SCHENECTADY — As first-year Union men’s hockey head coach Josh Hauge walked up to the microphone after he was introduced at the Capital District Mayor’s Cup press conference Tuesday in the atrium at MVP Arena, he took a moment to look around and take it all in.
It gave even more of a sense of how important the hockey rivalry is between Union and RPI, and appreciation for what it’s like to be college hockey head coach for the first time.
The 10th edition of the men’s portion of the Mayor’s Cup takes place at 6 p.m. Saturday at MVP Arena. Before that, the RPI and Union women’s team will face off in the fifth edition at 3 p.m. The Union men won their sixth Mayor’s Cup last season, while the RPI women captured their third title.
“When you look at it, a lot of the times you go through this first whole season, and you don’t really try to appreciate everything,” Hauge said. “This was kind of just a surreal moment for me just to sit back and be like, ‘Yeah, this is pretty cool that I get to do every day.’ I just want to make sure I appreciate it and enjoy it. But, yeah, I’ve got to be dialed in ready to go on Saturday night.”
Normally, players look for advice from their coaches. For Saturday’s matchup, even though the game won’t count in the ECAC Hockey standings (the teams split the two-game conference matchups in October), Hauge may lean on his players for advice on handling the emotion of the game.
“There’s been a couple of times this year where I’ve told the guys, like the games against Clarkson [Hauge’s former team], the first couple minutes, you guys have got to pull me through, and then I’ll take you the rest of the way,” Hauge said. “I think this is one of those games, as well. It’s going to be pretty intense. They’re going to have more experience than me in this, so I’ll definitely rely on our guys.”
Union senior forward and captain Owen Farris said the players will make sure that Hauge is relaxed.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a hockey game,” Farris said. “There’s going to be a lot of emotion, a lot of fire just because of the rivalry and these two teams always show up. I think from that perspective, just settle into the game, have a good first five minutes, and then hopefully ride from there.”
This will be the fifth Mayor’s Cup for RPI head coach Dave Smith. He is 1-3, with the only victory coming on Jan. 25, 2020, when the game was decided in a shootout. When asked about his first Mayor’s Cup experience, he said he didn’t remember.
It was a 4-3 Union victory on Jan. 27, 2018. The Dutchmen jumped out to a 4-0 lead on goals by Anthony Rinaldi and Sean Harrison in the first period and Tyler Hynes and Sebastian Vidmar in the second. The Engineers rallied on second-period goals by TJ Samec and Billy Jerry and a tally by Jared Wilson 29 seconds into the third.
“I’m not sure what Josh’s experiences are, but I had played in this building, and knew that it was a great building,” said Smith, who faced the Albany River Rats while a member of the Binghamton Rangers in the 1994-95 AHL season. “I knew that there had been a recent kerfuffle with the coaches. I knew all those things. It’s a real rivalry, and to do it downtown for bragging rights with the mayors here, it’s special. It’s a special venue with special people.”
Smith said that sophomore goalie Jack Watson is out for several weeks with an undisclosed injury. Watson played in last Friday’s 3-2 overtime win over Clarkson, making 20 saves.
Both the RPI and Union women are looking forward to Saturday’s contest. But they have an important game to play Friday.
The Engineers host the Dutchwomen in an ECACH matchup at 6 p.m. Union won the last meeting between the two teams, a 2-1 overtime decision Nov. 15 at Messa.
Ninth-place RPI (3-11-1 ECACH, 12.5 points; 7-18-1 overall) is coming off a weekend sweep at Harvard and Dartmouth. Tenth-place Union (4-10-1, 11.5 points; 11-14-1) beat Harvard 3-1 last Saturday to snap a five-game losing streak.
Everyone is focusing on Friday’s matchup because both teams are trying to get into a playoff spot. RPI is 3.5 points behind Princeton for the eighth and final playoff slot, while Union is 4.5 points back.
“They’re huge in the standings, especially after coming off of Saturday beating Harvard,” Union junior defenseman Meredith Killian said. “That was a big win for us and big in the standings. It’s going to be really important to focus on Friday first and get those points.”
“There’s some points up for grabs on Friday, so that’s definitely the focus right now,” RPI senior defenseman Hannah Price said. “We’re kind of at the point in the season where you have to be where your feet are, so we’re really going to focus on practice this week for that Friday game, and then hopefully be able to translate some of that work over to Saturday’s game.”