Union College and RPI are separated by 15.8 miles.
In the ECAC Hockey coaches preseason poll that was announced Monday, there is no separation. The Dutchmen and Engineers finished tied for eighth in the poll with 40 points each.
Neither team played last season because of the coronavirus pandemic. They will face each other in an exhibition game at 4 p.m. Saturday at Messa Rink.
For Union, it will be its first game since March 8, 2020, against Yale, a span of 576 days. It will be 584 days between games for RPI, which last played Feb. 29, 2020, against Princeton.
During a Zoom media day call with the conference’s 12 head coaches, Union head coach Rick Bennett seemed surprised where his team finished in the poll. The Dutchmen finished in 10th place in the standings in 2019-20.
“I guess after a year off, you never know,” Bennett said. “I guess we have some work to do. That’s how you have to look at it. We’re really excited and grateful to be back. It’s been a couple of weeks on the ice. We definitely have a lot of work to do. At the same token, it hasn’t been for a lack of energy or effort on the players’ part so far. It’s been a lot of fun.”
The Engineers finished in fourth place in 2019-20. They received an ECACH tournament first-round bye and were scheduled to host a best-of-three quarterfinal-round series. But that was canceled.
“I think it was impossible to do the coaches poll accurately,” RPI coach Dave Smith said . “The fact that we’re eighth has more to do with the fact that we didn’t practice or play than it does having to do with any coaching or any players on the team. … I’m not worried about it. Great, we’re both eighth. Let’s use that on Day 1, and when we play Union, we’ll say we’re [ranked] eighth and get back to me in March.”
Even though it’s an exhibition game, the two rivals aren’t going to play it like it’s a contest that doesn’t count.
“We’re taking it as a regular game, I know that,” Bennett said. “I can’t speak for RPI, but I know Dave Smith pretty well. He’s a very competitive guy. He always has his team ready, so we need to be as well.”
“The reality is that a lot of our guys haven’t played against anybody in another uniform, and the fact the uniform says Union on it or has the letter ‘U’ on it, I think it adds a little dose of reality, and I think that’s really good,” Smith said. “I don’t think anything is going to get out of hand, but there’s going to be those moments of, ‘Hey, I just got hit. I hadn’t been hit in 18 months.’ The players are going to have to remind themselves what that physical play is about and what the confrontation is like.”
Bennett wants to use the exhibition game to see where his team is at as it prepares to open the regular season Oct. 8 at New Hampshire.
“[We want] to try to get a lot of the kinks out,” Bennett said. “A big thing is to see where the guys are at condition-wise, as well. You’ve got to be in battle to get battle tested. As a staff, we’re just really curious to see our conditioning level, the skill level. I can’t tell you [how we look] on specialty teams. It’s a huge part of the game, the last time I checked. … There’s just so many factors. I’m just going to focus on us and see how it plays out.”
QUINNIPIAC ON TOP
Quinnipiac, which won the ECACH regular-season title last season, was picked to win the league by the coaches. The Bobcats received four first-place votes and 112 points.
Clarkson got three first-place votes and 110 points. Harvard also received three first-place votes and earned 99 points. Cornell was fourth with one first-place vote and 96 points. St. Lawrence, which won the ECACH tournament title, also got a first-place vote and 81 points to finish fifth.
Colgate was sixth with 67 points, and Dartmouth was seventh with 60 points.
Yale was eight with 38 points, followed by Princeton (28) and Brown (18).
CASHMAN ON TAPP
Shortly after he was named the new Dartmouth head coach on June 1, 2020, Reid Cashman lured Union associate head coach Jason Tapp to Hanover, New Hampshire.
Cashman is happy to have Tapp on his staff.
“I was really lucky. Dartmouth was fortunate to get Jason,” Cashman said. “What Union has done, to me, in the last 11 years, they have been as dominant as anybody, and that’s hard for me to say as a Quinnipiac alum. They’ve done it as a financial aid school, so non-scholarship, which is what we have at Dartmouth. He knows that recruiting world. Much like how we want to sustain success at Dartmouth, they developed [at Union]. In particular, Jason has developed All-American goalies and All-American defensemen.”