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ECAC Focus for RPI, Union

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, January 30, 2004

Now that the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Union College menís hockey teams have last weekendís intrusive non-league game with Sacred Heart out of the way, itís time for them to look ahead to whatís most important.

Like the final 10 games of the ECAC season.

The Engineers and Dutchmen begin the homestretch of the regular season on the road tonight. RPI (7-4-1 ECAC, 13-9-2 overall) visits Dartmouth (6-2-4, 8-5-6), while Union (2-8-2, 8-12-4) goes to Vermont (1-11, 3-17-3). On Saturday, RPI is at Vermont, and Union visits Dartmouth. All games start at 7 p.m.

RPI, picked to finish 11th in the ECAC preseason coaches and media polls, is tied for fourth place with Cornell with 15 points. The Engineers are a point behind second-place Colgate and Dartmouth, and four points behind league-leading Brown.

"Itís like every year, we approach it with the old cliche, letís take it one game at a time, one weekend at a time, and the end result will take care of itself," RPI coach Dan Fridgen said.

"But I guarantee itís nowhere near where they picked us."

The Engineers would love to finish in the top four, earn a first-round bye in the ECAC tournament and get a home series in the quarterfinals.

"We definitely have a chance," RPI defenseman and co-captain Scott Basiuk said. "We have a chance of winning every single game that we play. Itís just a matter if we can prepare, and the seniors can get everybody on the right track to move into the playoffs."

One reason to like RPIís chances has been the play of goalie Nathan Marsters. He has posted back-to-back shutouts and has a scoreless streak of 146 minutes, 17 seconds. The RPI record is 197:31, set by Joel Laing in 1998-99.

The ECAC record is 198:44, set by Unionís Trevor Koenig in 1996-97.

"Weíre playing well," said Marsters, who has three shutouts this season. "Youíve got confidence here. The next couple of weeks will show us where we stand for real."

Fridgen wants to see more intensity this weekend, and the rest of the way, from the Engineers than he did in last weekendís 3-0 win over Sacred Heart.

"I didnít think we had our best weekend this past weekend, although we won," Fridgen said. "I didnít think we played with the intensity that weíre capable of playing, which weíre going to have to bring to the table this weekend." Same for Union

The Dutchmen experienced the same lack of intensity last Friday against Sacred Heart. It nearly cost them.

Union wasted a 2-0 lead and found itself down, 3-2, with under two minutes left in the game. The Dutchmen rallied in the final minute, getting a tying goal from Matt Vagvolgyi with 15.8 seconds left, and won it, 4-3, on Jordan Webbís overtime goal.

The victory ended the Dutchmenís 12-game winless streak.

"The key thing about Sacred Heart is, yeah, we didnít play well, but we found out how to win again," Vagvolgyi said. "That felt good. I think weíre going to bring that against Vermont."

The Dutchmen, who are in 11th place, have won six straight against the last-place Catamounts, including a 5-1 win Nov. 15 against former Union coach Kevin Sneddon. Vermont is coming off a 9-4 pasting by Colgate last Saturday.

Union was picked to finish ninth in the media poll and 10th in the preseason coachesí poll. Dutchmen coach Nate Leaman believes his team still has a chance to earn home ice in the tournament for the second straight season, if it plays with a purpose.

"As in the past two years, nothing is going to be settled in our league until the last game gets played," Leaman said. "But the biggest thing for our team is that we have to be desperate now. Our playoffs have started. Itís extremely important that we play as desperate as possible. We have to scratch and claw for every point that we can possibly get to try and get home ice."

Women host Dartmouth

The Union Dutchwomen are on an 11-game losing streak in their first year at the Division I level. Their last win was Nov. 30 against Sacred Heart.

The Dutchwomenís chances of ending their skid this weekend arenít good, not with the nationís top-ranked team coming to Frank L. Messa Rink at Achilles Center.

ECAC-leading Dartmouth (7-0-1, 14-1-2) visits Union (0-6, 3-18-1) for two games, tonight at 7 and Saturday at 4. The Big Green took over the top spot from Minnesota in this weekís USCHO.com/NCAA hockey poll.

"Itís a great challenge," Union coach Fred Quistgard said. "For us, itís all about respect. I know our record isnít the greatest this year, but weíve been playing better hockey. Our freshmen are starting to learn a lot more, and what better way [to learn more] than to play against the No. 1-ranked team in the country."