On the dank evening of January 24, 2015, at the Times Union Center in Albany NY, 8,417 college hockey fans came to watch cross-town rivals RPI and Union College contend for the third annual Capital District Mayor's Cup. The first two Mayor's Cups had been decided by late third period goals. In 2013, Union with its 3-2 victory brought the trophy to Schenectady, NY. In 2014, RPI with its 2-1 victory brought the trophy to Troy, NY. The first two Mayor's Cup games have enriched an already lively RPI-Union Route 7 Rivalry.1 And yet, one might say that, with the exception of the widely publicized donnybrook which erupted at the sound of the final buzzer of the 2014 game,2 an overarching characteristic of the first two Mayor's Cup games was Union's lackluster and RPI's readiness.
The 2015 Mayor's Cup game, like the previous two Mayor's Cup games, was a non-league contest played twelve weeks after RPI had swept Union in their two ECAC league games on Halloween weekend, as I note in my previous SIHR Blog post. So, then, can it be said the 2015 Mayor's Cup contest was pointless and insipid?
A few fans writing in the USCHO Fan Forum preferred the game not be played. "[This game] means nothing," wrote Engineerhockeyfan. "[B]ut the teams .... will go all out and put themselves in a position to get hurt just because they do not like each other." Similarly DrDemento wanted to "just get it over with [without] loosing [RPI players] to injury and [team] momentum." 3
But media day showed different sentiment. Like celebrities, coaches posed for ceremonial pictures and delivered speeches. Union coach Rick Bennett, having averred "it's very exciting when these two teams get together," declared that "the first two [Mayor's Cup] games have been excellent" and "the third [should not be] any different."4 RPI coach Seth Appert explained that he, Bennett, and others had been working to "grow [the Mayor's Cup] into a marquee event to showcase two great hockey programs ... and create a special experience for our student athletes."5 Having been asked whether the infamous 2014 Mayor's Cup episode might taint the 2015 Mayor's Cup, Bob Beber, TU Center general manager, replied: "I cannot imagine that one situation like [last year's donnybrook] would change ... a great rivalry that people really love to go and see."6 The players also expressed insistant enthusiasm. RPI captain Curtis Leonard asserted his teammates are "really excited about it." Union captain Charlie Vasaturo affirmed that whenever the Union and RPI hockey teams meet, "it's a great game"; and yet, he added (perhaps recalling their previous two contests) that [if we] can't get up to play hockey for 60 minutes, especially against RPI, there is something wrong with us."7
By 7pm, the crowd, over eight thousand adults and teenagers and children, swarms through the TU Center's dull corridors. Some watch team warm-ups, others do not. After the Zamboni's work is done, some watch RPI and Union burst on to the ice, others do not. Some watch the ceremonial puck drop, others do not. It's a crowd wearing Union garb and RPI garb, moving to their seats, watching, waiting, psyched-up. One might expect this particular crowd to settle during the US national anthem with nothing to cheer; but it's an expressive crowd--and precisely when the vocalists sing "Oh say can 'you'...," a Union contingent shouts "U!" and precisely when they sing "And the rockets 'red'...," an RPI contingent shouts "Red!"
Soon the game's first puck is dropped. The first forty minutes seem to unfold like a horse race--first RPI scores, then Union scores, then RPI scores two, then Union scores. By the end of the second period, the large score board shows RPI is winning the game 3-2, but the shot clock shows Union is outshooting RPI 20-10. Ice hockey statistics are sometimes misleading; on this night, the score board and shot clock understate Union's roll of momentum and domination over RPI in almost every category.
I was standing in front of my seat in Section 201, Row H, Seat 15, surrounded by familiar faces, waiting patiently for the third period start, when my friend Kevin Kearns next to me said suddenly, "Watch this--Union's had so much control the score is gonna change fast."
"Union's gonna tie it fast?" I asked.
"Yeah, tie it up fast and roll ahead," he said.
The teams appear and the starting line-ups skate on the ice. It's time. The puck is dropped--the third period begins. With the blink of an eye, Union defenseman Jeff Taylor in his own end of the ice catches a pass from his partner Noah Henry and bursts through left center ice, crosses RPI's blue line, lures RPI's right defenseman wide and passes to Ryan Scarfo who is coasting through the slot and snaps a quick shot past RPI's goalie Jason Kasdorf.
The game is now a 3-3 tie. RPI began this game hoping to win. Days earlier, Troy Mayor Lou Rosamilia had predicted that RPI would win in overtime.8 But RPI in the third period continues to stutter to find rhythm, so much so every Union play, every whistle, every bouncing puck, every collision and ride to the boards, every tick of the clock appears to conspire against the Engineers.
While RPI's third period performance is shaky, Union's is dynamic. Under the pressure of its status as defending 2014 NCAA Champion, the Dutchmen have displayed promise and suffered tragedy, losing a slew of games they could have won, and mustering an undistinguished overall win-loss-tie record of 11-10-2 and an ECAC hockey league record of 4-7-1. However, on this night in Albany, Union brings an offense so explosive it scores five more goals in front of a crowd whose roar sounds like it roller coasts every shot. Goals fly from the sticks of Eli Lichtenwald and Union's Hobey Baker candidates Daniel Ciampini and Mike Vecchione whose smooth skating linemate Matt Wilkins provides them with four heady assists. Union's scoring burst comes not just from the flair of snipers but also from teammates--Vasaturo, Sebastian Gingras, Max Novak, Nick DeSimone, J.C. Brassard, and Tyler Hynes--whose savvy puck maneuvers and relentless hustle help build the crushing roll of momentum.
