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RPI, Union Prepare for Showdowns

Jockeying for Playoff Positions Continues with Route 7 Series

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, February 3, 2006

SCHENECTADY - Union goaltender Kris Mayotte has two things on his mind this weekend: the RPI Engineers and the Seattle Seahawks.

How's that?

The two hockey games Mayotte and his Dutchmen teammates play against RPI rank among the most important of their season, but the Pittsburgh native could be excused if he is distracted by thoughts of his beloved Steelers playing Sunday in Super Bowl XL.

"There is a small football game going on this weekend," said Mayotte, attempting to deflect some of the focus from the home-and-home meetings between Union and RPI. The teams are even in the ECAC Hockey League standings, both at 5-6-3 with 13 points and tied for seventh place with eight games remaining. A sweep by either would be devastating to the other.

"This is what college hockey is all about," said the personable netminder with the infectious smile, one of 15 seniors on both teams who may be playing out the Route 7 rivalry for the final time. "It was nice to beat them (twice) last year - that's the first time since I've been here."

Several key members of the senior class at RPI may be watching these games from the stands, indicative of a rash of injuries that have plagued the Engineers and led to three consecutive defeats.

"It's tough, real tough," said RPI's leading scorer Kevin Croxton (11 goals, 30 points), who has missed four games with a foot injury and is no better than doubtful for either of these. Senior defensemen Brad Farynuk and Alexander Valentin won't play, nor will forwards Tyler Eaves and Kevin Broad.

"I haven't sat out many in my four years here," Croxton said. "Our league's so tight that every point's crucial. It doesn't matter who you're playing against; this one's just a little added incentive."

Mayotte, who has a team-record five shutouts this season, said he believes the Engineers will give the Dutchmen all they can handle with a home playoff berth (top-8 finish) and even a first-round playoff bye (top-4) still on the line for the heated rivals.

"They're still winning hockey games, even with a lot of players injured," said Mayotte, regarded by Union coach Nate Leaman as one of the league's best goalies. "We've got a couple of players out, too (seniors Scott Wheeler and A.J. Palkovich), but we know they're going to be up for us no matter who's on the ice. You can't look at it that way."

Union also has been struggling lately, a critical 2-1 win at Harvard last weekend its first victory in five games (1-3-1). But, as is so often stated in these scenarios, the records usually can be dismissed.

"It's huge," RPI coach Dan Fridgen said. "Considering that we have exact records in the league and four points are up for grabs, it doesn't take a genius to realize come the end of the season how valuable these points are."

During the careers of both Croxton and Mayotte, the series stands 5-2-1 in favor of the Engineers, including the 2002-03 playoffs when RPI upset the Dutchmen in two games on Union ice.