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Union Continues Dominance Over Capital District Rival RPI

As is typical in rivalry games, it was a role player who came up big with two goals.

Rick Bennett is 9-0 as a head coach against RPI.
Rick Bennett is 9-0 as a head coach against RPI.
Jeff Cox

Schenectady, NY - Union continued its recent dominance of archrival RPI on Friday night at a sold-out Messa Rink. Nick Cruice scored twice, including the game-winner, as the Dutchmen downed the Engineers, 4-3.

How one-sided has the rivalry been in recent years? Rick Bennett has never lost to RPI as head coach of Union. RPI has not beaten Union since November 13, 2010. Union's third-year bench boss says he can't explain his good fortune.

"I really don't have any earth shattering statements for why the record is what it is. The guys get up for these games and enjoy playing in them," said Bennett.

"It's why we play these games. It's the Route 7 rivalry. You get up for these games and you know there is something extra in the building when you step on the ice. It really gets you going. We realize it's important to keep this train going. They're a great team, but we had a little more tonight," said Gostisbehere, a third round selection of the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 NHL Draft.

The game got off to an ominous start for the home team as RPI would capitalize on a fluke play to score a shorthanded goal just 4:56 into the game. Union goaltender Colin Stevens came out to play a loose puck right inside his own blue line, but his clearing attempt went directly off Brock Higgs' shin pads and into an open net.

Union answered back on its next power play when Daniel Ciampini tipped in a Shayne Gostisbehere wrist shot from the point. Ciampini knocked the puck down from about shoulder level and it beat RPI goaltender Scott Diebold who had jumped up to stop the initial shot.

"[Ciampini] is one of the best on our team in tipping pucks. He's always after practice tipping pucks. That was definitely all him there. My puck was sailing over the net, but he got a stick on it and it went five-hole," said Gostisbehere.

The score would stay knotted at one until Nick Cruice scored the first of his two goals on the night at the 13:17 mark of the second period. He circled into the slot from the left boards and rifled a wrist shot that beat Diebold to his five-hole.

Two quick strikes in the first 1:48 of the third period gave Union a three-goal cushion. Big Eli Lichtenwald blasted a one-timer past Diebold off a nice centering feed from Matt Wilkins. Just 44 seconds later Cruice scored again, cutting down the middle and snapping it five-hole.

"It was [Cruice's] night. The puck had eyes," said Bennett of his fourth-line right winger scoring two goals.

"That's not how you diagram it," said Appert of his team's start to the third period. "We turned a couple pucks over. They did a good job of transitioning. They're a very good team. You turn pucks over against any team, but especially a team of high quality, it can end up in the back of the net real quick," added Appert.

Matt Neal made sure that the Engineers wouldn't go quietly. He scored two goals to cut the Union lead to just one with 8:10 to play in regulation, but RPI couldn't get the equalizer. Appert's team had some good chances, especially on a power play with under five minutes to go, but the puck never seemed to bounce the way of the Engineers.

Although the Dutchmen let RPI back in the game, it was an important win for a Union team that has had trouble holding on to big leads.

"For our team's psyche it was very important. We're going to be in these battles. [RPI] is ranked tenth in the country. They're a very good team. You're going to have to weather the storm sometimes," said Bennett.

The series will turn to Troy tomorrow night for a 7 p.m. faceoff at Houston Field House on the campus of RPI.

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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.