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Rivalry Is a Frozen Treat

Even in Down Years, RPI-Union Is Something to Look Forward To

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, January 10, 2003

TROY - Dan Fridgen has a unique perspective in the modern version of the RPI-Union College hockey rivalry, having coached at both local Division I schools.

Fridgen, RPI's head coach since 1994, spent four seasons as an assistant at Union in the 1980s before the Dutchmen upgraded to Division I and the ECAC, leaving behind some often-lopsided losses to the Engineers.

"Having been at Union myself and been on the other side of the coin, there were also some real close games and some games won in overtime," Fridgen said. "That's when Union was still a Division III program, but I think it's always been a real competitive game."

It wasn't very competitive shortly after the Dutchmen went to Division I in 1991-92 - RPI won the first six meetings under Fridgen's former boss, Buddy Powers. The overall series record since Union joined the ECAC stands at 20-7-4 in favor of the Engineers.

"At the time RPI had had a lot of success in the mid- to late '80s," Fridgen recalled. "You could use that as a measuring stick as to where you were, and sometimes RPI didn't prepare the way they should have, and we (Union) were hungry. Again, it was always a real good test, and I know the players always looked forward to it."

The wind had shifted in Union's favor the past couple of years (2-0-2) before RPI's 4-2 victory in Troy on Dec. 7. Still, Fridgen knows as well as anybody what to expect tonight when the teams meet again at Achilles Rink, where the Dutchmen have won the past two against RPI.

"The crowd's always into it," he said. "You're two hockey teams within a specific area and there's a lot of history. There's been so many memorable games."

Last year's was one of them, when Union rallied from a 3-1 deficit for a 5-4 victory.

Barring a matchup in the playoffs at the end of the season, this will be the final meeting between four seniors at RPI and five at Union. Two of the rivals have a special connection.

"I've got my buddy on the (Union) team," said RPI forward Nolan Graham, who is from the same hometown (Nanaimo, British Columbia) as Dutchmen defenseman Jason Kean. "This will probably be the last time we play against each other. It was good to get a win against them at Christmastime and going back home for Christmas."

Returning after Christmas wasn't so pleasant for Graham and the Engineers, who lost both games in their own holiday tournament. But last weekend they played Minnesota-Duluth much tougher in a split that was nearly a sweep.

Graham had five points in a 5-2 victory, then the Engineers (8-12-1, 2-4-1 ECAC) dropped a 3-2 decision in which they had a goal disallowed. Veterans Danny Eberly, Ryan Shields and Carson Butterwick all missed that game, but are expected back tonight.

"We capitalized on Friday, which we've been lacking a lot of the year," said Butterwick, who has struggled offensively but has been a physical force with his forechecking. "Hopefully we can capitalize on our opportunities against (Union) like we did last Friday against Duluth."

The intensity of the rivalry isn't lost on Butterwick and his teammates, even though Union (7-10-3, 3-4-1) is tied for sixth place and RPI is tied for eighth in the 12-team ECAC.

"You're only driving down the street, and everyone goes from being a big fan of yours to not being so much your fans," Butterwick said of the short bus ride to Schenectady. "It's a smaller rink and people are going nuts. We've got some fans there, too, so it's a great atmosphere. People erupt when either team scores."

It's an important game in the standings, but it's also more personal for most of the players.

"It'd be nice to get a win to finish off my senior year," Butterwick said. "I think that would put me almost at .500 against them."

The Dutchmen, who have lost four straight, are just looking for some way to stop the bleeding.

"We're just hungry no matter who we play right now," Union coach Kevin Sneddon said. "We've shown signs of improvement. I think our guys are just hungry to get something to show for it."