Of course, the game is a cross-town rivalry described quite unabashedly as one whose contenders "do not like each other" and play with so much energy their "passions sometimes boil over."9 Passion in ice hockey assumes desirable and undesirable forms: desirable because when it operates with the framework of the game's rules, it is a fundamental ingredient in great performances; undesirable because when it challenges the game's rules, it can become disorderly with moments of combative retaliation and violence. So, with less than fifty seconds remaining in the Mayor's Cup game, when the game's winner waxes unmistakable, RPI's Jake Wood (with his team's fragile rush into the offensive zone) carelessly crashes Union's Vasaturo and goalie Colin Stevens. Swinging sticks and skirmishes ensue. Vasaturo, bleeding, kneels on his shin pads and faces downward. The crowd's roar is embedded with scattered boos.10 Thereafter, penalties are administered, the crowd settles back a little flushed, the big clock ticks to zero while the score clock shows Union trounces RPI by 8-3. The players shake hands in a ritual that Union refused after last year's Mayor's Cup game, and then the Dutchmen pose happily for team pictures with the 2015 Mayor's Cup and Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy.11
In post game newspaper reports, Mike MacAdam wrote that the Dutchmen buzzed around so easily the "Engineers may has well have been orange traffic cones," while Pete Iorizzo wrote that "Union made RPI look like it was skating through slush." Appert stated RPI played poorly partly because "[Union] played like a championship team [and] did what champions do. They responded [with] tenacity and will." And Bennett, having been asked implicitly whether Union's performance against RPI will propel his team through the ECAC playoffs, replied: "You gotta be ... really careful with that. It's not just going to happen."12
I recall Kearns' remark to me as we exited the rink, something the news reporters appear to have overlooked: "Interesting twist ... and just think that they might face each other again in the 2015 ECAC playoffs."
(1) Here are You Tube highlights of the first two Mayor's Cup games: "Men's Ice Hockey vs. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute--Jan 26, 2013," YouTube/GoUnion Athletics http://youtu.be/03YlZS-orAI ; "Union vs. RPI Mayor's Cup part 2," 26 January 2014 http://youtu.be/ VcoAIR1ZJEY. For highlights of the 2015 Mayor's Cup, see My Notes 10 &11 below.
(2) Of the numerous videos of the 2014 Mayor's Cup donnybrook, these two may be among the best: "The Mayor's Cup, Last 90 sec, then 'The Fight', 2014, 26 January 2014 http:/ /youtu.be/7Go37npwiuQ ; and "Mayor's Cup Fight," 25 January 2014, YouTube/Calverthedad http://youtu.be/u-AzBqb1h1g.
(3) Engineerhockeyfan & DrDemento, "Thread: RPI v Union (Mayor's Cup) Saturday 1/24/2015," On line posting, USCHO Fan Forum/Men's Division I, USCollegeHockey.com, 31 January 2015 http://board.uscho.com/ showthread.php?111835-RPI-vs-Union-%28Mayor-s-Cup%29-Saturday-1-24-2015. The available evidence, based on searches beyond USCollegeHockey.com, presently shows no Union fans disparaged the 2015 Mayor's Cup game.
(4) "Capital District Mayor's Cup News Conference," YouTube/GoUnionAthletics, 20 January 2015 http://youtu.be/HfzdyurO72Y.
(5) "MH Mayor's cup press conference," YouTube/RPI Athletics, 20 January 2015 http://youtu.be/InmD0_JQjTs.
(6) "Mayor's Cup ticket sales are good." 20 January 2015, Gazette video/Ken Schott, Daily Gazette http://www.dailygazette.com/videos/ 2015/jan/20/2027.
(7) Leonard quotation found in Ken Schott, "Dutchmen cast in roll of underdog," Daily Gazette, 24 January 2015, B4; Vasaturo quotation found in Sean Martin, "Union looks to get back on track," Times Union, 24 January 2015, B-2.
(8) "Mayors discuss Mayor's Cup," 20 January 2015, Gazette Video/Ken Schott, Daily Gazette http://www.dailygazette.com/videos/2015/jan/20/2028/.
(9) RPI's Seth Appert, though not alone, uses these phrases again and again, and here is one recent example: "MH Mayor's cup press conference," YouTube/RPI Athletics, 20 January 2015 http://youtu.be/InmD0_JQjTs.
(10) Fray's representation of this last minute play comes closer than McNeely's: Ryan Fray, "RPI Wood Suspended two games," Union Hockey Blog, 27 January 2015 http:// unionhockeyblog.blogspot.com/2015_01_01_archive.html; and Kelsey McNeely, "RPI suffers painful loss in Mayor's Cup," Rensselaer Polytechnic, 28 January 2015 http://poly.rpi.edu/ 2015/01/28/ rpi_suffers_painful_loss_in_mayors_cup/.
Here is a video highlight underscoring this "passionate" last minute incident: "Mayor's Cup--January 24, 2015--Last Minute," YouTube/Fred Arbanus http://youtu.be/QxCHg3IcwaE.
(11) "Mayor's Cup Highlights 2015, 27 January 2015, YouTube/Justin Andrews http:/ /youtu.be/A7y6-Us36Pw.
(12) Mike MacAdam, "Union leaves no doubt,' Sunday Gazette, 25 January 2015, B- 6; Peter Iorizzo, "Union shows it's a team not ready to fade," Times Union, 25 January, B-4.