ALBANY — It was supposed to be a casual skate with some kids.
Drew Lentz, the assistant registrar for academic records at Union College, invited some of the Dutchmen to skate at Lentz’s son’s practice on Tuesday.
But because there’s nothing casual about the Union-RPI rivalry, the subject of Saturday’s Mayor’s Cup games at Times Union Center came up at the practice.
“He was talking to all of us about how we need to win the Mayor’s Cup, and that was pretty funny,” junior goalie Darion Hanson said on Wednesday, “but it shows, too, the passion that other people have for the rivalry between the schools.
“And it’s not just hockey, it’s the Union-RPI football game … it’s really something special.”
The first-year players on all four of the schools’ hockey teams will find that out first-hand on Saturday, when the Union and RPI women’s teams play each other at 3 p.m., followed by the men at 6.
It will be the eighth annual event for the men, which Union has won five times, and the third for the women’s game, which has been won by RPI the first two years.
The women’s game also counts toward the ECAC Hockey standings, while the men will just — just — be playing for a trophy, but that’s plenty enough when these teams butt heads. They split a home-and-home in October, when the Dutchmen (4-9-1, 6-17-2) stopped a seven-game losing streak to start the season at Houston Field House.
“We know what they’re going to bring, but I think first and foremost we’re worrying about what we can do,” RPI sophomore goalie Owen Savory said. “We want to be great, and I think on Saturday we’re going to be great.”
“We are friends. Today. And we’ll be friends tomorrow,” said RPI head coach Dave Smith, who crossed paths with Union head coach Rick Bennett during their minor-league pro hockey days. “But next Saturday, when the game is here, it’s a fierce rivalry, and it’s tremendous to play it in this venue, with an audience, coupled with the women’s game.”
“This game is going to be big on a level that goes beyond X’s and O’s. This is about who wants it more. You see all that intensity and desire come together on that ice sheet. I remember my freshman year. We had Veccs [Mike Vecchione], [Spencer] Foo, and we played that game to a 3-2 win. It’s always close. It’s a bar fight. That’s what this game is going to be.”
The men’s teams tied 0-0 through regulation and overtime last year, then the Dutchmen won it in a shootout as both Hanson and Savory recorded shutouts.
Savory is coming off shutouts on consecutive weekends, followed by a near-shutout last weekend.
He made 43 saves in his first Mayor’s Cup and is expected to be in net despite the fact that Smith has played Linden Marshall and has also given Colorado College transfer Alec Calvaruso some ice time once he became eligible halfway through the season.
Hanson has been the go-to goalie in every game for Union.
The Engineers are 7-7-1 in ECACH and 10-12-1 overall, having won five of their last eight, including a big one over Clarkson on the road.
Union was brimming with confidence after a 3-3 tie with Cornell, then the No. 2 team in the country, but fired a dud of a weekend last week with a 5-0 loss at Yale and a 3-2 loss at Brown that was two minutes away from being another shutout before a late scoring flurry.
“No one’s happy about it,” Bennett said. “This is for a trophy. There’s some things that’ll be more at stake for our team, but it’s more about us trying to regroup here for the last stretch run going into the playoffs.”
“I know this’ll be the last time I play Union, unless we play them in the playoffs, so it’s really important to my class that we get the job done on Saturday,” RPI senior captain Will Reilly said.
While their weekend series is also the ECACH portion of the matchup for the Union and RPI women, the Mayor’s Cup adds an intriguing element to Saturday’s game.
“I know our girls are looking forward to this opportunity, as they do every year, to play in a big facility,” Union head coach Josh Sciba said. “Whenever you can compete for league points, whenever a trophy is on the line for bragging rights for the next 365 days, our girls are motivated by that.”
“It’s what college hockey is all about,” RPI head coach Bryan Vines said. “You get to play your biggest rival who’s 25 miles down the highway. We’re both building and growing. Every year, they’ve gotten better, and this year they’re in every game. That makes it a better game.”
“It’s going to be super-competitive,” Union senior Jordi Naidrich said. “It’s always a dogfight against those guys. Both teams get super-excited for the rivalry weekend, so you can’t take anybody lightly. Everyone gets extra hyped up for it. You’ve got to treat it like any other game, but at the same time you get super pumped for it.”