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Still Rivals?

By Ed Weaver

Troy Record, January 11, 2007

Do Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey players consider Union College a chief rival?

Oh, they say they do, outside their locker room.

On the ice, though, lately, some RPI fans are wondering.

The Engineers haven't beaten the Dutchmen in the last six meetings (0-4-2) and their 5-1 loss to Union in the consolation game of the Vermont Catamount Cup tournament, in the words of RPI captain Kirk MacDonald, "was a stinker."

No doubt, it was. That's not the main point, however.

What fans of both teams have noticed is that the Dutchmen come out to meet the Engineers with a super-high intensity level. It's well into the game before Rensselaer matches that level.

How can a team come out and play so poorly, from minute one to 60, against a team that's supposed to be a chief rival, located just 16 miles away?

The two teams, bringing up the rear in the ECAC Hockey League, clash in their two league games this weekend, Friday night at Houston Field House, Saturday night at Messa Rink.

The Engineers played well in their 3-3 tie with Union in the Governor's Cup tournament in October, and beat them in a Shootout for a right to advance to the event's championship game but again, Union came out more intense in that game than did RPI.

Last season, Union beat the Engineers 3-2 at Messa Rink pretty much because they wanted it more. One would think that, the next night, at RPI's Houston Field House, the Engineers would come out ferociously.

Nope. Didn't happen. They were somewhat flat early and were held to a 1-1 tie, despite eventually outplaying the Dutchmen.

MacDonald admits that the six-game winless streak against the Dutchmen is annoying.

"Yeah, it is," he said. "We want to beat them pretty bad. We don't like those guys."

MacDonald suggested that sometimes, perhaps because Union hockey players are not awarded scholarships, "people don't think they're very good."

"They have a great hockey team," he said. "They have a lot of skilled players over there and if we don't come to play, they're going to win again."

When asked which team is the Engineers' biggest rival, Rensselaer sophomore winger Kurt Colling said, "ahhh, you want to say Union."

Well, you, just say which team you believe is so.

"Yeah, I think so too," Colling replied when this reporter referred to Clarkson's logo nearby. "But when it comes to an area rival, it's Union. We've kind of reaffirmed this year that it's Union."

Wonder if that was early in the season, when the teams met and tied, or sometime after the blowout in Burlington.

Rensselaer assistant captain Kevin Broad says that before games with the Dutchmen, the Engineers "are fired up. We're ready to play Union. We don't like Union and they don't like us."

What happens after that? Why do the Dutchmen bring that intensity, that fierce anxiety to battle a rival, to the ice much better than the Engineers?

"I can't put my finger on it, but that seems to be why they've had the upper hand," said junior forward Jake Morissette, RPI's leading goal-scorer.

"I guess after this weekend we can comment on that, depending on how the games go," said Broad.

Much as Colling did, junior left winger Jonathan Ornelas hesitated a bit and said, "ahh, you bet" when asked if Union is still a big rival for the Engineers.

"That's the team I'd like to beat," said junior forward Dan Peace, who said that maybe Union's the biggest rival "right now because we play them so much this year."

"We haven't beaten them yet, I want to and I'm excited to play them," Peace said.

Last season, Union winger Josh Coyle said, "RPI will always be a big rival to us. That's the team we want to beat most."

Morissette said he considers Union "our biggest rival, absolutely."

More so than Clarkson?

"I think so, yeah."

The Engineers had better play this weekend as if the Dutchmen are a major rival. If they don't, their losing streak could reach six games.

Morissette's PK inspiring: Even though he hasn't scored a goal in six games, Jake Morissette is RPI's leading goal-scorer.

One of the bright spots of last weekend's dismal pair of losses was Morissette's outstanding shot blocking.

On two different Dartmouth 5-on-3 power plays, the 5-foot-9 junior forward repeatedly threw his body in front of Dartmouth passes and shots. He was outstanding - and it should be an inspiration to his teammates as they try to end their slump this weekend.

Stupid rule: Would another 5-on-3 Rensselaer power play for 1:39 during the second period of the Engineers' 5-1 loss to Harvard have turned the game around; the score was 3-0 Harvard at the time?

Absolutely not; RPI simply didn't play well enough to get back into that game.

Referee Mark Riley's decision to whistle RPI's Jake Luthi for a 'diving' penalty was disturbing nonetheless.

Luthi was clearly held by Harvard's Tyler Magura with 4:34 remaining in the period, as called by Riley, but when Luthi went down, Riley made the unsportsmanlike conduct call for diving.

It's time for organized hockey to do away with this asinine rule.

How could Riley be totally sure Luthi didn't simply lose his balance when he was trying to pull away from Magura's hold?

When a player on a semi-breakaway is being hooked from behind, and impeded enough for a penalty to be called, how can any referee be sure that the offended player is embellishing that impediment if he falls to the ice while trying to extricate himself from the hook?

If a player is impeded, call the penalty.

These 'diving' calls - too frequent in college, rarely called in the pros - should be eliminated. It's among the worst rules in all of organized sport.

Referees and other sports officials have too many tough judgment calls to make in various sports. Judging whether or not a player is being impeded enough to warrant a penalty, but not enough to lose his footing, should not be among those judgments.

The 'diving' rule should become a thing of the past.