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Stakes Higher This Time for Union, RPI

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, October 26, 2006

From 1996 to 1999, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Union met three times each season.

The first game between the Capital Region schools was dubbed the Capital Skate Classic. Played at a neutral site, it was intended to give fans of both teams an extra chance to see them play.

However, the game didn't count in the ECACHL standings, and after attracting over 5,000 fans the first year, attendance steadily declined. After two years at Pepsi Arena followed by two more years at the Glens Falls Civic Center, the game was scrapped.

The Dutchmen and Engineers will meet tonight at 7 in a nonleague game at the Pepsi, but there is more at stake this time. The teams will be playing for a berth in the inaugural Governor's Cup final on Sunday against the winner of today's first semifinal at 4 p.m. between Colgate and Quinnipiac.

"Anytime you can play for a championship, you want to," Union coach Nate Leaman said. "That brings a lot to it."

Leaman's counterpart at RPI, new head coach Seth Appert, agrees.

"Anytime you're in a tournament, especially when you're in a big venue, a 15,000-seat venue where our ECAC championships are, is very symbolic for all of our teams this weekend of where we want to be back to in the months to come," Appert said. "Anytime you're in a tournament, it gives you an element of playing in an elimination game, which starts in your preparation for what it's like at the end of the season in those big games."

Even though the matchup won't count in the league standings, players on both sides are thrilled to get an early jump for bragging rights in the Capital Region.

"It's always nice to play them," Dutchmen captain Sean Streich said. "Those games are always exciting, always intense, physical and it's great to play your rival. It's good to see them before we get into league play."

Although RPI holds the all-time series lead, 41-13-7, Union has dominated the last two years, going 3-0-1 against the Engineers.

"It's a big rivalry," RPI goalie Mathias Lange said. "We definitely have to get back at them for the past couple of years. It doesn't matter if it's a non-conference game or if it's a league game, it's Union, and it's a big rivalry."

Appert, who spent the last nine years as an assistant coach at Denver University, is looking forward to the matchup with Union.

"I'm very excited, personally," Appert said. "And I know our staff and our players, we're all very excited for the players to renew the rivalry, and for our staff to get our first taste of the rivalry."

This is the first of three definite meetings between RPI and Union. The teams will play their ECACHL games Jan. 12-13. There are four other potential matchups. They could meet in the championship or consolation game of the Catamount Cup tournament at Vermont on Dec. 30, and there could be up to three games in the ECACHL tournament.

Appert wouldn't mind RPI and Union playing more regular-season games.

"In an ideal world, four games would be a real positive against Union in the regular season," Appert said. "You play the two league games, as long we continue the Governor's Cup, we're scheduled to play in the semifinals there and to have potentially one other game alternating at the home site year to year would be positive."

Both teams come into tonight's game off different results from last weekend. RPI split a two-game series at 11 th-ranked Denver. The Engineers (1-1-1) got great goaltending from Jordan Alford in last Friday's 2-1 win. He made 38 saves, and earned ECACHL goalie of the week.

"We found that Jordan Alford played very well," Appert said. "He's given us the opportunity to have two top-notch college goaltenders. Two is always better than one."

Union (2-1-1) was beaten, 5-0, by Northeastern last Saturday. Junior goalie Justin Mrazek was pulled from the game midway through the first period after allowing three goals on five shots. Freshman Rich Sillery replaced Mrazek and played well, stopping 22 shots. He allowed two late third-period goals.

"We never got a chance to execute out game plan because they jumped us quick," Leaman said. "We got behind, 3-0, early in that game. I thought some guys responded well in some areas. The bottom line is we let Northeastern skate too much."

GAME 1 MATCHUP

The Colgate-Quinnipiac game is a rematch of the ECACHL tournament quarterfinal series. Quinnipiac won the first game, but Colgate took the next two to advance to the semifinals.

The Raiders (3-2) are paced by senior forward Marc Fulton, who leads the team with five goals and two assists. Junior goalie Mark Dekanich, last season's Ken Dryden Award winner as the ECACHL's top netminder, has a 2.26 goalsagainst average and one shutout.

Sophomore forward David Marshall leads the Bobcats (2-2) with three goals and two assists.