Players of the Week*
*These are my selections; ECAC Hockey’s can be found here.
May as well call this Rookie Week… just take a look. Wow.
Player of the Week: Mike Keenan, Dartmouth
It figures that with 13 goals on the North Country trip, a couple Dartmouth players were going to get some recognition. Keenan, a sophomore blue-liner, scored two goals and two assists this weekend. But what’s more impressive than his fine work on the power play (one goal, one helper) is his +/- of plus-six for the weekend.
Honorable mention: Nick Bailen, Rensselaer (2-2–4, +1 against Union)
Rookie of the Week: Matt Lindblad, Dartmouth
The Winnetka, Ill.-bred Lindblad got on the bus Friday morning with one point to his collegiate credit. He went to bed 40 hours later with six. The six-foot, 180-pound center scored a power-play goal, added four assists including one more power-play point, and finished the weekend a plus-three at Clarkson and St. Lawrence. He now leads the Big Green in scoring with a 2-4–6 line through six games.
Honorable mention: Andrew Calof, Princeton (1-3–4, +1 in Friday’s game at Colgate); Will Ford, Princeton (game-winning overtime goal at Cornell); Connor Jones, Quinnipiac (2-0–2 at Cornell and Colgate); Matt Hatch, Union (1-1–2, +2 in Saturday’s game at RPI)
Goalie of the Week: James Mello, Dartmouth
The junior out of Rehobeth, Mass. stopped 61 of 63 shots this weekend, allowing one goal each at Clarkson and St. Lawrence. With the 0-0 home tie against Union the previous Saturday, Mello now boasts a head-spinning .980 save percentage in 184:56 of play. His goals-against average is 0.65, which is 0.82 goals per game better than Wisconsin’s Brett Bennett, in second place. Sure it’s early, but that doesn’t mean it’s not impressive.
Honorable mention: Sean Bonar, Princeton (24 saves on 25 shots at Cornell); Eric Hartzell, Quinnipiac (30 for 31 at Colgate); Ryan Rondeau, Yale (24/25 at Colorado College)
Route 7 Rundown
In the waning light of two more instant classics between Union and Rensselaer, you have to wonder how much longer these programs can go on battling before an inevitable snoozer.
The count is now seven games and running.
“What you have is two schools that are 20 minutes apart…and we’re travel partners, we’ll see each other on the road, often staying in the same hotel, but the teams – because we’re so close – we’re pretty familiar with one another. The series obviously brings out the best hockey in both teams,” said Union head coach Nate Leaman.
“It’s become a really, really good rivalry in the last few years,” said RPI counterpart Seth Appert. “Obviously Union has dramatically elevated its program since Nate’s taken over, and they’re putting more resources and commitment into making it a big-time Division I hockey program. To me, they’re a Top 10 team in the country right now. Since we got here, we’ve been trying to re-elevate the RPI program, get us back to where we have historically been.”
The games don’t get national media attention like USC-Notre Dame, or Florida-Florida State. The programs don’t have the banners that Boston University and Boston College have, or the history in the spotlight that North Dakota and Minnesota can boast. But what it lacks in big-time bravado, Union-RPI makes up for in sheer electricity.
“I can tell you that I had to speak across campus at six o’clock Friday at an alumni event,” retold Leaman of last week’s kickoff. “I’m walking back to the rink, and there’s a line wrapped all the way around our rink of students. There had to be three or four hundred students in line waiting to get in for warm-ups. This year, RPI, their building was completely packed as well, so the environment across the two schools was great. I thought both teams added a little special touch with wearing the third jerseys… I thought that added to the fan experience as well. For our area, I don’t think there is a better sporting event; I don’t think you could get a better environment. I know it’s very special on our campus, and I’m sure it’s very special on their campus as well.”
“It’s everything. This week was everything to our students and to our fans, for both programs,” said Appert. “It dominated local media coverage… it dominated the talk on campus, but an important element of the rivalry is that it’s an important rivalry in other sports as well. Our football programs have the longest [series] in New York state. It’s the most-played rivalry of any schools in the state of New York. So when you combine those factors together, it just makes for a lot of intensity, a little bit of animosity, and just really, really good hockey.”
