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Dutchmen, Engineers Host Nationally Ranked Teams

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, November 21, 2003

It's more than just another non-league weekend for the Union and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute hockey teams.

The two Eastern College Athletic Conference schools look to defend the honor of their league when they play the top two teams in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

The Dutchmen play Minnesota-Duluth for two games at Frank L. Messa Rink at Achilles Center tonight and Saturday at 7. At the same time, the Engineers will face St. Cloud State at Houston Field House for a pair of games.

RPI co-captain Ben Barr believes ECAC pride is on the line.

"We definitely want to do well for our league," said Barr, a senior forward. "I guess over the past few years, people look at [the WCHA] as being one of the premier leagues. You want to show that the ECAC still has great hockey, and can still compete with anyone. We really want to make a statement this weekend."

Minnesota-Duluth (5-5-1 overall) is in second place in the WCHA with a 4-2 record. The Bulldogs are ranked 15th in the USCHO.com/NCAA hockey poll.

St. Cloud State (8-1-1) leads the WCHA with a 6-1-1 record. The Huskies are ranked fifth in the poll, and are coming off a split with top-ranked North Dakota last weekend.

Union has played well in nonleague games this season, going 5-1-1, while RPI is 2-2-1.

"Every time you have a nonconference game, there's a little bit of ECAC pride," Union forward Joel Beal said. "We really want to represent our league well. We've done that, so far. Hopefully, we can get a couple of more this weekend."

The Dutchmen (7-2-2) and the Engineers (4-3-2) are tied for third in the ECAC after each started league play 2-1-1. Both teams are coming off a three-point weekend last week.

Even though they have played just four ECAC games, RPI coach Dan Fridgen and Union coach Nate Leaman are happy to take a break from league play, but for different reasons.

For Leaman, there's a concern about his players' focus because they are finishing their first trimester exams.

"I've got six players who are going to be taking a final [this] afternoon and going right to the rink for the game," Leaman said. "But I don't think Duluth cares about that. It's a situation that we're going to have really bring our 'A' game. It's going to be a situation where we have to try and focus on hockey when we're done with our exams."

For Fridgen, there's an opportunity to give some players additional ice time.

"We're coming off a good weekend," Fridgen said. "Thus far, it's been a real good week of practice. We'll be looking forward to moving different guys through the lineup. It's real good timing."

This will be the first visit by a WCHA team to Union. Former Union coach Kevin Sneddon got the Bulldogs to make the trip.

"That's a reflection on Kevin's hard work, to get them in here on the schedule," Leaman said. "I think it's good publicity for our program. It gives us more respect in the college hockey world."

Notebook

Union senior captain Glenn Sanders was released from Ellis Hospital on Wednesday, four days after having his spleen removed. Sanders' spleen was lacerated in his first shift of last Friday's game against Dartmouth. He will be out at least six weeks, and possibly for the season. . . .

Ben McNamama, who transferred to Union from Boston College last fall, is eligible to play for the Dutchmen this weekend. Leaman isn't sure if McNamama will be in the lineup. . . .

The Engineers are having a food drive this weekend for the food pantry at St. Ambrose school in Latham. Fans are being encouraged to bring non-perishable items for donation. . . .

Senior forward Junior Lassard is Minnesota-Duluth's leading scorer with nine goals and five assists. St. Cloud State's top scorer is junior forward Dave Iannazzo with five goals and three assists. . . .

RPI split a two-game series last season at St. Cloud State. The Engineers lost the opener, 3-0, but won the second game, 3-1. The all-time series is tied at 2-2. . . .

Union lost a two-game series at Minnesota-Duluth by scores of 5-2 and 4-1. The Bulldogs lead the series, 5-0.