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Win Over Princeton Keeps RPI Above .500 in ECAC

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, December 8, 2003

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coach Dan Fridgen had some anxious moments throughout the third period of Saturday night's 6-4 victory over Princeton.

Fridgen had watched his Engineers play one of their better first periods, build a 4-0 lead and take a 4-1 lead into the final period - and then let low-scoring Princeton battle back to within 4-3.

But he fully expected his team to hold on and prevail.

"I thought we settled down well after they scored those two quick ones (early in the third period)," Fridgen said. "The guys stayed composed."

Another defeat following Friday's 5-4 setback to Yale, Fridgen said, would have been "quite a hole in league play" for the Engineers. As it stands, they have a winning record at 3-2-1 within the ECAC.

"These guys knew we had to go out and come up with a great effort tonight because Princeton's a much-improved team. I thought we got the jump on them early (3-0 after one period) and it's always tough playing comeback hockey, especially on the road. We came out, we had our legs ... created a number of real good chances and just to get (ahead) by a couple of goals, and then continue to apply pressure, was good to see."

While Princeton continued to put some pressure on the RPI net after pulling within 4-3, the Engineers didn't permit the Tigers to take over the game.

Fridgen doesn't care for any further comparisons to last year's team but, one year ago, Rensselaer may have let that game slip away. Further, last season, the Engineers never did demonstrate an ability to bounce back well after a loss such as Friday's.

Key line change: Conrad Barnes' line of Cody Wojdyla on left wing and Kirk MacDonald on the right was the only RPI forward line to stay intact throughout the season.

Fridgen moved junior C.J. Hanafin into that slot Saturday night, and put Barnes, the Engineers' top centerman, between LW Nick Economakos and scoring leader Kevin Croxton on the right side.

Hanafin had an impressive goal, roofing one over Princeton goalie Eric Leroux while using MacDonald as a decoy on a 2-on-1 break, and he assisted on the game's first goal.

Barnes also had a big goal, from Croxton, and Economakos assisted twice.

"Yeah, it worked out well," Fridgen said. "I was really happy with the way they all performed."

Wojdyla-Barnes-MacDonald had been the Engineers' top checking line but Fridgen explained that "we didn't really need to keep a checking line against Princeton because they don't really have one top line."

And Fridgen wanted to return Hanafin to the lineup - he didn't play Friday vs. Yale - and that Hanafin isn't effective as a winger and Economakos, who's played center in several games, is much more dangerous as a left winger.

"What we really want to do is have good balance between offense (offensive skills) and defense on each line," Fridgen said. "Kirk is a pretty gritty guy, even though he gets some goals, and there isn't a more gritty center than Conrad Barnes."

"When you move one guy in or one guy out, or have an injury, then you have to tinker," Fridgen continued. "And, as I said, you want to have that balance on each line."

The Engineers' 15 forwards this season contain more balance and depth than Fridgen has enjoyed in five or six seasons.

And he'll likely keep mixing combinations.

Finally beat Princeton: The victory Saturday night was just the Engineers' second in their last six regular-season meetings with the Tigers. Rensselaer was 0-2-1 last season against a Princeton club that went 3-26-2 overall. ... The Tigers on Saturday night were trying to win two straight regular-season road games for the first time since February of 2001 and sweep a road weekend set for the first time since winning at Union (6-1) and RPI (4-3) on Feb. 11-12, 2000. ... The weekend split sends RPI into its semester break, and its own Holiday Tournament Dec. 29-30, with an 8-5-2 overall record. The Engineers were 7-9-1 at this time last season.