Thursday, November 21, 2013

Monkeys Trying to Hump Footballs

Thought about posting this on Wednesday. Wrote most of it then, but wanted to sleep on it to see if it was still feeling right - and it does, so here it is.

The hockey that we saw for the first 55 minutes or so on Saturday night was tremendous. Two teams with a healthy dislike of each other going at it, toe to toe, without an awful lot of give. The first period featured no scoring but a helluva good 20 minutes of hockey from both sides. RPI deserved credit for staying in a game where they weren't getting a lot of good looks. It was a point of pride, at least, that the same 2-1 deficit wasn't ballooned early in the third period as it had the night before, not before getting plenty of chances to tie things up first.

Union, to their great credit, found the seams they needed to lock things up. If you were a neutral observer as a fan of the game, you'd have stood and applauded for both of Shayne Gostisbehere's goals on Saturday. Both were just outstanding. The first was an impressive fake-out that fooled basically the entire RPI defense. He'd tried it a couple of times before without finding the back of the net. That was NHL-level good, and other than the fact that it was coming against RPI and for Union, was amazing to see. The second goal had impressive pinpoint accuracy from the blue line, making its way from basically the farthest point you could shoot it and still be in the zone, crossing the crease in the process, without hitting the ice or touching anyone in front on its way in, top-shelf. That's incredible. Hopefully, Philadelphia was watching - heck, if they want to take him now, no one in Troy's going to argue.

But after that, neither team had anything whatsoever to be proud of. Both squads should be ashamed of themselves for the way things transpired once the game was out of hand. They should know how fortunate they are that none of their players are suspended for tomorrow night's games, and know equally as much that both deserve to have players suspended.

There's a big difference between playing with pride and being sore. When Ryan Haggerty launched himself at Mat Bodie behind the Union net shortly after Gostisbehere's second goal, there was no purpose behind it. It was a frustrated player taking his frustrations out on the captain of the team that has had RPI's number in the last couple of seasons.

But it crossed the line. You want to beat someone, you do it on the scoreboard. If you can't, you take your licks and you move on, as difficult as that can be sometimes. We're tired of losing to Union too. But there's going to be a next time, as much as we wanted this time to be that win we're looking for.

That was the prime example of a team that couldn't lose with magnanimity, and there were others that would be guilty of it in the game's final minute. But unfortunately, Union couldn't manage to find a way to win with any grace, either. Again, you can understand Bodie's frustration with being hit in such a dangerous way - there should have been an immediate whistle. There wasn't any. He chose the wrong option too - by immediately pursuing Haggerty and jumping him from behind. His response to a cheapshot was a bigger cheapshot.

The two rained blows upon each other. That wasn't hockey.

Beyond Bodie jumping Haggerty, Union's further retaliation continued later with Matt Krug and Kevin Sullivan blowing up Mark Miller, followed quickly by Matt Wilkins shoving Jake Wood hard into the boards after words between the two well after play had ended, with Wood retaliating with his own cheapshot. Wilkins, for good measure, grabbed his crotch in the direction of the RPI bench on his way into the penalty box.

By the last 10 seconds, even legal hip-checks were cause for starting things, as Charlie Vasaturo dumped Mike Zalewski after an open-ice check on Nick Cruice, then gave the crowd a "salute" as he departed.

Rodger Wyland, before the weekend series started, commented that the RPI-Union rivalry was the most heated in the Capital District, and he was certainly right about that. Siena-Albany in basketball gets talked about with some frequency, but there's no fire on the court when the teams play. They're friendly with each other away from the game. There's none of that between RPI and Union. It's just pure, unadulterated hate. And that's OK.

But at the end of the day, there's still winning the right way, and losing the right way. Both teams, through their late game actions on Saturday, proved that they didn't know how to handle their assigned roles of the evening. That's sad. Union, you would think after winning so many games in a row against their rivals, should have known how to act like they've been there before. RPI, despite the continued frustration, is old enough as a team to know better than to goon it up.

And so as a hockey fan, I have just one thing to say to both teams.

Grow up.

As for the Engineers... well, perhaps instead of a pumpup, they could use a climbdown instead. So here's a little something to react to the weekend with in preparation for a non-conference series on the road...

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