ALBANY — The Union men’s hockey team was feeling pretty good about itself early in the season.
Then the Dutchmen ran into an RPI team that was still looking for its first win, and got not just one, but two.
The Engineers have won just seven games total, but three have come in the last four games, so now they have reason to be feeling good about themselves lately.
So it seems like an appropriate time for them to run into an inconsistent Union team that has been clunking along at just above .500 for the last two months.
Hey, let’s put a trophy on the line while we’re at it.
The latest collision in the Route 7 Rivalry is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday for the seventh annual Mayor’s Cup at the Times Union Center. It will be the second half of a double header that starts with the second annual Cup game for the respective women’s teams at 3.
The men’s game pits two teams who are in the midst of opposite levels of momentum from when RPI beat Union 5-3 in Troy on Oct. 26 — which will go down as the “marshmallow” game — and 4-2 in Schenectady Oct. 27. So recent history will have some bearing on how the teams approach Saturday’s game, as well as the long-standing rivalry that always makes this matchup interesting.
Union leads the Mayor’s Cup series 4-2, after winning 4-3 last year.
“Last year, it was on the other foot,” Union head coach Rick Bennett said. “I think the big deal last year was no team had repeated, so now we’ve got a different story. And each year brings a different story, and hopefully we embrace it and have a good showing.”
“Right now, with no pro team, this is the top of the iceberg,” RPI head coach Dave Smith said. “Young people that play hockey, this is what they should look for. If you get eight or ten thousand people there, it’s a ton of fun. To me, it brings together the hockey community.”
How much that community will be brought together, in light of the big winter storm in the forecast, remains to be seen.
Which Union team shows up is a bit of a mystery, too.
The Dutchmen (4-5-1 ECAC Hockey, 11-6-4 overall) fell out of the top 16 of the Pairwise Rankings this week after splitting with Clarkson and St. Lawrence.
Back in October, Bennett said his team responded like “marshmallows” when RPI made a spirited comeback at Houston Field House, but the Dutchmen also have plenty of good wins, including 7-2 over No. 1 St. Cloud State as recently as Jan. 4.
Seeing “RPI” on the opposing jerseys Saturday should be motivation enough, no matter the current fortunes of the two teams.
“We try not to make it the Fourth of July around here, with all the fireworks,” Bennett said. “I just want to practice hard, practice well and when Saturday comes and we see them, they’re ready to go at 6 p.m.
“We’re not flying in Mat Bodie and Dan Carr to fire up the team. You hope they’re motivated by the game itself. You need the coaches to walk in the room doing a handstand trying to fire them up.”
“It’s always a fun game; it’s a cool venue,” Union senior captain Cole Maier said.
“They’ve [Union] got depth from one through four, they’ve got a couple lines that are putting numbers up, they’ve got active, mobile ‘D,’ they’ve got good goaltending,” Smith said. “They’re competitive, just by nature, and Rick stokes that fire because he’s competitive.”
The Engineers (4-7-0 ECACH, 7-15-0 overall) are coming off perhaps their best game of the season, a 5-2 win at Connecticut Wednesday.
Since late December, RPI has benefited from the addition of three transfers who have eligible to practice all season but haven’t been allowed, per NCAA rules, to suit up for games.
While Shane Bear (UMass) is out indefinitely with an injury, Mike Gornall (North Dakota) and Chase Zieky (Providence) have had a solid impact in a short time.
Zieky scored the first two goals of the game against UConn and later had an assist.
Smith said he back-loaded that game in the second half of the schedule in order to give the transfers an extra non-conference game once they were eligible to play.
“I watched their game against St. Lawrence, and I thought they had some more firepower,” Bennett said. “I do like how they’re structured. It’s not a knock against the previous staff, it’s just they’re not running around crazy with the shoulder pads.
“Just more of a pro-ish style. Maybe that’s Dave’s style and he’s kind of infused that, and it makes it a tougher game, when they’re real well-structured and hitting the net and getting scoring opportunities.”
“It’s an awesome rivalry,” RPI junior forward Jacob Hayhurst said. “They’re definitely going to be really motivated to bring their best game on Saturday; we’re ready, as well.
“There’s that fine line about staying smart on the ice. Union’s a big rivalry, so obviously there’s going to be scrums in front of the net, and we have to be smart and just focus on playing our game.”
The biggest challenge for the Union women (0-9-1, 2-18-2) will be solving RPI goalie Lovisa Selander, a senior who is third in NCAA Division I in save percentage (.942).
While the Engineers (5-5-0, 8-10-4) don’t score much, Selander is stopping an average of 32.5 pucks per game.
“Having that net-front presence is something we’ve been working on all week, and continue to work on tips, screens, deflections, taking away the goaltender’s eyes,” Union head coach Josh Sciba said.
Sciba just returned from Japan, where he served as an assistant coach for Team USA at the U18 world championships (Team USA lost to Canada in the gold-medal game).
The Dutchwomen played RPI at Houston Field House Friday night and were looking forward to another Mayor’s Cup experience.
Unlike the men, the women’s Mayor’s Cup game will count in the ECACH standings. The teams split 2-1 games last year, with RPI winning the Cup edition.
“It was awesome [despite the loss,” Union goalie Amelia Murray said. “Everyone was excited, bouncing off the walls ready to go. I think this year we need to bring a little calmer energy.”
“Any time you can play in that environment, with that amount of fans and in that venue, is motivating by itself,” Sciba said. “Then you put a league game in there that’s meaningful for us, against a crosstown rival, it’s a pretty special experience.”
Union junior defenseman Vas Kolias missed the last game, at St. Lawrence, with an undisclosed injury. “Stay tuned,” Bennett said, his standard response when an injury is not long-term. …
Both the Union and RPI men’s teams continue to platoon at goalie.
The Dutchmen used Darion Hanson against Clarkson last Friday, but Bennett pulled him in favor of senior Jake Kupsky after Hanson gave up four goals, with just 11 saves, through 18:23 of the second period.
Kupsky played the whole game against St. Lawrence the following night, but didn’t distinguish himself by giving up three goals on 19 shots in a 4-3 win.
RPI has given Linden Marshall (682:00) and Owen Savory (593:11) a similar amount of ice time. …
Schenectady native Kevin Patrick has been has been named the winner of the Terry Flanagan Award, the American Collegiate Hockey Association’s honor for an assistant coach’s career work.
Patrick was an assistant at Union under Kevin Sneddon from 1998-2002 and has been Sneddon’s assistant at Vermont for the last seven seasons.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.
GAZETTE COVERAGEEnsure access to everything we do, today and every day, check out our subscribe page at DailyGazette.com/Subscribe
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: College Sports, Sports