The rivalry between Union and RPI certainly isn't as old nor does it have the fanfare of some of the better-known clashes between bitter enemies in college hockey, but it is growing in prestige and relevance.
The atmosphere inside Messa Rink on the campus of Union on Friday night and RPI's Houston Field House a night later was second to none. The crowd at the smaller Messa Rink was a standing-room only crowd that was so loud and excited that the building appeared to be shaking.
Similar to the University of Maine's Alfond Arena, these two buildings are old-school barns that represent what is great about college sports. There are no new-school amenities, but the tradition and history oozes out.
Union has been on the winning end of the rivalry in recent years, but that hasn't diminished the importance or the intensity of the games.
"It doesn't get old," said Union senior Daniel Carr when asked how he felt about his team's dominance of RPI over the past three years. "Obviously this rivalry is huge. It's one of those things. It's the reason you come play college hockey: rivalries like these," he added.
151 penalty minutes were accumulated in the final few minutes of Saturday's contest as tempers flared. "That's just hockey. If you've played hockey before and haven't been in one of those altercations before you haven't lived," said Union coach Rick Bennett.
The Dutchmen have won ten consecutive games in the Route 7 Rivalry, as long-time Schenectady Gazette beat writer Ken Schott coined the battle. RPI's last win over Union came on November 13, 2010.
Union's hockey program has improved leaps and bounds in recent years thanks to two young coaches with tremendous drive and ability to get the most out of the team. Nate Leaman started it before heading to Providence where he has subsequently turned the Friars into a legitimate contender in Hockey East. Rick Bennett stepped right in and led the Dutchmen to the Frozen Four in his first season.
Union is on track to make a run for a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Dutchmen are 6-3-2, but the team has gone 5-1-1 over the past seven games. "Union's got a good team which we knew coming in," said RPI coach Seth Appert.
Despite the setback on the weekend, RPI is a very good hockey club. Seth Appert's team has defeated Hockey East foes Boston University and New Hampshire so far this season.
The two teams will meet again for the Mayor's Cup at the Times Union Center in Albany on January 25. Anyone that claims to be a hockey fan in the greater Capital District region should buy tickets and check out one of the best rivalries in college hockey. The game won't disappoint.
"That's going to be fun," said Carr when asked about the next meeting between the two teams.
Yes it will be.
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Jeff Cox covers college and junior hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.