Players and coaches never like to talk about the past. They are always focused on the present and the task at hand.
But for the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey team, it can’t help but be reminded of what happened last season against Union.
The two teams played five times — three regular-season games and two in the ECAC Hockey tournament quarterfinals — and Union won all five.
That gnaws at the Engineers, and they want to make sure it doesn’t happen again this season.
The rivals meet this weeklend in a home-and-home series to start the ECACH regular season. The Engineers (1-1-2) host tonight’s game at Houston Field House, and the 10th-ranked Dutchmen (3-1-1) have Saturday’s contest at Messa Rink. Both game start at 7 p.m.
“It should be plenty of fuel,” RPI coach Seth Appert said. “Our guys have a lot of pride. We worked our tails off this summer trying to rectify some things that happened last year and, certainly, this team that we’re playing [this weekend] is one of those things. We need to be a team that plays with a chip on our shoulders all year long. That’s how we made the national tournament and the top-10 in the country two years ago, because we wanted to prove people wrong that said we couldn’t win when [Brandon] Pirri and [Jerry] D’Amigo left.
“This team needs to have that same bite and same edge to them. We should even have more of it this week, considering what happened last year.”
Union outscored RPI, 22-8, in the five games.
“We have a lot of guys back from last year, so they know what it’s like,” RPI senior captain CJ Lee said. “We lost those five games to them last year. We do have a chip on our shoulder, for sure. But every year is a new year. We’re a different team. They’re a different team. We need to impose our will against them and come out with our best game.”
The Dutchmen dominated the regular-season games, outscoring RPI, 15-4. The quarterfinal games were much closer. Union won Game 1, 3-2, then took a 2-0 lead in Game 2 before RPI rallied to tie it, 2-2. But 61 seconds after Matt Neal scored late in the second period, Kevin Sullivan gave the Dutchmen the lead. Sullivan scored another goal early in the third period, and the Dutchmen won, 4-2, to sweep the series and advance to the ECACH final four. The Dutchmen went on to win the tournament title.
“The playoffs were a tough series,” Union junior defenseman and team captain Mat Bodie said. “I don’t think their record [12-24-3] indicated what kind of team they were last year. They were a pretty good team that didn’t get the bounces, it seemed, for most of the year. We know they are going to be better this year, and [we] expect a good battle.”
The RPI team Union faced in the playoffs is the one that Dutchmen coach Rick Bennett believes his team will see this weekend.
“Just watching them on tape for two games, especially on an Olympic surface [at Minnesota State two weeks ago], which is, obviously, bigger, they were very aggressive in all facets of their game,” Bennett said. “They gave us everything we wanted, and more, last year. They looked like they gained some more skill and speed. They’re not afraid to use their shoulder pads, either. It’s going to be a physical contest, as well.”
The Dutchmen, who may not have injured defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere in the lineup, have dominated the series of late. In the 26 games the teams have played since the start of the 2004-05 season, the Dutchmen are 18-4-4. In the last 10 games played in Troy, Union is 8-1-1.
But those numbers don’t matter to Dutchmen junior goalie Troy Grosenick.
“No matter what, these games always seem to be exciting,” Grosenick said. “It’s a rivalry game, and everyone is juiced up for it. They gave us a good run at the end, too. They played two of their tougher games against us in the playoff run.
“We know that they’re a good team, and we know that they’re hungry. We just have to focus on sticking to our process, keeping it all in between the glass this week. That’s going to be really important [because] there’s going to be plenty of distractions.”