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Rivals: ECAC Tuneup

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, October 30, 2009

The schedule says tonight's Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute-Union men's college hockey game is a non-league contest.

But that doesn't matter to either team.

"We could play RPI in chess, and it would be big for us," Union coach Nate Leaman said. "It's something that, obviously, we're looking forward to. I think it's going to be a great environment. I think it's going to be a great game. There's going to be a lot of emotion in the game. This is ultimately what we want to get geared up for the ECAC play."

The Dutchmen (3-2-1) and Engineers (3-2-1) meet tonight at 7 at Messa Rink. It's the first of at least three meetings during the regular season. The teams will face off in ECAC Hockey play Dec. 9 at RPI and Jan. 16 at Union. They could also meet again in the Rensselaer Holiday Tournament Nov. 28.

"It's a fun game," RPI coach Seth Appert said. "Anytime you play each other, it's fun. The kids enjoy it. ... I'm sure, on the Internet, the fans are going back and forth, which is great. It feeds the passion for college hockey in this area."

Appert believes tonight's game will feel like an ECACH game, as will RPI's home game against Army at 7 p.m. Saturday.

"What I'm excited about for this weekend in both games [is] that both teams play hard," Appert said. "Union and Army are tough teams to play, and it's going to very well prepare us for what our league is going to face us with. Our league is going to be so competitive this year, and every game is going to be such a battle that this is going to be a good tuneup for what league play is going to provide."

While RPI leads the series, 43-19-9, including 27-16-8 since Union became a Division I program in 1991, the Dutchmen recently have been in control of the series. They are 4-0-1 in the last five games, and are 9-2-3 in the last 14 contests. The Dutchmen have won the last two Capital Skates Trophies, which goes to the winner of the two league games.

That is more than enough to motivate the Engineers.

"They're our crosstown rival," RPI senior defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer said. "They've had our number the past couple of years statistically. We're looking to retake that."

And the Dutchmen are ready.

"I'm sure they want to get back at us for my first two years here, so they're going to come out hard," Dutchmen junior forward Adam Presizniuk said. "They're on the road, too. We have to definitely come out hard. Almost every game this year, we've come out a little slow, and let teams get out on top of us. We have to start coming out better."

As with any rivalry game, emotions will be high. That could lead to undisciplined penalties. Last Saturday, RPI didn't take a penalty against American International in its 3-2 victory.

"Certainly, we made improvements in our discipline on Saturday night," Appert said. "Not taking any penalties was a great step forward in that area, and we need to continue with that."

On the other hand, Union allowed three power-play goals on five attempts in its 6-5 overtime loss to Sacred Heart. The game-winner, scored by Nick Johnson, came with Union's Wayne Simpson in the penalty box for high-sticking.

"You have to stay disciplined to stay out of the box," said Dutchmen captain Mike Wakita, who received a game misconduct for a major hitting-from-behind penalty in the first period against Sacred Heart. "It's hard to win games when you're playing a man down. We're going to have to be ready, and moving our feet."

Leaman understands that penalties will happen. He just wants to cut down on the untimely ones.

"It's the timing of the penalties that is killing us," Leaman said. It's not a complete lack of discipline. It's the timing in the games. It's going to be smart that we don't get too emotional, we stay focused and we're disciplined."

NOTEBOOK

Union is off on Saturday. Both teams open ECACH play next Friday. ...

Dutchmen freshman defenseman Ryan Forgaard will miss the game after suffering a freakish concussion in the third period against Sacred Heart. He was sitting on the bench when a Sacred Heart player was checked into the Union bench, and the force of the check hit Forgaard in the head. He was expected to practice Thursday. ...

RPI junior forward Tyler Helfrich remains doubtful because of the ankle injury he suffered against AIC.