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Engineers Fall Out of ECAC's Top Four

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, February 22, 2004

TROY - Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's failure to finish among the Top 4 in the ECAC this season - and the Engineers will fail without major help on two fronts next week - will come down to the fact that they couldn't consistently beat the conference's top teams.

The latest example came Saturday night in a 3-2 loss to surging Colgate, which beat RPI for the third time in as many meetings this season and fifth straight time overall.

Colgate (13-5-2, 18-9-2), which took over first place this weekend and is the ECAC's hottest team, brought its 'A' game and top-level intensity to the contest, while the Engineers, in desperate need of victory and celebrating Senior Night, played only in spurts and were dismal in the opening minutes.

RPI's Vic Pereira scored for the second straight night and defenseman Blake Pickett netted his second of the season but as they've done so often at Houston Field House this season, the Engineers waited too long to muster the intensity they used to nearly tie the score.

Skating 6-on-5 for the final 1:50, the Engineers buzzed the Colgate net but couldn't come up with the equalizer.

"It's unfortunate for the seniors, on their evening, not everybody came to play," said RPI coach Dan Fridgen.

With 1:30 remaining, Oren Eizenman chopped his own high rebound into the goal crease but Red Raiders goalie Steve Silverthorn grabbed it at the goal line.

About four minutes earlier, Conrad Barnes hit the left goalpost.

In the final 1:20, leading scorer Kevin Croxton was denied in front by Silverthorn, was cross-checked right in front, missed a pass and shot just wide.

"As urgent as it became that we needed to tie this thing up," Fridgen said, "that's when we started to play hockey."

The loss gave RPI a 2-7-1 record against teams occupying the top six spots in the standings. It marked the first time all season the Engineers were swept in an ECAC weekend and it left them with a mediocre 5-5-1 record in ECAC home games and a 7-9 mark in games decided by one goal after they won their first five such decisions.

They'll take a 6-3-0 road record to Princeton (5-13-2, 5-20-2) and Yale (10-10-0, 12-15-0) next weekend, needing to sweep to have any chance of finishing in fourth place.

At 11-8-1 for 23 points in ECAC play, the 17-13-1 Engineers can still slip past Dartmouth (9-4-7) into fourth if they can win both games and Dartmouth loses at both Harvard and Brown.

The top four teams earn a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs.

Fridgen said that both Saturday night and in Friday night's 2-1 loss to Cornell, "we really didn't start creating or have any sense of urgency until we were behind by a goal. The (type of team) we are, we have to have a sense of urgency right from the drop of the puck."

Colgate, 11-2-3 since a 7-7-2 start, had it going early on and that was one of several differences in the tight game.

The others were Darryl McKinnon's 5-on-3 goal 5:11 into the second period after Kirk MacDonald took a foolish hooking penalty in the neutral zone; a disallowed goal by MacDonald which trickled over the goal line one-half second after referee Joel Dupree blew the whistle, despite the fact that the puck was between Silverthorn's pads and he was off balance - it squirted as he fell backward.

"And their special teams outplayed our special teams," Fridgen said.

The Engineers spent the first five minutes of the game leaving Colgate forwards alone deep in the defensive zone and Adam Mitchell and Rob McKinnon burned them for goals.

Just 49 seconds into the game, Colgate defenseman Rob Brown fielded a weak clearing try in the upper slot, faked a shot and skated through the circle. He then looked to the net, and fired a pass to Mitchell alone in the lower left slot.

Pereira rifled one off the post and past Silverthorn three minutes later but at 5:11, McKinnon was wide open just outside the crease and chipped home the rebound of a power-play shot by Jon Smyth.

Pickett drilled home a mid-slot rebound at 7:47 of the third but as has been the case so often lately, the Engineers fell one goal short.

Co-captain Scott Basiuk was asked why the Engineers didn't play their best at home until trailing by a goal or two.

"It's mind-boggling," Basiuk said. "I don't know what the deal is; I can't put my finger on it."