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Going Eye-to-eye with Nearby Giant

Improving Union Chases First Win at RPI Since '98

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, December 7, 2002

TROY - RPI and Union College have a hockey tradition that goes back nearly 100 years - most of them dominated by the Engineers - but the Dutchmen finally appear to be capable of looking their once-feared foes directly in the eye.

RPI is 36-10-5 against Union heading into tonight's ECAC game at Houston Field House, but the Dutchmen are 2-0-2 in the rivalry over the past two seasons.

"Right now they're certainly in a much better position than we are," said RPI coach Dan Fridgen, who is 12-6-4 against the school where he once served as an assistant coach. "Looking at it from a statistical perspective, it appears they've matured a little earlier than we have at this point."

Union enters the first of two meetings with the Engineers this season with a 6-5-3 overall record to RPI's 6-8-1 mark, but the difference has been in league play. Union is in sixth place at 3-2-1, while the Engineers are in 10th at 1-4-1.

"I'd be lying to you if I said there isn't a little bit of extra emotion," said Kevin Sneddon, who is 3-3-2 against RPI since becoming Union's head coach. "As a coaching staff we've been downplaying it. I think it's dangerous to go into a game strictly relying on high emotion."

RPI hasn't won an ECAC game in its past four starts, managing only a 1-1 tie at Brown.

"This is a turnaround game for us," said RPI assistant captain Scott Basiuk. "Union's been playing well. They've had a good start this year. On the other hand, we haven't played that well in league play."

Sneddon's team appears to have turned the competitive corner in his fifth season at Union.

"I think our guys feel good about the way our team's performing right now," he said. "We've been able to rely on several lines. We still have a long way to go. RPI traditionally has been a powerhouse in the ECAC, and we're still an up-and-coming program."

RPI has struggled offensively this season after losing All-Americans Matt Murley and Marc Cavosie, but the Engineers haven't lost a game to Union at Houston Field House since 1998.

"First of all, there's no secrets between the teams," Fridgen said. "You know each other's game and each other's players, and again it's whoever is making the least amount of mistakes that night and who's hungrier. Really, we're at a point where we're concentrating less on our opposition."

This is a less physical and more skilled Union than the Engineers are used to.

"They're very fast, from what I've heard and coach has been telling us," Basiuk said. "We've got to move our feet and just hit 'em. You've got to pin 'em along the boards so they can't get away from you."

The Engineers have to play strong defense because their offense has produced only 10 goals in six ECAC games.

"Our execution is very sporadic at this point and we really haven't done a good job (scoring)," Fridgen said. "Right now our offense is youth, and that's going to take time and experience to develop."

Both teams know the records don't mean much when they face each other.

"It's always been a war between us and we don't look for anything different here," said Union assistant captain Jason Kean. "Typically, between Union and RPI, it doesn't really matter who's to be the favorite by the media or whoever. It's always close and it's really fun to play."

And whether the players admit it or not, these two meetings are the focal points of the season for most of them.

"With both teams I don't think it's been any secret that they are the most motivated for this game each and every year," Fridgen said. "What we need to do is bring our energy level up. Against a team like Union, they're gonna continue on and never say die. I think it's always a great game for the area."