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Union, RPI Hoping to Make Playoff Run

Dutchmen Yet to Advance; RPI Out to Avoid Penalties

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, March 3, 2006

SCHENECTADY - This could be a history-making weekend for Union hockey if the Dutchmen dispose of Yale in the first round of the ECACHL playoffs.

In 15 years in Division I, Union has yet to make it past the first round. This season, by finishing tied for sixth with RPI (but earning the sixth seed on a tiebreaker), Union may have its best opportunity to do so.

"I think the key word is opportunity," said coach Nate Leaman, whose team has squandered home ice three consecutive seasons. "The guys have put themselves in position this year. Every time they've faced adversity, they've responded really well, and because of that, they're getting a great opportunity to do something no Union team has ever done."

Union lost to RPI after finishing sixth in 2002-03, then was eliminated by Clarkson the past two seasons - including an unforgettable three-game series last season in Schenectady.

"We have to build on our experience from last year when we played three overtime games in the playoffs," said Leaman. "You're talking about the sixth-place team playing the 11th-place team ... and we split the season series. Everyone knows all these games are going to be close."

Union had been terrific at home before losing a pair of low-scoring games last weekend to Cornell and Colgate, only its second and third home defeats this season.

"Last weekend I thought we played very well," Leaman said. "We didn't finish real well, but we competed very hard. System-wise we were a little sloppy and need to clean that up a little. As far as controlling the play and outshooting our opponents, I thought we did both. It's just a matter of putting it all together for this weekend. I think one of the most impressive stats of our team is we're 7-3 in one-goal games."

RPI coach Dan Fridgen knows he needs to win this weekend and then on the road to make it to Pepsi Arena for the semifinals for the first time since the tournament moved here from Lake Placid. The Engineers beat Quinnipiac in Troy 4-2, but were tied on the road 4-4.

"Any time they've really had offense against us, it's been on the power play (5-for-18)," Fridgen said. "The simple solution to that is stay out of the box and play a disciplined hockey game. No question they're a very dangerous team. The fact that this is their first year in the ECAC playoffs, they're going to be looking to prove a point."

"That's definitely going to be the key to our success this weekend -- staying out of the penalty box, staying disciplined and making sure we're winning all the 1-on-1 battles defensively," said defenseman Keith MCWilliams, who has been one of the team's best players since a rash of injuries plagued RPI earlier this season. "Anyone in our league has an opportunity to win any given game, so we knew whoever our opponent was we were going to have a tough series on our hands."

Notes: F Tyler Eaves returned for RPI last weekend, but F Kevin Broad remains out. ... Freshmen Lane Caffaro and T.J. Fox are finished for the season at Union after losing an appeal of their Feb. 10 suspensions for undisclosed disciplinary reasons by the college.