Rivalries always bring out the emotions in players, especially those whose teams are separated by a few miles.
Keeping those emotions in check is a key in being successful. If players don’t get too hyped up, their chances of winning are good. Cross the emotional line, and it could be costly.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coach Seth Appert knows his team didn’t do a good job of controlling its emotions in two of its three meetings with Union last season. With the two teams set to renew acquaintances this weekend for their pair of ECAC Hockey games, Appert wants his team to be emotional, but not overly emotional.
The Dutchmen (3-1 ECACH, 4-3-2 overall) host tonight’s contest at 7:30 at Messa Rink. The 10th-ranked Engineers (2-1-2, 6-2-2) host Saturday’s rematch at 7 p.m. at Houston Field House.
After losing last season’s first game between the two teams, 4-2, at the field house, the Engineers were down, 2-1, early in the second period of Game 2 when RPI defenseman Luke Curadi was given a five-minute major and a game disqualification for contact to the head of Union defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere. The Dutchmen scored three times on the major power play. When the second period was done, Union had scored six times en route to a 7-3 win.
Later in the game, RPI captain CJ Lee received a five-minute major and game misconduct for hitting from behind.
“Early last year, we learned a good lesson,” Appert said. “There’s a fine line when you play a rivalry game, and this is a great rivalry. It’s really cool to get to be a part of it for our student-athletes and for theirs to play in these environments in sold-out buildings and the energy and the animosity between both fan bases and teams.
“When you play in those types of charged games, you have to play with a certain level of emotion, but you can’t play emotional. I thought last year, we played real good at home, but we played emotional. We took some penalties we didn’t need to take. Then we played over-emotional in their building, and that was my fault. I hadn’t gotten the guys to understand yet on how to play with passion and emotion without be emotional.”
Dutchmen senior left winger Cole Ikkala knows there will be plenty of emotion this weekend. The Dutchmen did a good job of keeping an even-keel in last year’s games.
“Going into it, it’s up to our leads and the coaches to keep that emotion down and focus on our game plan and treat it like another game,” Ikkala said.
Union would love to get RPI off its game again and take advantage of the power-play opportunities. In the Dutchmen’s three wins against the Engineers last season, they were 7-for-17 on the power play. Matt Wilkins scored the last power-play goal in the final minute of last year’s Mayor’s Cup game, a 3-2 win for Union at the Times Union Center.
“Their power play has been effective on us in the past couple of years,” RPI senior left winger and team captain Matt Tinordi said. “We want to make sure we give them as few as possible, and then when they get on the power play, make sure we’re killing them.”
Union has dominated the rivalry the past few seasons, winning the last eight games. RPI’s last win was a 4-3 overtime decision Nov. 13, 2010, at the Field House.
The Dutchmen have won six straight over the Engineers at Messa. The last victory for RPI at Messa was Oct. 30, 2009, a 4-3 win in OT.
“We’re going to have to battle really hard,” Dutchmen senior defenseman and team captain Mat Bodie said. “Anytime you’re playing a rival like RPI, both teams are up for the game, both teams are excited for the game. For us, it’s taking care of the D-zone and making sure we limit our turnovers.”
For the first time in a while, Union isn’t the nationally ranked team coming into the game. Appert believes that the Dutchmen will return to the polls soon.
“I look at them as a top-15 team in the country,” Appert said.
Union coach Rick Bennett believes RPI is the favorite this weekend.
“They’re ranked 10th in the country for a reason,” Bennett said. “They deserve to be ranked 10th in the country. They’re well-coached. They always have been in my time at Union. I don’t see anything different.”
But Bennett wouldn’t say why Union has had the upper hand over RPI. He’ll just keep his emotions in check.
“If I gave you the answer, I think they’re staff would really like that,” Bennett said.