In a season when Rensselaer was expected to make very little noise, it did just the opposite en route to posting 22 victories in 2003-04. Regular-season champ Colgate was the only other ECAC team to break the 20-win plateau.
“It was really the year prior to last where we got most of our experience,” explained head coach Dan Fridgen. “That year, we really took our lumps, and last season the media and coaches picked us to finish 11th.
“We thought we had something to prove. Our team learned some things and realized that we had to earn some respect from the league and our fans. Last year, we earned that respect. We want to build on that foundation.”
The good news for the Engineers is that they return their three top scorers in Kevin Croxton (18-21-39), Kirk MacDonald (15-19-34) and new co-captain Nick Economakos (10-20-30). And while they need to replace the significant losses of Ben Barr (8-17-25) and Scott Basiuk (11-15-26), Fridgen believes his club is well stocked.
“We’ve added some size, strength and speed,” he said, “which gives us the most depth I’ve ever seen as a coach here.
“Some recruits become adjusted a lot quicker, both to college hockey and the new aspects that come with college life. You expect freshmen to come in and earn a job. They have to really battle and compete to be in the lineup. That’s based on confidence and how quickly they can adjust. Some you expect to adjust quickly and they don’t, while others adjust much quicker than you expected.”
Of his new crop of Engineers, the coach points to three players who he thinks will make their names known before the year is over.
“Andrew Lord has really developed as a player,” Fridgen explained. “He just started to break out offensively last year. Jake Morisette and Jonathan Ornelas have great speed up front, which is tough to defend against.”
As for the familiar faces, the coach expects improved play from two players in particular.
“C.J. Hanafin has himself a real good summer. He’s gotten a lot stronger and added some weight. Croxton put in a good summer too, as far as conditioning is concerned, and we look for him to continue to improve his defensive play.”
That’s encouraging news for RPI fans and potential trouble for the rest of the league.
“When we’re playing a high-tempo game,” Fridgen remarked about the style we can expect to see from his team this season, “I’ve become more patient with mistakes when earlier I was less tolerant.
“Now we rectify our mistakes and move forward knowing it will make us stronger. Last season, we weren’t ready to stop playing. I still think about our players in the locker room after the loss to Dartmouth.
“I want to end every season with a smile on my face.”
To get his wish, Fridgen will first have to navigate his team through a slate of games that begins with a trip to Nebraska for the Maverick Stampede on October 9 and 10.
Thanks to Alex Clark for his contributions to this article.