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Thompson Arena Poses Big Hurdle for RPI

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, March 12, 2004

TROY - Dartmouthís Thompson Arena hasnít been a friendly place for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in more than five years.

The Engineers are 0-6-1 in their last seven trips to Dartmouth, including two losses in the first round of the 2001 ECAC tournament. They havenít won there since posting an 8-5 decision on Nov. 13, 1998.

But the Engineers are confident that they can put an end to the Thompson jinx. The fifthseeded Engineers (21-13-2) take on the fourth-seeded Big Green (12-8-9) in the ECAC tournament quarterfinals starting tonight at 7:30.

Game 2 will be Saturday at 7 p.m. If Game 3 is necessary, it will take place at 7 p.m. Sunday. The winner earns a trip to the tournament championship round next weekend at Pepsi Arena.

The main reason the Engineers arenít worried about their recent troubles at Dartmouth is that they posted a 10-6 road record this season and have won their last five away from Houston Field House.

RPI won more games on the road during the regular season than they did at home. The Engineers were 9-7-2 at home.

"I think right now, itís confidence," RPI sophomore forward Kirk MacDonald said. "Weíre feeling good about ourselves on the road. Maybe itís getting away from the city, and getting away from the school work and just being able to focus on hockey."

The 10 road wins are the most of any ECAC team this season.

"This is the first time I feel real confident about our team and being able to go into a visiting teamís building and perform well," RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. "Iím not talking specifically about Dartmouth. Iím just talking about [us] having a pretty good road record."

"Looking at the Dartmouth situation, theyíve just been better on those nights. This year when we went up there, it was a different feeling."

The game on Jan. 30 eventually determined the playoff positioning of both teams.

RPI had a 3-2 lead late in the third period. Kevin Croxton had a chance to seal the game with 4:54 left, but missed a wide-open net. Shortly after that, the Big Green scored two goals to pull out a 4-3 victory, giving them the season series over RPI, 1-0-1. The teams tied, 1-1, Nov. 15 at Houston Field House.

Since the teams finished tied for fourth, Dartmouth won the head-to-head tiebreaker, giving them last weekend off and forcing RPI to play Princeton in the opening round. The Engineers swept the Tigers, but it wasnít easy, winning by scores of 5-4 in regulation and 3-2 in overtime.

"The reason hockey is such a great sport is that one little play or missed play can lead to whatever it leads to," RPI senior forward Conrad Barnes said. "We obviously had many more chances than just that to get a couple of points. Missing out on two losses at home to Cornell and Colgate [Feb. 20-21], we blew a chance there. You just go with it. You canít win every game, and you learn your lessons."

Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet knows the Engineers will be a dangerous team. Thatís why he is glad that the games are in his building, where the Big Green went 6-2-4. Their only losses were against Union Jan. 31 and Cornell Feb. 6.

"Save for a couple of bounces here and there, we could have finished out of home ice, or we could have finished in first place," Gaudet said. "Itís really just a couple of bounces during the course of a season. Everythingís so tight in our league. You can never let your guard down."

Gaudet is concerned about RPIís potent power play. The Engineers are 44-for-215 (20.5 percent), the second-best percentage in the league. The Big Green have killed off just 78.8 percent (130-for-165 ) of their short-handed situations, fourthworst in the ECAC.

Dartmouth averages 19.7 penalty minutes per game, the most in the league.

"Theyíve scored a lot of goals on the power play," Gaudet said. "We have to have good discipline in order to stay out of the box. Thatís a key issue."