RPI: Trying to Engineer Consistency

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Somebody call Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. There's an ECAC team out there who might mystify them both.

Its name: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, RPI for short. Harvard hockey fans know that the Engineers from Troy, N.Y., knocked off the Crimson, 4-3, last Saturday in Houston Field House, but is there more to RPI than it's seventh-place ranking?

You bet there is. RPI is 6-4-0 on the season (2-2-0 ECAC), hardly the kind of record that one would think justifies a top-ten ranking--especially considering that three of those losses came to lightly regarded teams, including home defeats to New Hampshire, Brown and Hockey East cellar-dweller Merrimack.

In light of that 1-3 home record, the home fans of Houston Field House actually started chanting, "Pretend you're on the road! Pretend you're on the road!" during Friday's game with Brown. But hold the phone, guys. With away wins at Boston University and Maine (numbers two and four, respectively, in the country), and a big out-of-conference win over Bowling Green, the Engineers have proven that they can skate with any team in the country. Still, how can they calm down?

"If I could tell you the solution, we'd be a better club," RPI netminder Neil Little said. He, in truth, is the only reason that his school isn't 0-4 at home, thanks to his 45-save showing against the Crimson. "We're up one night and down the next, and really we've got to strive to stay focused and consistent within the system our coaches have us playing in. I'd admit it--we're struggling right now."

"Although [Saturday] was a big win for us, we still made a lot of mistakes and did a lot of things poorly," captain Ron Pasco said. "There's a long way to go, to be sure, and hopefully we can use this win to boost our confidence and help us play a little more composed in the future."

Obviously, should the Engineers start clicking on all cylinders, they could yet be the scary team from the ECAC, one worthy of the consensus preseason favorite's mantle. But until RPI finds that level of consistency, the only ones it will continue to scare are its own fans.

One and one, down one: The Crimson's split with Union and RPI knocked it down a notch to 10th in the latest Troy Record national collegiate hockey poll.

With 54 points, Harvard (5-2-1, 5-2-1 ECAC) is eerily one point ahead of Northern Michigan, the school that knocked the Crimson out of the NCAA tournament last March in Worcester, Mass. Lightly regarded coming into the year, the Wildcats continue to show that such an upset is no fluke, last weekend splitting two games with sixth-ranked Wisconsin.

Michigan (12-1-1) became the first team this year to garner all 27 first-place votes on the strength of a two-game sweep of Western Michigan. And the two Hockey East powerhouses? BU swept Merrimack to leap up and claim the second spot in the nation, while pesky Northeastern split two with Maine and dropped the Black Bears two slots to fourth.

Harvard Shorts: No truth to the rumor that freshman Ethan Philpott is still in Coach Ronn Tomassoni's doghouse for making an obscene gesture in the Cornell game several weeks ago. According to Tomassoni, his shoulder has been acting up again, forcing him to sit on the sidelines for both games last weekend. When healthy, Philpott will battle senior Ian Kennish for a fourth-line winger spot...Speaking of Kennish, he's one of only two right-handed shots among the 12 forwards in the current Crimson configuration, sophomore Kirk Nielsen being the other. Hard to figure...Tomassoni is still solidly behind both of his goaltenders, sophomores Aaron Israel and Tripp Tracy, even in light of the latter's spotty play of late.

"It's a long season, and there are certain times when one is going to play better than the other," he said.

And in light of the Crimson's current slump in scoring on the five-on-five, Tomassoni has another theory. "We're averaging over 18 penalty minutes a game, our opponents even more than that," he said. "There's not a lot of time left for five-on-five play, is there?" Some of those minutes do cancel each other out in the form of coincidental minor penalties. Just the same, he's got a point.