Since 1996, the Times Union Center has hosted five non-league college hockey games between Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Union, and dressed them up as either the Capital Skates Classic, or as part of the Governor’s Cup tournament.
The fans didn’t seem to take to those events, but TU Center general manager Bob Belber, along with the Engineers and Dutchmen, believe they have found the right formula.
The ECAC Hockey and Capital Region rivals will meet in the inaugural Mayor’s Cup game on Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the TU Center.
A press conference was held Monday at the TU Center to announce the game, as well as show off the Mayor’s Cup trophy. The mayors of Schenectady (Gary McCarthy) and Troy (Lou Rosamilia) were there, along with Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, Albany County Executive Dan McCoy and Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino.
The five previous games were played early in the season. The Capital Skates Classic was played in November, while the Governor’s Cup was in October. The first Capital Skates Classic was on Nov. 16, 1996, and drew 5,660 fans. The following year’s game drew only 3,364 fans, The next two Capital Skates Classics were played at the Glens Falls Civic Center before that series ended in 1999. The Capital Skates trophy is still alive. It goes to the winner of the season series.
The three Governor’s Cup matchups between RPI and Union from 2006 to 2008 attracted less than 5,000 fans each year.
Belber thinks it will be different this time. He expects a crowd of at least 8,000 fans.
“Union and RPI is, obviously, a huge rivalry,” Belber said. “As you get into the second half of the year, when these teams match up, it becomes more and more important for their quest to get to the playoffs and into the ECAC [tournament]. I think more people want to come. Everybody’s thinking hockey now.”
Since the end of the Governor’s Cup, RPI and Union have continued to play the non-league matchup. The 2009-10 game was at Messa Rink, and the last two games were played at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid as part of a double-header with Clarkson and St. Lawrence.
Union coach Rick Bennett believes the game will succeed, and could join the ranks of the other annual Capital Region rivalry trophy games. The RPI and Union football teams battle for the Dutchman’s Shoes, while the UAlbany and Siena men’s and women’s basketball teams have their Mayor’s Cup games.
“The Governor’s Cup was more of a tournament format, where [the Mayor’s Cup] is a one-game matchup,” Bennett said. “It’s like Game 7 of the Stanley Cup. It’s kind of nice to put an emphasis on that. We haven’t played them in a while, so it rejuvenates the rivalry because the two games we played this season were sellouts in both places. I don’t care if it’s a street hockey game. There’s going to be tremendous competition, it’s going to be a great game and we’re looking forward to it.”
So are the players.
“It’s going to be a great event in a great building,” Dutchmen senior center Kyle Bodie said. “To have it local instead of going to Lake Placid to play, both schools will bring a lot of fans. Every time we play them in my four years since I’ve been here, it’s been the most intense games of the year. There will be no problem for either side getting up here.”
The two teams haven’t seen each other since the first weekend of November, when they opened the ECACH season. The Dutchmen won both games — 4-2 at Houston Field House and 7-3 at Messa Rink.
RPI will have extra motivation. The Engineers have lost the last seven meetings, including five games last year. And Union has won the last eight Capital Skates trophies.
“Going against Union, it’s a battle every single time,” said RPI senior defenseman Nick Bailen, whose overtime game-winning goal gave the Engineers their last victory over Union, 4-3, on Nov. 13, 2010. “Knowing they beat us the last few times, it’s going be real intense, real physical. It’s going to be a playoff game. It’s going to be real hostile.”
Union dropped from 16th to 17th in the USCHO.com/NCAA top-20 poll. . . .
Dutchmen defenseman Shawn Stuart, who was injured in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Quinnpiac, is expected to miss the weekend games against Cornell and Colgate. It will end his consecutive games played streak at 100. Stuart has played in 138 career games. He has missed just three games in his career, the last being Oct. 9, 2010 against Sacred Heart, the Dutchmen’s second game of his sophomore season. He was a healthy scratch for that game. . . .
RPI freshman goalie Jason Kasdorf practiced Monday. Kasdorf has been out of action since he injured his shoulder in the second period of the Engineers’ Dec. 28 game at St. Cloud State. Appert said that if all goes well, Kasdorf could be in uniform for Friday’s game against Colgate at Houston Field House.