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Pair of Aces

High-scoring Sophomores Croxton, MacDonald Give RPI Strong Hand on Offense

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, February 20, 2004

TROY - How important is it to the success of a college hockey team to have its forwards deliver a one-two scoring punch?

Take a look at Rensselaer Polytechnic Instituteís recent history. In 1999-00, Brad Tapper (31 goals, 20 assists, 51 points) and Matt Murley (9-29-38) helped the Engineers to the ECAC tournament championship game.

Two years ago, Murley (24-22-46) and ECAC Player of the Year Marc Cavosie (23-27-50) powered RPI to the tournament semifinals.

Last season, after Murley graduated and Cavosie left a year early for pro hockey, the Engineers lacked a consistent offensive threat from more than one player. The result was a 12-25-3 record, the worst mark in RPI history, and an 11th-place finish in the ECAC. This season has been a different story, thanks to sophomore right wings Kevin Croxton and Kirk MacDonald. They have been scoring consistently, particularly on the power play, and are one of the big reasons the Engineers have rebounded from last yearís disaster.

With four games left in the regular season, RPI (11-6-1 ECAC, 17-11-2 overall) is in position for a first-round bye in the ECAC tournament. The Engineers are tied for third with Cornell (10-5-3, 12-7-6), which they host at Houston Field House tonight at 7. They are one point behind second-place Colgate, which visits the field house at 7 Saturday. RPI trails firstplace Brown by three points.

Croxton leads the team in scoring with 13 goals and 18 assists. His 31 points rank fourth in the ECAC.

MacDonald is second on RPI with 13 goals and 14 assists. He is tied for 15th in scoring in the ECAC with 27 points.

"Anytime you have that, itís a benefit from a team perspective," RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. "Thatís something that takes time, experience and confidence to evolve. I donít know too many players that have come into this league that have that instant credibility."

RPI has scored 91 goals this season, second in the ECAC. The Engineers had 94 goals all of last year.

"I think itís been great," Croxton said. "Weíve been getting scoring from all over the place, too. But itís good to have Kirk there because heís been banging home some real important goals for us. Itís been nice. Anytime you can get more scoring, youíre not going to complain about it."

With Croxton and MacDonald scoring, it makes it difficult for the opposition to shut both down. Last year, Croxton carried the load on offense.

"Youíve got to have more than one guy," MacDonald said. "Last year, they could key on Croxie and try and shut him down. We didnít have a whole lot other than that to try and put the puck in the net."

While Croxton and MacDonald donít play together at even strength, they are together on the power play. They have sparked RPIís power play, which is clicking at 20.6 percent (39 of 189). The 39 power-play goals is the best in the ECAC.

Croxton is third in the ECAC in power-play points with 19, including 10 goals, which is second-best in the nation. MacDonald is tied for sixth with 16 power-play points.

"The key to our power play is that weíre sticking together," MacDonald said. "You get used to playing with the same guys all the time, and reading guys. Weíre able to adjust to what the other teams bring at us every night."

"We seem just to find each other," Croxton said. "We work the puck down low well together. Itís been good to stay together."

Fridgen also lets them freelance.

"Sometimes as coaches, we overcoach because we like to be systematic," Fridgen said. "Iíve always felt that players that have creativity, you have to let them be creative. Thatís something that theyíve done."

Croxtonís success hasnít come as a surprise. He led the Engineers in scoring with 15 goals and 15 assists in 39 games, the first RPI freshman to do that since Craig Hamelin in 1991-92. Croxton was also named to the ECAC All-Rookie Team.

He didnít put any pressure on himself to improve his performance this season.

"I just wanted our team to do better this year, as far getting more [wins] up on the board," Croxton said. "My job is to produce offensively. If I wasnít doing that and we were losing, Iíd be disappointed."

MacDonaldís breakout season may be stunning to everyone but his teammates and the coaching staff. In 28 games last season, MacDonald had just four goals and two assists. But he missed the first 12 games of the season because of mononucleosis.

"I expected a lot out of myself this year," MacDonald said. "Last year was real tough for me personally. I had mono and lost a ton of weight. I got thrown into the fire midway through the season and wasnít in great shape after having to sit out for five, six weeks almost."

"I worked real hard this summer. I wanted to make an impact."

Union hosts Colgate

Unionís hopes of an ECAC tournament first-round bye are dead, but itís still alive in the race for home ice on the opening weekend.

Union coach Nate Leaman wants his players to focus on tonightís opponent, Colgate, and not the postseason.

The Dutchmen (5-10-3, 11-14-5) host the Raiders (11-5-2, 16-9-5) at 7 at Messa Rink at Achilles Center.

The Dutchmen have 13 points, one behind Clarkson and St. Lawrence, who are tied for eighth and the final home-ice slot. Union holds the tiebreaker edge over the Saints by virtue of winning the season series, while it split with the Knights.

Union can finish as high as sixth place, and as low as last.

"We havenít talked about it much," Leaman said. "If we were to talk about it, weíd get ahead of ourselves. Weíre just still trying to focus on one game at a time, the first one being Colgate."

The Raiders won the previous meeting, 4-1, Jan. 17 at Starr Rink.

"Weíve got to find a way to get in on the forecheck," Leaman said. "They did a real good job of holding [us] up all over the place, and really playing in your face."

Dutchwomen on road

The Union Dutchwomen (0-12, 3-24-1) are on the road for the second straight weekend. They will play two games at Brown (8-3-1, 12-7-2) tonight at 7 and Saturday at 4.