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Engineers Were Oh So Close to Beating UNH

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, December 1, 2003

TROY - "Sometimes, it's a game of millimeters."

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey coach Dan Fridgen uttered those words Saturday night after the Engineers dropped a tough, hard-fought 4-3 decision to third-ranked New Hampshire.

The Engineers lost on a goal that the goal judge took about one full second to acknowledge, that the referee did not confirm and a line judge called from near the blue line.

And RPI's Ben Barr came so close to tying the game with 39 seconds remaining - within millimeters of sliding a backhander in the crease past UNH goaltender Jeff Pietrasiak.

It was the kind of defeat that may not have bothered the Engineers last season when they were losing. Visitors rarely win at UNH's Whittemore Center. The Wildcats had lost their previous home game and they drop consecutive home contests about twice per decade.

Saturday's loss, though, ended a five-game winless skein for the Engineers, who believe they can win any game, anywhere.

They've certainly been playing well enough to think that way.

"It's a disappointing loss because we had the lead in the third period," Barr said, "and we feel we can beat anybody."

It was the first time the Engineers have lost a game in the third period, something they did often last season.

"They just wanted it more in the third period," RPI scoring leader Kevin Croxton said of UNH. "We needed to come out stronger (for the final period)."

Still, Fridgen said New Hampshire's third period wasn't at all unexpected and that the Engineers didn't play all that badly.

"We had a little letdown in the third, which we were expecting - and gave up a couple of goals," Fridgen said. "UNH is a very good team. They have good speed and when they turn up the intensity, especially in their own building, you have to weather the storm."

The Engineers didn't, and after winning each of their three previous games by one goal, suffered their first one-goal defeat of the season.

"And we took some penalties and that hurt our offensive production," Fridgen said.

As for Justin Aikins' game-winning goal, which was called by linesman Tom Fryar from near the blue line, Fridgen said, "He (Fryar) must have had a lot of carrots when he was young. I saw it hit the post. He said it hit the back (of the net support) and come out."

Questionable scorekeeping: Rensselaer junior left winger Nick Economakos had two assists taken from him by official scoring changes in Friday night's 2-1 victory at UMass-Lowell.

Croxton had one.

"Well, it's good just to know that you're playing well and your linemates are getting chances," said Economakos, who banged a hard shot from the circle off a UNH defenseman and past Pietrasiak on a power play for a 2-2 tie on Saturday night.

Great debut: Fairfield transfer Andrew Martin came within five minutes of becoming the first RPI goalie to debut with a shutout since Gerry Fink in 1980-81.

"The shutout would have been nice, but getting the win is the big thing," said the Plano, Tex. native.

Never done: Had the Engineers been able to hang on to win Saturday night, they would have won three consecutive road games against Hockey East teams in the same season for the first time since Hockey East was formed 20 seasons ago.

Just two remain: Scott Romfo's goal at UNH was his first point of the season, leaving just defenseman Keith MCWilliams and freshman Jake Luthi as the only RPI skaters still scoreless this season.

Amazing: New Hampshire winger Eddie Caron had 39 penalty minutes in his first 11 games this season but despite Saturday night's constant after-the-whistle nonsense and two major skirmishes, he stayed out of the box.

Return to conference: After two weeks of non-conference play (and a 3-1-0 record), the Engineers return to ECAC play next weekend, hosting Yale and Princeton, both of whom are 3-5-0 in conference play.

Rensselaer and Union are tied for the ECAC's fourth-best record - percentage-wise - at 2-1-1. The top teams are: Brown, 6-1-0; Cornell, 3-0-1; and Dartmouth, 3-0-3.

"It was a good weekend," Barr said. "We didn't give up (Saturday night) and we've just got to learn, you let up for a few minutes and good teams can get a couple goals. There are a lot of positives we can take out of that (UNH) game. We'll keep building and come back hard next week - league games."