SCHENECTADY — It may be an exhibition game, but the Union vs. RPI men’s hockey matchup at 4 p.m. today at Messa Rink will feel like more than that.
Not only will the Capital Region rivals be treating this like a regular-season game, they are thrilled to finally play a game.
Saturday’s contest will be the first for both teams since the 2019-20 season. Both teams, along with the six Ivy League schools, sat out last season because of the coronavirus pandemic. Union’s last game was a 2-1 double-overtime loss to Yale in the deciding game of the ECAC Hockey tournament best-of-three first-round series on March 8, 2020. RPI’s last game was a 4-1 victory over Dartmouth on Feb. 29, 2020.
“Anytime you play against RPI, it’s a rival game,” Union junior defenseman Dylan Anhorn said. “Guys are going to want to win, no matter what’s at stake. We’re coming with the mentality to win that game.”
Fans attending the exhibition game must wear facemasks. The game will not be streamed online.
The teams were 1-1-1 against each other in 2019-20. They were all close games. RPI won at Messa Rink 3-2 on Oct. 25, 2019. The next night at Houston Field House, the Dutchmen pulled out a 2-1 victory. In the Mayor’s Cup game Jan. 25, 2020, the teams skated to a 1-1 tie in Albany. (The Engineers won the Mayor’s Cup by winning 2-0 in the shootout.)
The game will serve as a tune-up for the regular-season openers next Friday. Union opens at New Hampshire, while RPI hosts Bowling Green.
“I’m super excited,” said Union junior forward Gabriel Seger, who is the Dutchmen’s top returning scorer from 2019-20 when he had seven goals and 15 assists in 37 games. “The whole team seems super excited. This is not like a normal exhibition game for us because we haven’t played in so long.”
The feeling is mutual in Troy.
“We’re playing Union, and they’re our biggest rival,” RPI senior forward Ture Linden said. “We’re playing them four times this year. It’s kind of exciting to get that rivalry started right away. In terms of how excited we are, a lot of us haven’t played a game in [over] 500 days. I can’t really describe how excited we are to finally play a game again.
“We’re looking for a win. It’s not really an exhibition [game] this year because we’re that excited and we want to beat Union.”
For RPI head coach Dave Smith, he has to get used to wearing a suit again.
“Honestly, I’m very much looking forward to it,” Smith said. “But there’s that reminder of what do I wear to a game again? What’s that heat of the passion going to be? . . . This is the first year that this exhibition game is going to be there, and I think it’s a great start because of the passion that flows, or boils, between Union and RPI.”
Union head coach Rick Bennett hopes to get as many players in the lineup as possible to see how they perform.
“It will be a little bit of a hodge-podge of rotating players,” Bennett said. “I think it’s really good for the players to have a chance to just get in a game-like atmosphere. We’re going to try and have the four [forward] lines, and maybe seven [defensemen] and have a couple of goalies, and then between periods, we rotate them through. Can you rotate them between periods? If that’s what one coach wants to do and the other doesn’t, who knows? We’re trying to get all players involved.”
Union and RPI will begin ECACH play against each other the final weekend of October. The Dutchmen host the Oct. 29 game, and the Engineers will host the Oct. 30 contest. Both games start at
7 p.m. The Mayor’s Cup game in Albany will take place
Jan. 29 at 2 p.m.