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RPI's 'Fridge' Anything But Cold

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, March 25, 2002

Dan Fridgen is one of the finest coaches in college hockey.

So says Theresa Barnes.

Matter of fact, the mother of Rensselaer sophomore center Conrad Barnes thinks Fridgen is the finest person she's "ever met through my son's hockey career."

Though Terri Barnes has met the RPI head coach just a few times, Fridgen made an impression on her that will last forever.

Bill Barnes died suddenly on Feb. 1 while his son and the RPI team were on a road trip to Dartmouth and Vermont.

When Conrad flew home to Denver two days later, Fridgen followed him the next day.

"He just hopped on a plane and came out here," Terri Barnes said. "I couldn't believe it. What a tremendous gesture. And he was so supportive to Conrad and me."

It's been more than six weeks, and Terri says she still can't believe the lengths Fridgen went to to support her and her son.

"It was probably the most important week of the season," she said. "It (included) ... was The Big Red Freakout, and he offered to stay here (in Denver) the whole week."

Barnes, who manages a furniture store, tried to convince Fridgen his coming wasn't necessary, but to no avail.

"He said he was coming regardless, 'so you better tell me what you need,'" she said.

Barnes said she decided practically right away "that I had to put the house on the market and I had a few things to fix up, the roof and some things. So he said, 'show me where your tool box is' and he really helped us out."

"It shows so much about his character," she said.

Fridgen downplays the gesture. It was an easy decision.

"The way I look at things," he said, "is that in the (hockey) program, the people in it and the players, I see us as one family. And when something happens to a family member, you have a certain obligation to do whatever you can to make them as comfortable as they can be."

The pain of losing a father is difficult enough for any young person. Even more so for an only child such as Conrad Barnes. He had a cousin come to him in Burlington, Vt., and give him the tragic news and fly back to Denver with him.

Fridgen didn't want him to have to fly back to Troy alone.

"Losing a loved one, going through that, then ... I just didn't want him to have to come back to campus alone, so basically I just decided to go out there and get him."

The eight-year RPI coach does admit that he knows he was helpful.

"Just because ... from a deviation from the circumstances at hand," he said. "I think it helped ease the pain they were feeling and I put her mind at ease. But it was the least I could do."

Terri Barnes says college coaches often get bad raps.

"I had just watched a feature on ESPN on how so many Division I college coaches treat their players like meat," she said. "And Dan called me a short time later."

"I met (Colorado Avalanche coach) Bob Hartley," she said. "He played against Fridgen (in the minors). He said over and over what a fine person Dan is."

Terri Barnes says that Fridgen's wife Kari and the "entire RPI team have been so supportive."

"They've been like parents to Conrad," she said of the Fridgens. "They've had him over to the house and she's (Kari's) acted as a counselor and like a second mom to him."

"Even all the other (players') parents have been great," she said, "asking what we need, offering financial help. Everybody connected with RPI has been great."

In the first game since returning to school from the grief-laden trip home, Conrad netted his first goal of the season, breaking a 1-1 tie early in the second period and leading RPI to a 3-2 victory over St. Lawrence.

"That was so great," Terri Barnes said. "He called me up and said, 'mom, guess what' and I said, 'you scored a goal.'"

"I could just tell by his tone of voice that was it," she said.

That sparked a mini streak that saw him finish with four goals and 13 assists for 17 points. He had 13 points (4-9-13) as a freshman.

Fridgen believes the Barnes tragedy helped pull the Engineers together after the talented veteran team went literally three-fourths of the season without being able to string victories together. With no disrespect to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference hockey, RPI had not won two straight games against teams from the four older, established conferences prior to the aforementioned wins over Vermont and St. Lawrence.

The Engineers then extended the winning streak to six games.

'Pots' is tops: Rensselaer grad Brian Pothier didn't score at Madison Square Garden on Friday night as his Atlanta Thrashers thrashed the New York Rangers, 5-2. But he led the team in shifts and minutes and was as effective defensively in his own zone as any Atlanta player. Then he incurred a concussion late in the game and sat out Saturday's game at Ottawa.

The former Rensselaer star has one goal and one assist in six games since his recall from the minors and overall, he's scored nine points (3-6-9) for the Thrashers in 32 games. He may play against Minnesota on Wednesday night, otherwise he'll return for Saturday's game at Detroit.