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Dartmouth Found Edge in Home Ice

By Mike Kane

Schenectady Daily Gazette, March 15, 2004

HANOVER, N.H. - To give himself a moment to think, RPI coach Dan Fridgen repeated the question.

"What if this series would have been played in Troy?" Fridgen said.

For a moment, Fridgen considered the possibility of hosting the ECAC quarterfinal series with Dartmouth, instead of having to play at Thompson Arena, home of the Big Green.

Both teams finished with 27 points in the regular season, but Dartmouth, which had three fewer wins, earned fourth place and home ice because the ECAC breaks ties on the results of season series. Just about every other sports league uses victories as the first tiebreaker.

RPI, which lost late-season games at home to Cornell and Colgate, ended up in the fifth position and had to play on the road, where it actually had been very strong this season. The Engineers won the first game Friday, but were shut out in Games 2 and 3. Dartmouthís 1-0 victory Sunday night ended the Engineersí season with 22-15-2 record.

A few minutes before Fridgen dealt with the question, Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet had a firm opinion on the importance of playing the series at home.

"Huge. The difference," he said. "No question about it."

Gaudet then spent a minute or so defending the way the ECAC breaks ties.

"Itís so close with RPI," he said. "The way it was set up, we earned the home ice. And home ice was absolutely the difference in the series."

"When they play at home, they have the energy from their crowd. Thatís what you work so hard all year for. It just comes down to a break here or there."

While his seniors hugged and pulled off their jerseys for the final time, Fridgen shrugged and continued his thought about home ice.

"That would have been an interesting situation, as well," Fridgen said. "I donít look back on it and think that that was the difference here or there because I thought we had a lot of energy, a lot of jump."

Fridgen clearly was talking about Sundayís game, which was decided on a goal by Eric Przepiorka early in the third period.

The series turned on Saturdayís game when the Big Green responded to the prospect of being swept out of the playoffs by scoring a 6-0 victory. Junior goaltender Dan Yacey blanked the Engineers Saturday, and he picked up the third shutout of his career Sunday with 32 saves.

Playing with a desperate energy that was lacking Saturday, the Engineers delivered a much better performance in the decisive third game.

"I thought we were sharper, and that game could have gone either way," Fridgen said.

Indeed. With time running out and goaltender Nathan Marsters on the bench for an extra attacker, the Engineers came close to tying the score. Earlier in the game, Yacey was saved by the crossbar.

The curious way that the series played out is that roles were reversed. Dartmouth found its success during the season with offense, while RPI thrived on its defense and Marsters' goaltending, but the Big Green won the series with defense.

RPI converted on only one of 13 power plays, and managed a mere two goals of any kind with Yacey in net. Again Sunday, the Dartmouth defense did a good job of keeping the Engineers from getting to rebounds.

"We did everything we could to put ourselves in position, but we couldnít get the puck in the net," said senior forward Conrad Barnes. "Thatís the way it goes."

Advantage, Dartmouth.