January 26, 2014
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Union College, which are only about 25 km apart in upstate New York, had their second annual Mayor's Cup game on Saturday night. They might have to discuss how long to wait before playing the third.
The RPI Engineers pulled off the 2-1 upset off the Union Dutchmen, who are ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division I, in front of a packed house of 7,100 at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y.. As the buzzer sounded to the end the game, Union captain Mat Bodie cross-checked the Engineers' Brock Higgs in the face. Both were in the faceoff circle closest to RPI's bench, which players were leaving to celebrate the victory. The Union bench emptied, a couple fights broke out and then Dutchemen coach Rick Bennett tried to take on RPI coach Seth Appert. Bennett was suspended for two games.
And the pep band played on.
There goes the moral high ground over major junior hockey, which has already had a couple line brawls this weekend involving the Erie Otters and Niagara IceDogs and the Prince George Cougars and Regina Pats.
Officials cancelled the post-game handshakes. The ECAC Hockey conference is already investigating to decide to what extent each team should be sanctioned.
The rivalries in NCAA Division I college hockey are much more deep-seated and visceral than anywhere else in the sport within North America. Campuses are often in close proximity, students and alumni get emotionally invested, plus there are pep bands in the stands. Like in college football, beating a rival can often redeem a mediocre season. The win ended RPI's 10-game losing streak vs. Union, but instead both teams were in damage control mode. No one wanted to talk about what touched off the brawl.
The tone seems a little different from they they-started-it rhetoric you typically hear at the NHL level, as both teams realized this was unacceptable. It's notable players were shown retrieving their sticks and helmets before Bennett tried to get at Appert.
From Ken Schott (@slapschotts):
There were a couple of fights, with the main event being RPI defenseman Luke Curadi and Union forward Eli Lichtenwald. Zalewski was involved in a fight. Union defenseman Mat Bodie grabbed someone’s facemask hard.
Those four players not only got five minute majors, but game disqualifications, as well. That means they will miss their team’s games Friday. Union is at St. Lawrence, and RPI is at Clarkson.
I just thought of this. Both teams are probably staying at the Best Western in Canton next weekend. Someone alert the authorities!
Enough of the humor.
This was an embarrassment for both schools. Both coaches profusely apologized in their respective postgame press conferences. They apologized to everyone under the sun. And I do believe they were very sincere.
But, it won’t erase the memory of what happened.
And there will be more punishment handed out. Don’t be surprised if Bennett gets some time off from not only the league, but from the school. He was out of control. If he hadn’t been held back, he could have done some damage to Appert. (Schenectady Daily Gazette)
The fine people at the Best Western of Canton, N.Y., might be training the cleaning staff in how to break up fights as we speak.
It is worth wondering if Bodie's cross-check, which precipitated the fracas, was an unintended consequence of the NCAA-mandated full facial protection, which some in college hockey would like to remove. Does Bodie stick a half-visor-wearing Higgs in the face, knowing there's a risk of drawing blood and getting a major penalty? That's one post-hoc argument that applies. Arguing this would have all been avoided if the players were permitted to fight and remain in the game does not; institutions of higher learning, be they NCAA or Canadian Interuniversity Sport, would never abide by sponsoring hockey programs that condone fighting.
(Stick tap: @JulieRobenhymer.)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.