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College Hockey: More good than bad in Union-RPI rivalry

The ECAC Hockey has handed down punishment for the skirmish, and it's time to move on and focus on the great hockey being played on the ice.

Union alternate captain Cole Ikkala (right) is one of the great ambassadors of college hockey.
Union alternate captain Cole Ikkala (right) is one of the great ambassadors of college hockey.

Showing up on SportsCenter because of a postgame fracas surely wasn't the publicity that Rensselaer or Union were looking for, but the people calling for everyone's head under the sun are making an egregious overreaction.

This isn't to make excuses for the behavior of either school's hockey program, but sports sometimes do funny things to a person's emotions.

RPI has a program steep in tradition, including an NCAA Championship in 1985, but the program just several miles to the west has picked up in the past several years. Union hadn't lost to RPI in 10 games before Saturday night's 2-1 loss at the Times Union Center in Albany.

This is a great rivalry that has grew in intensity and passion. Both schools have made NCAA appearances and Union is well on its way to a fourth consecutive trip to the big dance.

There is more to know about each program than the ugly incident at the end of The Mayor's Cup.

RPI and Union each have a senior who is up for the NCAA Senior C.L.A.S.S. Award given to a four-year member of a program who has excelled on and off the ice.

RPI's Brock Higgs, the victim of Mat Bodie's crosscheck as the horn blew, survived a nearly tragic incident where his neck was slashed with a skate blade during a game at Alabama-Huntsville. He has made it back to the ice and has become an even better person than he was before, donating his time to help youngsters in the Troy area learn to play hockey and helping build a new house for a needy family through Habitat for Humanity.

Union senior Cole Ikkala is up for the same award as well as the very prestigious Hockey Humanitarian Award given annually to an outstanding citizen of college hockey at the Frozen Four.

Several other RPI and Union players involved in the melee have contributed generously to their respective communities.

There is RPI assistant coach Nolan Graham who set out on a journey to run a double marathon this summer to raise money and awareness for a very important cause, Defending the Blue Line. The foundation helps military children learn and experience the game of hockey by providing opportunities to play and lending a helping hand with equipment.

This isn't an incident anyone involved in college hockey is proud of, but let's remember that emotions tend to boil over from time to time in this great game.

Let's chalk it up as a bad night and move on. College hockey and these capitol district rivals are more about great hockey and camaraderie than some foolish lapse of judgment at the final buzzer.

Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.