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RPI Finding Success by Focusing on a Tenacious Defense

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, November 28, 2003

TROY - It took the 2001-02 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey team until February to realize that playing tough, defensive hockey was going to help it succeed. It eventually earned the Engineers a berth in the ECAC tournament semifinals.

Two seasons later, the Engineers didn't wait as long to experience similar success with the defense-first approach. They have allowed just five goals over their last four games, and posted a 3-0-1 mark during that stretch. Two of those wins came last weekend against fifth-ranked St. Cloud State.

The Engineers (6-3-2) seek to continue their good fortune this weekend on the road against two Hockey East opponents. They visit UMass-Lowell (6-4-3) tonight at 7, and then face fourth-ranked New Hampshire (8-3-1) at 7 p.m. Saturday.

"It's been a process," RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. "It's not something that, all of a sudden, they understand. It's been a process to help them understand it so that we're able to execute it as a team."

The lack of a superstar player is a main reason why the Engineers are succeeding, according to RPI senior cocaptain Ben Barr.

"We don't have a Matt [Murley] or a Marc [Cavosie] anymore," Barr said. "The only way we're going to win is if we make sure we take care of our own zone first. It's something that coach stressed since Day 1."

A meeting with Fridgen a couple of weeks ago to discuss the defensive play helped spark the team.

"We can't try to go out and run and gun with too many teams, especially good teams like St. Cloud," Barr said. "For us to be consistent and keep ourselves in every game, we've got to make sure that we take care of our zone and not give up too many second chances or point-blank shots."

Everyone is contributing to the team's outstanding play.

"It starts from the grass roots with the players themselves," Fridgen said. "Guys like Kevin Croxton and [Kevin] Broad that have a history of putting up good offensive numbers, yet they're taking care of their responsibility defensively because they understand, from a team perspective, that's going to help us be successful."

It also has helped that goalie Nathan Marsters has been hot.

He has won two straight ECAC goalie of the week awards for his performances over the last two weekends. Against Vermont and Dartmouth Nov. 14-15, Marsters stopped 56 of 58 shots. Last weekend against St. Cloud State, he made 64 stops and allowed only three goals.

Marsters is playing with more confidence than he did a year ago. That can be attributed to his fine play in the playoffs against Union and Cornell.

"It's two different extremes," said Marsters, who has a 2.47 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage. "Now, I'm feeling good. Last year, I felt terrible. I couldn't get into a rhythm."

Notebook

The Engineers have lost their last four visits to Lowell. Their last win there was a 4-3 overtime decision Jan. 12, 1991. The all-time series is tied, 8-8-1. . ..

The last time RPI visited UNH, it stunned the Wildcats, 6-0, Oct. 29, 1999. At the time, the Wildcats were ranked fourth in the USCHO.com/NCAA hockey poll, and the Engineers were ninth. UNH leads the all-time series, 22-19.