It was all fun and games.
Then it was just embarrassing.
A perfect storm of tension and emotion at the end of RPI’s 2-1 win over Union on Saturday exploded into an all-out brawl between the teams, punctuated by an incensed Union coach Rick Bennett having to be restrained by several people on the ice while he tried to bull his way to the RPI bench, screaming, taking swings and pointing his finger in the direction of his RPI counterpart, Seth Appert.
While scattered fights among the players were popping up like sunspots all over the ice, Bennett went Colonel Jessup and looked like he was prepared to rip some eyeballs out.
I was prepared to write about how he and Appert are a few good men for coming up with the idea to play an annual non-conference game at the Times Union Center.
To see a video of the end-of-game brawls, click here
I’m not changing that stance, no way, because, for the second year in a row, the Mayor’s Cup drew a terrific, boisterous crowd, and the teams played a close game with the hard edge of crosstown rivals.
And with one wild swoop of animosity, the young series that is missing the sort of tradition enjoyed by college sports rivalries like the Beanpot and the Big 5 suddenly took a quantum leap in that department.
I’m not advocating that each Mayor’s Cup look like an outtake from “Slap Shot.”
Next year’s pre-game photo op promotion is going to be a little more interesting than this year’s was, though. The Mayor’s Cup has some history now.
A half-hour before Saturday’s game, Bennett and Appert were in the tunnel area next to the Pearl Street lobby, shaking hands, shoulder-to-shoulder with boosters, grinning and promoting their programs in nice VIP enclosures with food and drink and big school banners.
A few hours later, Bennett was in a rage in front of 7,000 people.
It was reminiscent of Patrick Roy and Bruce Boudreau going at it in the Colorado Avalanche-Anaheim Ducks game this season.
As wild as the scene was on the ice, both sides were deeply apologetic afterward.
Bennet went first:
“I’m embarrassed about my actions, and I apologize to our school president, our athletic director, our fans, the Garnet Blades members, their fans, coaching staff their players. That’s not how we want to be represented.”
“These are two heated rivals. We have a tremendous amount of respect for Union, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for Rick Bennett and their staff.
Sometimes, things boil over, but that’s not how we want to be portrayed at all and I know they don’t, either. That’s not what either team is about. It’s good, hard hockey, and sometimes, that happens, but that’s certainly not what we want to be about, and I know they don’t, either.”
Bennett said “No comment” when asked why he was so mad, but it stands to reason that he didn’t like the fact that the entire RPI bench was on the ice — celebrating the win — while five fights were going on all over the ice.
These teams at either end of Route 7 have played each other for years and have made sporadic attempts to play neutral-ice non-conference games.
It’s a great idea, but even if this series doesn’t have a lot of history, the schools do.
“We’ll see each other and talk,” Appert said. “This isn’t just fluff for the cameras. We have a good relationship and a lot of respect. And I respect how tough he is. I would’ve loved to have been a teammate of his.”