Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Know Your Enemy: Union

The Route 7 rivalry is no longer just the top rivalry for both of the teams involved - as both teams approach the top of the ECAC standings together for the first time, it's slowly evolving into one of the fiercest rivalries in the league. It doesn't have the historical precedence of Clarkson-St. Lawrence, or the aristocratic hatred of Cornell-Harvard, but when both teams are good and hate each other, that's when it starts to get good.

Union
Nickname: Dutchmen
Location: Schenectady, NY
Founded: 1795
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2013
Last Frozen Four: 2012
Coach: Rick Bennett (3rd season)
2012-13 Record: 22-13-5 (10-8-4 ECAC, 4th place)
Series: RPI leads, 45-31-10
First Game: February 26, 1904 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: November 13, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last UC win: January 26, 2013 (Albany, NY)

2013-14 games: November 15, 2013 (Schenectady, NY); November 16, 2013 (Troy, NY); January 25, 2014 (Albany, NY)


Key players: D Mat Bodie, sr.; F Daniel Carr, sr.; F Matt Hatch, sr.; F Cole Ikkala, sr.; F Kevin Sullivan, sr.; F Daniel Ciampini, jr.; D Shayne Gostisbehere, jr.; F Max Novak, jr.; G Colin Stevens, jr.; D Sebastian Gingras, so.; F David Roy, so.; F Matt Wilkins, so.; D Griff Martin, fr.; D Jeff Taylor, fr.; F Mike Vecchione, fr.

Key losses: F Wayne Simpson, F Kyle Bodie, D Greg Coburn, D Shawn Stuart, D Ryan Forgaard, G Troy Grosenick, F Josh Jooris

Previous KYE installments:
The series between RPI and Union used to be incredibly lopsided in the Engineers' favor, but with the increased number of games the teams have been playing of late - now including the "Mayor's Cup" game in Albany, plus a playoff series in 2012 - combined with the winning streak the Dutchmen have put together, and RPI retains "only" a 14-win edge over the Dutch. Three full calendar years will have passed since the last time the Engineers put together a victory over their Route 7 rivals by the time they get another crack at what has become the team's biggest rivalry.

RPI fans can take heart that this isn't going to be the Union team of two years ago that went to the Frozen Four, but if you're expecting the (no longer) "normal" Union to return, that isn't in the cards this year either - probably ever, considering how long Union was considered the joke of the conference. They've found a metric for sustained success in Schenectady that was missing for quite some time, but there are fewer weapons in the arsenal than we've seen in recent seasons.

One of the most successful classes in Union history (if not the most successful) reaches their senior season this year, though they do it without their goaltender, Grosenick, who after two seasons as an outstanding top-choice netminder at UC followed his predecessor's lead by jumping early for an NHL contract. That leaves defense as the top concern for the Dutchmen moving forward, especially after graduating three seniors last year. The class also moves on without Jooris, who signed with the Calgary Flames in late July.

Stevens, a Niskayuna native, got to see a bit of action last season while Grosenick was injured. He had three shutouts in seven starts (albeit against AIC, Penn State, and the March version of Clarkson) and had some decent overall numbers (better than Grosenick's, in fact), although there are a few warning signs - a save percentage near .900 in league play last season, for instance.

Mat Bodie and Gostisbehere are two blue-line stalwarts who return to the mix, but with the exception of Gingras, who had some tough moments as a freshman, there are no other returning defensemen who played more than half of the team's games last year. That opens up options for a number of Union d-men, but the defensive unit that was 7th in the nation last season is going to look very different this year.

But even if Union's defense ends up being weaker than last year - no sure thing - the core of the offense that has boosted the Dutchmen's fortunes these last two seasons are the senior forwards, Carr and Hatch especially. This is a group that has clicked well together ever since their arrival on campus, and Ciampini and Novak add additional experienced goal-scorers just a year back. It's tough to say what kind of impact Jooris' departure will have on his classmates, but they are plenty talented on their own.

That said, Jooris' late departure seals a situation in which Union loses four of its top five scorers last year, which means more will be expected of names like Wilkins and Sullivan, but also on incoming freshman Vecchione, one of the top scorers in the USHL last year.

Although there's not a great deal of buzz about Union's freshman class outside of Vecchione, the upperclassmen are strong enough to carry Union to another successful season this coming year. They've found a tremendous amount of success against RPI and whatever the team's losses from last season, they remain a formidable threat. As we've mentioned in the past, that bodes well for the Engineers for much of the year, since having a strong travel partner is usually considered a good thing in the ECAC, but it's going to make for three tough games similar to what we've seen recently. The major difference is that RPI now has a team that should be good enough to go directly toe-to-toe with Union, especially after having finished ahead of them in the ECAC standings for the first time in five years.

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