ALBANY — The Union and RPI men’s hockey team will be celebrating 10 years of the Capital District Mayor’s Cup game on Saturday at MVP Arena.
It doesn’t feel like 10 years for MVP Arena general manager Bob Belber.
“Having it be here 10 years, that seems like just yesterday was the first year for me,” Belber said after Tuesday’s press conference at the arena. “We’ve had as many as 8,300 people that have attended this. A couple of different occasions, it’s been over 8,000. I think you’ll see on this one with people wanting to get out, it’s likely to be upwards, upwards of 7,000, 8,000.”
The previous nine games have averaged 6,405. Last year’s game, which included the women’s contest, attracted 4,222 fans, the second-smallest crowd. The 2019 game, which was also a doubleheader, had just 4,043 fans. That year’s Cup games were played on Tuesday, Jan. 29, because the games were postponed 10 days earlier because of a snowstorm.
The two largest crowds came in consecutive years. The 2016 game, which was just men’s only, had 8,485 fans.
The previous year drew the biggest attendance, 8,714 fans. A lot of that had to do with what happened at the end of the 2014 game, when the teams had a bench-clearing brawl. The most famous incident was Union head coach Rick Bennett trying to punch RPI head coach Seth Appert.
Current RPI head coach Dave Smith had a little fun with that as he made reference to the Bennett-Appert incident during the press conference.
“There’s a lot of spirit in this game,” Smith said. “And a few years before I got here, there was a little more spirit than maybe anticipated with the previous coaches. I’ve spent time calling [Union head coach] Josh [Hauge’s] neighborhood where he grew up [and] find out how tough he is. Just personally face him and I by ourselves close to each other on the ice. I want to pre-scout and be prepared for that because anything can happen at the Mayor’s Cup.”
Hauge, who will be coaching in his first Mayor’s Cup, also had fun with it.
“Coach, you got the scouting report,” Ronan said. “I’m pretty sure you won’t be seeing me at center ice. We’ve got [assistant] coach [John] Ronan and [assistant] coach [Lennie] Childs that are much tougher than me. They’ll help me out if we need that.”
Belber believes having this tournament every year helps grow the sport and the rivalry between the two schools.
“People talk about the rivalry,” Belber said. “I think it’s important for the local Division I schools to be able to have bragging rights and have that trophy to be living on their campus for each year that they win. It’s very similar to the UAlbany-Siena basketball rivalry. It’s a big game.
“I saw a quote that was in one of the stories in the papers in the last couple of days, and the player that had been quoted said that one of the biggest moments of her life was when they won the game here as part of the Mayor’s Cup. It means a lot to the players. It means a lot to the coaches, and it doesn’t matter where their standings are. They want to win this game.”