Coming off a championship-game loss to Nebraska-Omaha in last Saturday’s Mutual of Omaha Stampede, and with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute struggling to start the season, you would think Union men’s hockey coach Nate Leaman would be excited about his team’s chances of reaching its first Governor’s Cup final this weekend.
Instead, Leaman is trying to keep everything in perspective.
The Dutchmen (1-1) face the
Engineers (0-4) in the opening round of the Governor’s Cup tonight at 7 at the Times Union Center. The winner will face either Colgate or Robert Morris in the final at 8 p.m. Saturday, with the losers playing in the third-place game at 5.
The Engineers have won the first two tournament titles, advancing past Union in the first round each time. It took an overtime shootout for RPI to win two years ago (the game counted as a tie for NCAA purposes), and the Engineers rallied for a 3-2 victory last year.
“I don’t think it’s life or death, or anything like that,” Leaman said. “We’re just focused on playing well, right now. I thought we played well in both games last weekend. We just want to keep improving. We’ve played well the past two years in the first game. I haven’t been disappointed with our guys’ effort, or disappointed with how we’ve played.”
The Dutchmen came close to winning their first tournament title since 1993. They overcame a 4-0 first-period deficit against Quinnipiac to win, 6-5, in overtime in the opening round. Union had a 1-0 lead against Nebraska-Omaha, but lost, 2-1, in OT.
Union may not have won the Stampede, but the players are confident that they can get to a second straight final, and win this time.
“We’re excited, especially last weekend [with] coming close, and seeing Nebraska celebrating on the ice,” Dutchmen defenseman Lane Caffaro said. “I think the guys took it in. They want this one pretty bad.”
Meanwhile, the Engineers are looking to avoid tying the worst start in program history. RPI opened 0-5 in 1966-67 under coach Garry Kearns, and finished 8-15-1. The Engineers lost their first five games under coach Dan Fridgen in 1995-96, and ended the season 10-22-3.
RPI has been shutout twice in its first four games, including Tuesday’s 6-0 loss to Massachusetts. The Engineers have been outscored,
15-4, and the power play has yet to score in 19 opportunities. Dating back to last season, the Engineers haven’t scored a power-play goal in their last 35 chances. The last one was scored by Jonathan Ornelas against Clarkson on Feb. 23.
Engineers coach Seth Appert is more concerned about getting his team to keep working hard instead of defending its title.
“The focus can’t be on winning games,” Appert said. “The focus needs to be on becoming a better team. [Tuesday] night was a great example. It was a fear of our staff that the focus is so much on, ‘Oh, my gosh, we’ve got to get a win, and we’ve got to play hard’ and all these other things that you sometimes forget about playing the game. You’ve just got to play. You’ve got to get better.”
Even though RPI is struggling, the Dutchmen know that they can’t be looking past the Engineers.
“They’re incredibly dangerous,” Union senior forward Matt Cook said. “They’re always dangerous because they’re RPI. This rivalry’s big. It’ll fire up both teams. We definitely can’t be coming in soft. They’re going to be hungry for a win.
“As [Leaman] usually says, the most dangerous animal is a wounded animal.”
Colgate, the tournament runner-up the last two years, will face Robert Morris from College Hockey America in today’s opener at 4.
The Raiders (2-0) are coming off a 4-1 win over Bentley last Friday. The Colonials (1-1-1) earned a win and tie against Ferris State last weekend.
Robert Morris is the first non-ECACH team to play in the Governor’s Cup.
“We know that we have a tough opponent in Robert Morris to open the tournament,” Colgate coach Don Vaughan said. “They are coming off a good weekend versus Ferris State. We will need to play our best game of the season to date.”