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Engineers Peaking at Right Time

RPI Heads to Lake Placid and ECAC Final Five after Playing Its Best Game of the Season

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, March 11, 2002

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute saved its best for last.

The Engineers, led by eight seniors, staged their best performance of the season in their final Houston Field House appearance on Saturday night against Princeton to sweep their first-round ECAC playoff series.

With eight victories in their past 10 games, the Engineers have an 11-3-2 mark in their last 16 outings. Only Cornell is playing better hockey than the Engineers among the teams who made the ECAC's Final 5 at Lake Placid. No one else is even close.

Cornell (23-6-2), which ran away with the ECAC's regular season title at 17-3-2, has won five straight and is 12-1-1 in its past 14. Two of the Big Red's three conference losses came against Dartmouth, so they will be watching Thursday night's RPI-Dartmouth game as keenly as anyone.

The 18-12-4 Engineers, seeded fifth, and the No. 4 Big Green (14-12-5) must win Thursday's 7 p.m. battle for the right to join the top three seeds Cornell, Clarkson (15-13-6) and Harvard (14-12-4) under the ECAC's Final 5 format.

Prior to its surprising sweep of Brown over the weekend, Harvard had won just two of its previous 11 games, more proof that playoffs are indeed a brand new season.

While the Princeton-RPI matchup was the tightest seedings-wise (6 vs. 5), no team was more dominant and convincing in the first round than the Engineers.

In the two games, they outscored a team they had previously lost to at home, 11-3. Their special teams were dominant and their four forward line (points-wise) was the series' top group, controlling the series with its forechecking.

Right winger Chris Migliore, who scored seven goals in his first 97 games at RPI, scored three on the weekend.

"It's great," Migliore said, thinking back and ahead. "What a great finish. Long season, lot of things going on. And you know what it's like at Lake Placid, it's like gravy of the season, icing on the cake. We've just got to finish it off right, put a couple of candles on top of the cake."

Matt Murley led Saturday's attack with one goal and two assists, while fellow seniors Migliore, Vickers and juniors Marc Cavosie and Conrad Barnes each had one goal and one assist.

Cavosie's 17-game scoring streak ended on Friday night but he and Murley combined on a pretty goal Saturday night. It was Cavosie's 22nd, breaking a tie with Murley for the ECAC lead.

Another senior, winger Andrew McPherson, even turned in what was RPI's best hit of the season, leveling one of the ECAC's top players when he rocked senior center Brad Parsons at the RPI blue line at 12:49 of the third period.

"I just came on the ice and I saw a head buried, cutting across and it was like 'good night'," McPherson said. It doesn't happen too often but it was like perfect timing for me.

"I just skated right to the (penalty) box but I don't think it was a penalty," he added.

It was a textbook clean hit but referee Alex Dell ruled obstruction interference on McPherson.

"He (Parsons) definitely touched the puck," McPherson said.

Indeed, Parsons clearly carried the puck for a full stride.

So, the Engineers put their focus on Dartmouth. The teams hooked up in two tight games during the regular season.

They led the Big Green 2-1 with 3:26 remaining at Houston Field House when Kent Gillings scored on a long shot to tie the score.

The Engineers lost their poise, surrendered two late goals to Jamie Herrington and even though they had played well enough to win for 56 minutes, had to put down a 4-2 defeat in the book.

It was the kind of loss that could hurt a team for weeks but the Engineers put it behind them right away.

Six days later in Hanover, they built a 2-0 lead but a defensive breakdown led to Frank Nardella's goal at 19:54 of the second period which cut the margin in half.

Lee Stempniak tied the game for Dartmouth eight minutes into the third period but at least this time, the Engineers did not allow the Green a huge momentum shift and held on for a 2-2 tie. The next night at Vermont, they ignited their six-game winning streak.

The Engineers ousted a young Dartmouth team from the 2000 ECAC playoffs with a first-round sweep at Houston Field House. The Big Green returned the favor in Hanover one year ago.

This year, they collide one round later, with the winner taking on Cornell in one of Friday night's semifinals, the loser leaving Lake Placid early.

The Engineers will be ready.

"We're getting contributions from all four lines, the defense has stepped up and Nate's (Nathan Marsters) been big for us in goal," said RPI coach Dan Fridgen.

"We're excited," Murley said.