The Takeaway: Union defeats rival RPI, 3-2, wins first annual Mayor’s Cup

Posted by: Michael King

ALBANY, N.Y. — Extending their dominance of the Union-RPI rivalry to eight consecutive wins, the Dutchmen defeated the Engineers, 3-2, at the Times Union Center Saturday night in front of 5,959 fans. Matt Wilkins scored a power-play goal on an odd-man rush with 36 seconds remaining in the game. Freshman goaltender Jason Kasdorf offered a strong performance in net with 34 saves for RPI, but it was not enough to stymie the Dutchman power play which converted twice.

Given the non-conference nature of the game, Union earned the rights to the first annual Mayors’ Cup instead of the customary two ECAC points. The event was an opportunity for the fan bases of both schools to see their favorite teams compete in the region’s top venue.

What I Saw                                                                                         

For the third time in the game to begin the final frame, one of the Capital Region rivals scored within the first four minutes of the period. Senior defenseman Greg Colburn shot the puck from the point straight into the back of the net. Kasdorf seemed to have a clear view of the puck, but could not reach the powerful slap shot while sliding to his left. But the Engineers eventually answered — this time near the end of the period. C.J. Lee put the puck on net during an odd-man rush, which Union goalie Troy Grosenick saved with his right pad. But the forceful rebound lay in perfect position for Mark McGowan to level the score. To break the 2-2 tie, Wilkins scored after receiving a perfect pass on an odd-man rush opportunity from Josh Jooris, who was skating quickly along the right side-boards.

The Engineers came out of the dressing room to start the second ready to get back into the game. RPI, taking advantage of a scrambling Dutchman defense and outstretched Grosenick, levelled the score 16 seconds into the period. Haggerty scored after rebound fell to him on the left side of the net.

The Dutchman defense appeared to quickly lose its composure, as the usually reliable blue-liners surrendered the puck at inopportune moments in the game multiple times. Only Grosenick’s awareness and swift reactions kept the game level. The goal instantly changed the complexion of the game after Union dominated much of the first period. The Engineers took a pair of early penalties and allowed the Dutchmen to capitalize on the power play less than four minutes into the frame.

What I Thought

Grosenick once again proved why he’s considered to be among the nation’s top goaltenders. The junior utilizes his unique physical gifts (quickness and athleticism) combined with perpetually outstanding positioning to keep opponents off the score sheet. Though his numbers are not quite as impressive as last season, Grosenick still maintains a strong save percentage of .919, among other above average statistics. He is the biggest reason why the Dutchmen are in contention for another ECAC championship. With the defense’s occasional unreliability (see above), Grosenick and fellow netminder Colin Stevens are key to this season’s success.

In the opposite crease, the Engineers have been buoyed by the return of their sensational freshman goalie. Having missed several weeks of action before and after the holidays, Kasdorf returned to the line-up weekend and led the team to one-goal home victories over Colgate and Cornell. Though he has started less than 35 percent of his team’s games, the freshman maintains numbers among the best nationally. His goals-against-average of 1.60 is second in college hockey, though his nine-game sample size remains small. Expect coach Seth Appert to continue giving the Winnipeg draft pick time in net, as his play merits consistent selection.

Using its size and physical exploits as a foil against the skill of Union, the Engineers consistently frustrated its opponent and prevented them from dominating possession. RPI has several big defensemen (Luke Curadi and Guy Leboeuf, both six-foot-five) who were not afraid to level body checks at RPI puck carriers. The physicality got the team in trouble at times with penalties, but it was a core part of RPI’s gameplan aimed at frustrating the Dutchmen.

Though the building was far from capacity (upper tier was curtained off), both sides should be satisfied with the turnout. The schools certainly play frequently (at least twice per season, sometimes five times as in last year via the ECAC playoffs). That probably removes some freshness from the rivalry, in addition to the recent one-sided nature (Union has won 13 of the past 17 dating back to the start of the 2008-09 season). The fans in attendance were loud for both sides, evidently trying to show their pride in showcasing the rivalry in the region’s top venue.

What They Said

“It’s tough to lose like that, but you always get what you deserve,” Appert said. “The only difference was that they made a play when it mattered. I thought we stayed aggressive and there we very few moments where we took our foot off the gas in terms of trying to play the right way.”

“It’s nice to win with a couple seconds left in the game too, to show that this team has the resolve to comeback,” Union coach Rick Bennett. “Grosenick played exceptionally and he came through to give us a chance to win.”

“Our goal starting the season was to win every trophy we can,” Jooris said. “Now that was the first and we can put it away and focus on the next one now. We can enjoy it a bit, but then you have to get right back at it.”

What Else You Should Know

This was likely the last meeting between the two schools this season. It’s certainly possible for the teams to meet in the quarterfinals of the ECAC tournament, as the rivals did last season. And if they do happen to meet again in the playoffs, Union will almost certainly be the host given the position in the standings of both teams.

Saturday night’s game was the first against RPI at the Times Union Center since the two teams skated to a 1-1 tie in 2008. Union had not played at the arena since losing the 2010 ECAC championship game against Cornell, 3-0. It’s been over four years for RPI, as the Engineers have not skated on that ice since a 2008 match with Robert Morris.

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