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Third-ranked Wildcats Cool Off Engineers

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, November 30, 2003

Durham, N.H. - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute could have easily upset No. 3 New Hampshire on its own ice Saturday night if the Engineers could have somehow handled 5-foot-6 right winger Steve Saviano.

They couldn't however, and the senior captain made the big plays in UNH's 4-3, comeback victory, scoring two goals and setting up Justin Aikins' game-winner in the third period.

Conrad Barnes had given RPI a 3-2 lead with 29 seconds remaining in the second period on a sweeping shot from the left circle but Saviano took over the game in the third period before a near-sellout crowd of 6,501 at UNH's Whittemore Center.

The loss ended a five-game unbeaten streak for the Engineers, who dropped to 7-4-2 overall. They return home to Houston Field House next weekend, hosting Yale and Princeton.

Aikins' game-winning goal at 6:45 of the third was quite controversial; there was question as to whether or not the puck crossed the goal line and further, referee Tim Benedetto didn't actually see it do so.

Linesman Tom Fryar made the call, from about 45 feet away.

"I thought the call was questionable," said RPI coach Dan Fridgen, who claimed Benedetto told him that "the lineman saw it."

"He was standing at the blue line," Fridgen said. "From where I was standing, I saw it hit the post and come across (the crease). He said he saw it hit the back and come out."

"That's to take nothing away from UNH, at all," Fridgen said. "And I'd be the first one to admit it if it went in and came out ... but I just think it was too good of a game to be decided on that."

The Engineers twice tied the game, on Scott Romfo's power-play blast in the first period, that hit a couple of players in front, then crawled over the goal line, and on Nick Economakos' power-play shot from the right slot, that caromed off UNH defenseman Mike Lubesnick, tying the game 2-2 at 9:04 of the third.

Then Barnes scored one of the Engineers' prettier goals of the season.

"Somebody was in front screening and it was getting near the end of the period," Barnes said, "so I figured throw it on net, I didn't have much else, and it slipped through his legs."

When UMass-Lowell - whom RPI beat 2-1 on Friday - beat UNH at the Whittemore Center last week, the RiverHawks kept Saviano in check. They checked him in all three zones, held him without a point and to just two shots on goal.

Saviano took Sean Collins' centering pass from the sideboards at 5:22 of the second period, deked around a Rensselaer defender and snapped one past RPI goalie Nathan Marsters to snap a 1-1 tie.

Early in the third, he curled around an over-aggressive defenseman and beat Marsters on the stick side (and short side) to tie the game 3-3.

He skated around the right circle, avoiding two RPI players and found Aikins on the other side less than three minutes later.

"He certainly is the type of player who likes to dipsy-doodle with the puck," Fridgen said. "Very evasive and it's something we talked about ... that he has the added outside space in this (larger Olympic-size) arena, outside the (faceoff) dots and he uses it very, very well."

"He's not the type of player you can be overly-aggressive on and pressure, especially when he has the puck, looking you square in the face." Fridgen added. "He's the type of player you really have to contain and take a good angle on. And I thought on two instances (both of Saviano's goals) we were too aggressive on the puck."

The Engineers nearly tied the game with 39 seconds remaining but UNH goalie Jeff Pietrasiak, made a sliding save of a backhander through the crease by Ben Barr, RPI's extra skater.

"No, I didn't know (Pietrasiak) was already down," Barr said. "I was just trying to get it on net. If I had known, I would have tried to get it up a little bit. But we worked hard there and got our chances, we just couldn't put it in."

With 17 seconds left, RPI defenseman Brad Farynuk fired one that bounced high off Pietrasiak's stick - but it came down and bounced harmlessly to the left and the Wildcats killed the clock.

"We played hard and did a real good job, coming back twice to tie the game, then take the lead," Fridgen said.