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Playoff Home Ice Still Realistic Goal for Union, RPI

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, February 6, 2009

There is more at stake this weekend in the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute-Union college hockey rivalry than just Capital Region bragging rights and a trophy to display for winning the series.

One look at the ECAC Hockey standings will tell you just how important the games tonight at Houston Field House and Saturday at Messa Rink are for the two teams, who each have eight games remaining in the regular season.

The Dutchmen and Engineers are both 5-8-1, and are tied for ninth place. They are one point behind Clarkson for eighth place and the final home-ice berth for the first round of the ECACH tournament, three points behind the teams tied for sixth - Harvard and St. Lawrence - and five points in back of fifth-place Quinnipiac. Both teams have an outside shot at a first-round bye, but are seven points behind Dartmouth and Princeton, who are tied for third.

"The rivalry is good for the fans, and good for the media," Union defenseman Brendan Milnamow said. "For us, every game is important. Obviously, we're tied with RPI. Whoever has the better weekend is going to put a dagger in the other team."

The winner of the series gets the Capital Skates trophy, which Union won last season. If the teams split the two games, Union retains the trophy by virtue of its shootout win over RPI in the Governor's Cup Oct. 24.

But none of that matters to Engineers senior forward Kurt Colling. It's all about the standings.

"It takes one look at the standings to see we are neck and neck with them," Colling said. "This is the biggest two games against Union I've ever played."

Union coach Nate Leaman agrees.

"This weekend's not about bragging rights. It's not about the trophy," Leaman said. "It's completely about moving up in the standings. I think it's similar for them. With us, we feel like we need to move up in the standings. The only way to do that is to get points and, right now, they're standing in our way."

For RPI coach Seth Appert, beating Union is still important, no matter where each team is in the standings.

"Anytime you play your big rival, the team that's 15 to 20 minutes away from you, the team that finished higher in the standings last year and is predicted to finish higher in the standings than us this year, it's big," Appert said. "You ask any person that went to these schools and played for these programs, or any other sports program here, you say RPI-Union, it's important, and it's very important. It's important to our school, and it's important to our young men."

"We're excited to play our rival. We're excited to play two energetic, fun atmosphere games in both rinks. The standings, they are what they are. But that's not of major significance when you're playing a rival like this. That's secondary."

The Dutchmen (12-12-2 overall) have dominated the last eight league games against the Engineers (6-18-2), going 6-1-1. RPI's last ECACH win over Union was a 3-2 decision at Messa Jan. 13, 2007.

Union swept last year's series. The Dutchmen took a 2-1 decision Jan. 19 at Messa, and a 4-1 victory at Houston Field House the next night.

The Dutchmen are 3-0-1 in their last four trips to RPI. The last time they lost there was Jan. 9, 2004, a 5-1 RPI win. The next night, the Engineers took a 3-1 victory, making it the last time they had swept Union.

"We take these games very seriously, as I'm sure they do," Union co-captain Matt Cook said. "It's a huge rivalry. These two teams don't like each other at all. It kind of brings the best out in us because of the intensity and the rivalry."

Appert isn't worried about what RPI has done against Union over the last four years.

"It has no significance on Friday's game," Appert said. If you start being consumed with what's happened in the past, then you forget about the things you need to do to make yourself successful in the present."