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In the Crease

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, March 12, 2004

SCOUTING RPI

Must play better: Rensselaer didn't beat Dartmouth during the season (0-1-1) but certainly played better against the Big Green than it did against Princeton in last week's playoff-opening series.

"We know we didn't play that well last week," said co-captain Ben Barr. "We're going to have to raise our game up a few levels in order to give ourselves an opportunity to beat those guys, especially to beat them twice in their barn."

"But the guys are excited about it," Barr added, "and we tend to get up for big games. So, we'll give it a good shot."

Last week, the Engineers didn't play a 60-minute game either night against a clearly inferior opponent but were able to escape with two one-goal victories.

"They need to look no further than Dartmouth," said head coach Dan Fridgen, "to see what can happen when you don't keep the intensity and focus for 60 minutes."

Fridgen referred to the Jan. 30 game at Dartmouth in which the Engineers led 3-2 but gave up two goals within the final 4:24 and incurred a 4-3 defeat.

High-scoring line: Rensselaer coach Dan Fridgen was asked if he and the Engineers planned any special defensive device for Dartmouth's talented sophomore left winger Hugh Jessiman.

Jessiman, who had four goals and five assists against the Engineers last season, has just one point this year but remains one of the most skilled forwards in hockey.

He's adept - and most dangerous - at staying behind the play on Dartmouth breakouts, then streaking down the left slot when the Big Green get control of the puck deep in the offensive zone.

"They look for him a lot," Fridgen said of Jessiman, "but I would have to say that (Lee) Stempniak is probably going to do a lot of damage, more than Jessiman will."

Comfortable on road: Rensselaer is 0-6-1 in its past seven outings at Dartmouth, including two losses in the 2001 playoffs, but the Engineers remain confident. Their 8-3-0 road record during the ECAC season (they were 5-5-1 at home) is a big foundation of that confidence.

"It really doesn't (worry us)," Barr said. "We were a few minutes away from winning up there earlier this year. Just a couple letdowns in the last few minutes cost us that game. We know we can beat that team ... and we've played pretty well on the road this year."

"We're more comfortable on the road than in the past," defenseman and co-captain Scott Basiuk said. "Our road record this year gives us confidence. We've been successful (away from home) and there's no reason why we can't be in the playoffs."

Who's hot: Plenty of RPI players are. Junior left winger Nick Economakos, sixth on the team in scoring a few months ago, moved into third place (9 goals-19 assists-28 points) with a five-point weekend (2-3-5) against Princeton. He is 3-8-11 over his past 11 games. Leading scorer Kevin Croxton (18-21-39 on the season) is still the hottest Engineer with 11 goals and 11 assists in his past 14 games and more recently, he's 5-3-8 in his past five games.

Notes: Kevin Croxton has dropped to No. 2 nationally in power-play goals with 12. ... Rensselaer is 19-7-1 when Croxton hits the scoring sheet, 2-6-1 when he's been blanked.

SCOUTING DARTMOUTH

High-scoring line: Rensselaer was wondering if the Mike Ouellette line of left winger Hugh Jessiman and Lee Stempniak on the right, the East's top-scoring line last season, would be intact this weekend. Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet has broken them up for long stretches this season, hoping to get a little better balance in the Big Green offense.

Gaudet said, "I'll play them together at times. They'll play some together. I like having them together but we usually play it by ear as the game progresses. We play Jessiman all over the place (both wings, several different) lines and that makes us a little better."

Jessiman (16 goals-16 assists-32 points) leads the Big Green in scoring, Stempniak (14-18-32), who led the ECAC last season, is second.

"Tanner Glass (4-6-10) has allowed us to do this and have a little more (scoring) balance," Gaudet said, referring to the quick development of the freshman left winger. "We can move guys around and spread it (offensive production) around a little better."

Center Eric Przepiorka (5-16-21) is fourth among the Big Green in goals. Including freshman winger Tommy Green (six goals), who hasn't been able to crack the lineup in weeks is among twelve Rensselaer players with five or more goals, though it must be pointed out that RPI has played seven more games than have the Big Green.

"They led the league in scoring and they have excellent scoring balance," Gaudet said of the Engineers.

Who's hot: The Big Green haven't played in 13 days and were blanked by Harvard in their most recent game. Center Nathan Szymanski has three goals, five assists for eight points over the past seven games, while right winger Lee Stempniak (14-18-32 on the season) has only one goal (1-11-12) over his past 13 games. Center Eric Przepiorka is 1-4-5 over the past four games.

RPI's offensive defensemen: Engineers blueliners have combined for 27 goals and 57 assists and Gaudet was asked if you must detail your preparation specifically for them.

"I think you do," he said. "They jump into the play effectively and they're very good with the puck. You really have to play smart with the puck and watch your turnovers. And on the (RPI) power play, of course, we'll have to block some shots."