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Contrast in offense underscores Union-RPI

Contrast in offense underscores Union-RPI

Dutchmen need to find some scoring heading into Capital Skates weekend
Contrast in offense underscores Union-RPI
Union’s Sean Harrison battles for the puck against RPI in last year's game at Messa Rink.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY -- The last game between these teams is proof that you don't have to actually score a goal to win a game.

That could come as some comfort to the current Union men's hockey team.

The Dutchmen show a glaring deficiency in that department, which isn't ideal under any circumstances, but especially heading into a weekend against a team that has been a pleasant surprise in pretty much every offensive department.

RPI brings a 2-2 record and a solid scoring attack into the ECAC Hockey opener against Union (0-6-0), starting at 7 Friday night at Messa Rink and continuing at 7 Saturday at RPI's Houston Field House.
 

The Engineers swept this series last season to bring the Capital Skates Trophy to Troy, but the Dutchmen got a measure of payback in January in a strange way -- a 0-0 tie in the Mayor's Cup that Union went on to win in a shootout.

The way things have been going for Union, a zero is more likely than a big number on the scoreboard, but the Capital Skates series tends to bring out the best in both teams for the simple fact that it's a fierce geographical rivalry with much at stake -- a trophy, bragging rights ... and important ECACH standings points.

"I think they lost a lot of their top guys from last year, from what I've seen, so it's going to take them a little bit to get going, but we know we're going to see their best on Friday," RPI captain Will Reilly said.

"You can expect an absolute battle every year," Union senior wing Anthony Rinaldi said. "When we've played them, it's a war zone. Both teams come out to play. They're really fun games to get up for. I know they have the Capital Skates right now, and we're looking forward to getting it back."

"It should be a hard-fought game with a lot of intensity and physical play," Union junior defenseman Brandon Estes said.

 

Whether that translates to a scoring outburst from Union is another story.

In six games, the Dutchmen have managed just eight goals, and only six players have scored. Sam Morton and Sean Harrison have two goals each, and Rinaldi is tops in points, with three.

That's in part a byproduct of the Dutchmen's inability to simply get the puck on net.

They've been outshot 211-107, including a 21-2 disparity in the second period against Boston University that was topped by a 22-2 advantage for No. 4-ranked UMass in the third period of last Friday's 6-1 loss in Amerst, Massachusetts.

"I think we realize that our hiccups are ending up in the back of our net," Union head coach Rick Bennett said. "And they're really careless hiccups that need to be addressed, because as we're finding now, it's tough to replace those hiccups with goals at this time. And that's where we're at.

"I don't want to sit here and say it's non-existent. We had some chances. I think we had more chances against UMass-Amherst than we had against Northeastern. We just didn't put it in the net. So, to me, that's a good sign. This year has just been a little bizarre early. It's crazier than any season since I've been here or my time at Providence. Even when I was playing."

RPI, meanwhile, hasn't had any trouble scoring, and has gotten it from a variety of sources not restricted to the front lines. In the Department of Why Not, even sophomore goalie Owen Savory has an assist.

Patrick Polino has three goals  and three assists in four games; Chase Zieky, a transfer from Providence who was only eligible for the second half of last season, is at 2-2-4; and the Engineers have two defensemen, Reilly and freshman Simon Kjellberg, a New York Rangers draft pick, with four points each.

It's early, but RPI is ranked No. 2 in Division I in power play efficiency, at 40% (6-for-15).

"Yeah, I'm really happy with almost all of our statistical categories, except the team defense," RPI head coach Dave Smith said. "We've given up more 5-on-5 goals than we would've liked. I think our penalty kill, the numbers are excellent, the power play, the goals-for ... those things are sometimes like a rollercoaster, but right now we're on a real good high on those."

"That stands out, offensive production," Bennett said. "You have a goaltender in there that, from what all the coaches say, is one of the top two goaltenders in our league, with the preseason jazz and all that fun stuff.

"I think their D corps is very good. Will Reilly, he's a tremendous defenseman. He can play any kind of game you want, and they've added some nice offensive D back there as well. And depth at forward. I couldn't believe where they picked them [in the ECAH preseason coaches poll], to be quite honest."

RPI was picked tied for ninth with Princeton in the 12-team ECACH, with Union eighth.

Although Savory was selected as a Rookie of the Year finalist last season, the goalie job hasn't exclusively been his this season.

He and junior Linden Marshall have split time, each with a win and a loss, so there's no guarantee Savory will be in net both nights, unlike at Union, where junior co-captain Darion Hanson is firmly rooted in that position.

It was Savory and Hanson who dueled to the 0-0 tie in the Mayor's Cup last season.

"Owen Savory played out of his mind that game," Hanson said. "Kind of looking back at that, for us to still win a game and a trophy like that when the goalie plays that well is pretty crazy."

So the teams -- one trying to maintain momentum, the other trying to scrape out a win in any kind of way -- face off in another highly anticipated duel.

"I take away more from how coach Bennett has his guys playing hard than I do their oh-and-6 record," Smith said.

"It's [Messa] a little bit smaller than our rink, but they pack it, and for our game, especially, all three years I've been here, it's been rocking, so I expect the same," Reilly said.

"I'm not sure if they [Union's 12 freshmen] have any appreciation for it, but we're going to tell them," Hanson said. "It matters, it really does, and they need to understand that if they want to compete this weekend.

"It's such a heated rivalry, and every game's a dogfight. So we're going to tell them, for sure, that this isn't a normal weekend. Hopefully that resonates with them and they bring that intensity."

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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