“Because the two schools are Division III in every other sport, and this is the Division I sport at both schools, I think that adds to the uniqueness of the rivalry,” Leaman echoed of the pan-sport nature of the feud.
In a league as rich in history as it is old, ECAC Hockey practically breeds rivalries. All six Ivy teams hate each other, and it seems the non-Ivies hate the Ivies as a matter of convenience as well. Tech schools hate other Tech schools, travel partners build naturally occurring and mutual disdain, and of course everybody gets up for games against Harvard and Cornell. But don’t think for one second that the Dutchmen or Engineers have split attention when circling games on the schedule.
“I think we, as a staff, we have acknowledged that Union is our biggest rival. I know our people throughout history – with our program – would say Clarkson, and things like that, but, you know, Union is our rival. Clarkson’s a good team and an important game, but in our mind – in our players’ minds, and in our coaches’ minds – Union is our biggest rival, and it’s really not close,” emphasized Appert.
And yet, it’s not a rivalry built on stereotypes, opposing geographies, politics or culture. It’s just a good, old-fashioned, mid-sized metropolitan throwdown.
“I don’t know about ‘taxing’,” said Appert of his experience behind the bench last weekend. “I think ‘fun’. Challenging. Exciting, but fun. I think that’s what you live for as a student-athlete and as a fan. It was tremendous hockey. Both crowds were just electric, both crowds were buzzing with excitement.
“The rivalry’s been elevated. I think you need to have two teams that are willing to acknowledge that the other is their team’s biggest rival to have a great rivalry, and I think both programs are willing to acknowledge that.”
What stands out to me is the just slightly unusual nature of the rivalry: it seems to be bred more out of mutual respect and pride than out of hatred, insult or animosity… and that influence flows from the top on down.
“Nate and I went through the coaching ranks together,” said Appert. “We were both graduate assistants at the same time, him at Maine and myself at Denver. Both of us became assistant coaches at the same time, so for all of it, we have a good, healthy respect and relationship amongst each other. We don’t like them, we don’t like Union. And they don’t like us. But I do think that both programs have a certain level of respect for each other.”
Capital District controversies
Each of the UC-RPI games last weekend ended in high drama, with Rensselaer’s ostensible game-tying goal being waved off on Friday and Union’s two overtime penalties leading to RPI’s five-on-three game-winning strike. (That was after RPI knotted the game with 0.2 seconds left in regulation, and no instant replay capability with which to confirm the goal or the time on the clock.)
Engineers head coach Seth Appert was none too pleased after Friday’s loss; unfortunately, I have been unable to find better video or visual angles on the play, so you’ll just have to find some eyewitness accounts if you want to get a different perspective. (Video link courtesy of Ken Schott, Schenectady Daily Gazette.)
Saturday’s result was the product of a two-goal RPI comeback, a go-ahead score by Dutch rookie Josh Jooris with six minutes to go… then with time running out and Union in the box, RPI soph Marty O’Grady planted this goal. (Side note: nice sweaters, ‘Tute!)
Union remained a man down to start overtime, as the penalty was a five-minute major for checking-from-behind against Mike Ingoldsby. Teammate Nolan Julseth-White got whistled for cross-checking 1:42 into the extra session, and 1:14 later, RPI freshman Nick Bailen put another notch in the win column for the Engineers.
Dutchmen head coach Nate Leaman answered a couple of officiating-related questions with terse “no comments” in Saturday’s post-game presser, too. Rough series on the coaches, rougher on the players, but boy, even the zebras were getting put through the ringer this weekend.
Just another brutal round in the Route 7 Rivalry. I can’t believe we have to wait ’til the playoffs – if even then – for the next round.
My Top 20
2. Minnesota Duluth
3. Boston University
5. New Hampshire
7. North Dakota
9. Michigan State
10. Notre Dame
16. Boston College
17. Colorado College
18. Michigan Tech
19. Western Michigan
20. Robert Morris