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In the Crease

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 30, 2004


Huge weekend: The cliches say 'they don't get any bigger than this' or 'they're all big games at this time of the year' but forget the old sayings; these are the biggest two games of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's season.

The fifth-place Engineers can possibly take second place alone with a pair of victories and even a split could return them to the top four.

"We all know it's one of the biggest weekends of the year, with them right in front of us and the (ECAC) standings so tight," said RPI senior defenseman and co-captain Scott Basiuk. "It's two games we can win, we need the four points and everybody understands that."

Co-captain Ben Barr agreed.

"Any time the league's so tight, four points up being up so grab, is so important," Barr said.

Big improvement: After allowing seven goals in each of a pair of lopsided defeats to Dartmouth last season, the Engineers held the Big Green to one goal in the first meeting this season, a 1-1 tie.

That fact certainly could be a psychological help to the Engineers tonight.

"It could be but they're going to be in their own barn (the Green are unbeaten at home, 4-0-2), though, so that could counter it," said Rensselaer junior defenseman Blake Pickett. "It's just going to come down to playing our own game and playing that tough defense as a team."

"I think they probably had an off night here ... they didn't play that very well," Basiuk said of Dartmouth. "But we're just looking to play tough defense against their top two lines again, play tough defense in our own end and bury the puck in the net when we get the chance."

Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen points out that the Big Green are "a little different (and tougher) team at home than they are on the road. We have to playa game similar to the one we played here; keeping things simple, don't take any chances with the puck and make sure we're making the safe play instead of the risky play."

The Big Green hurt the Engineers with several transition goals last season.

Who's hot: Sophomore right winger Kirk MacDonald has scored eight points (5-3-8) over the past eight games and is 7-5-12 over his past 13 outings. Scoring leader Kevin Croxton (10-13-23) has been consistent with 12 points (6-6-12) in his past 14 games and has scored in 17 of RPI's 23 games. Junior left winger Nick Economakos also has one of Rensselaer's longest streaks of the season. Over his past 14 games, he has 11 points (3-8-11).

Notes: The Engineers are a whopping 10-2-1 when they score just three goals, with both those losses coming in the first two games of the season, 5-2 losses at Boston University and Providence. When putting in just two goals, RPI is 13-5-1 and maintaining such a mark the rest of the way could spell big success. ... The Engineers' 13-4 first-period goal differential is the ECAC's best. ... Nathan Marsters has permitted just 20 goals in 11 ECAC games but included in his 7-3-1 record are the tie with Dartmouth, a 1-0 loss to Brown and a 3-1 loss at Colgate. Marsters hasn't allowed a goal since the second period of the Colgate game, a span of 1:47.14.


Still dangerous: They may not be leading the league in goals as they did one year ago but the Dartmouth Big Green are still a potent offensive machine. They're averaging 3.11 goals per game, 3.42 per outing among their 12 ECAC contests. And the Green have still been filling the net against weaker teams. In their last sic games against teams with losing records (at the time), the Green have averaged 6.2 goals per game and have scored five or more on all but one game, including nine against Yale and eight against Minnesota State.

Wingers Lee Stempniak (13 goals-10 assists-23 points) and Hugh Jessiman (10-12-22) are still as dangerous a scoring duo as any ECAC team can boast.

Who's hot: Stempniak is tied for 12th with Rensselaer's Kevin Croxton in scoring with 23 points but his 1.21 points per game is fifth in the conference. He has five points (2-3-5) in his past four games and is 7-9-16 over his past 11 games. Left winger Nathan Szymanski is 3-5-8 in the past nine games. Prior to being blanked last weekend at Colgate and Cornell, sophomore center Mike Ouellette was 8-3-11 over nine games.

Much better defensively: Veteran Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet told the Big Green that they'd have to dramatically improve their play in the defensive zone to have a real chance at an ECAC championship. They've certainly done so.

Last season, Dartmouth permitted 3.24 goals per game, seventh in the ECAC and far more than other conference title contenders. Even several teams who finished behind them in the standings permitted fewer goals than did the Big Green.

This year, just 2.79 shots per game wind up in the Dartmouth goal.

"Just doing little things, working harder to thwart guys (opposing forwards) in front, blocking more shots, winning more battles for the puck along the boards in the defensive end," Gaudet said. "We knew we had to get the goal count (allowed) down this year."

Notes: Dartmouth was nationally ranked earlier in the season but has been out of the Top 15 for several weeks. After seeing ECAC-member Brown climb back into the rankings this week, the Big Green figure that victories over RPI and Union, and a subsequent 10-5-6 overall record, could move them back into the Top 15 as well. ... Don't know if it's a misprint or a fluke, but according to Dartmouth's stats sheet, there has not been a single shot on goal in overtime by either team in any of the Big Green's four ECAC ties (Harvard, Union, RPI, Clarkson). In the Green's two non-conference ties, though (Boston University, UMass), they've outshot the opposition, 17-9. ... Vermont's only ECAC victory in 12 games came at the expense of rival Dartmouth, 4-2 at Burlington on Jan. 10. ... The Big Green have played only six home games thus far but are still unbeaten at home (4-0-2). Only one of Dartmouth's nine non-conference games was at home, a 2-1 victory over Holy Cross. The Big Green are 3-4-3 overall away from home and 1-1-1 on neutral ice. ... It's a good thing for the rest of the ECAC that the Green haven't gotten hot as yet. They still have not won three straight games this season.