

The school did not divulge how long the players would be out but it's believed the suspensions will all be two games - the Wildcats play in Buffalo this weekend, tonight against Canisius and Saturday versus Niagara.

The Wildcats' next game is against Union one week from tonight.

Rensselaer visits UNH on Nov. 29 after a game against UMass-Lowell the previous night.