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Brawl tarnishes Bennett's image

Brawl tarnishes Bennett's image

Union College would like this bad movie to just fade to black, but it won’t.

Union College would like this bad movie to just fade to black, but it won’t.

A power outage on campus left us in a dark lobby below Messa Rink, until the TV cameras turned on their lights to reveal hockey coach Rick Bennett in black warmup jacket, black slacks and black shoes against a black backdrop.

Of all the bad guys who participated in Saturday’s bench-clearing fight against RPI at the Times Union Center, Bennett was the baddest.

After what he called “a very long day” of soul-searching on Sunday, Bennett found out on Monday that ECAC Hockey will take no further action beyond the two-game suspension without pay the school hustled up on Sunday.

In the wake of the testosterone- and adrenaline-fueled brawl, the ECACH wimped out.

I don’t have a strong opinion about how much more the conference should’ve done, but two games wasn’t enough.

Besides giving RPI coach Seth Appert a hard shove at center ice, Bennett went on a rampage over at the RPI bench and at one point popped sophomore forward Milos Bubela in the head.

Fights were flaring up all over the ice, but Bennett’s meltdown became the main event, and warranted more than two games. He was unhinged.

The third-year coach was suitably and genuinely contrite not only immediately after the game, but at the press conference on Monday, except for the slightest hint of defiance when asked if he felt fortunate that the league didn’t do more.

“No. No, I don’t,” Bennett said.

“I respect their punishment, their decision. It’s well documented that the league has handed out suspensions before in the manner they’re supposed to, and I thought they did this time.”

Bennett can still conduct practice, but won’t travel with the team to Potsdam this weekend for games against St. Lawrence and Clarkson.

He had words with Appert before shoving him on Saturday, but neither would say what sparked the scene at the RPI bench, which was a mishmash of players, coaches and referees yelling at each other, trying to throw punches and shoves while also restraining each other.

One of the YouTube videos had over 80,000 hits as of Monday afternoon, Ken Schott’s blog showed up on the Huffington Post website and audio from the clips reveals that any belief that these two schools have moved beyond a nasty, long-standing rivalry is misinformed.

Union captain Mat Bodie, who started the whole thing by cross-checking Brock Higgs at the end of the Engineers’ 2-1 Mayor’s Cup win, said the incident might make good comedy fodder for some, but shouldn’t tarnish the reputation of the school.

“I don’t think it’s unfair,” he said of the attention. “It’s something you don’t see every day, so that’s why people are paying attention to it. I think people were almost entertained by the whole thing. But that’s not how we want to bring attention on us.”

Bodie is one of four players who were suspended by the ECAC on Monday, in his case a game added to the one he was already getting for the fighting disqualification on Saturday.

Union’s Daniel Ciampini got a game, as did RPI’s Luke Curadi and Mike Zalewski.

Union’s Eli Lichtenwald and RPI’s Ryan Haggerty and Bo Dolan get one each for fighting DQ’s.

Appert wasn’t penalized.

“I put the team in a bad spot,” Bodie said. “I apologize to the whole school for bringing this whole situation on. We’ll just move forward. He [Higgs] was coming at me, and I guess emotions got the best of me.”

Bennett and Appert haven’t spoken to each other yet, but Bennett said they will and then move on.

Before he got into coaching, Bennett was a minor-league journeyman who had a couple cups of coffee with the New York Rangers in the early 1990s.

In 351 AHL games, including four with the Albany River Rats in 1996-97, he was known as someone not to be trifled with, scoring 76 goals with 105 assists and 628 penalty minutes.

On Saturday, he looked more like a player who wanted to fight anybody he could get his hands on than the man responsible for leading a group of college kids. He chalked it up to being a passionate person in a passionate game.

“They didn’t deserve that from me,” he said. “As much as I respect their support, they’ve been great, but by the same token, I have to be better than that.

“Sunday was a very long day. I wish I could’ve reached out to every person that I’ve been involved with here at Union College, or my past, just to explain that it’s not me. It’s not who I am. I don’t want to be known as a tough guy; I want to be known as a team guy.”

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