Preview: RPI vs/at Union
The Engineers look to win the Capital Skates trophy for the 4th straight season
After a weekend with only a single exhibition game, RPI opens ECAC play with the annual rivalry weekend against Union. Black Friday will feature the annual special black alternate jerseys but with a twist this year. The nameplates will be replaced with names from the 1985 national championship team. (Side note: if these were being auctioned instead of raffled, how much does the Oates #12 jersey go for? Would have to be at least $1,000 right?). The Capital Skates trophy is on the line in addition to the valuable ECAC points.
Union Team Outlook
Union has started the year 2-5-1, but the way they have gotten there has been really up-and-down. They started out 2-2-1 with a good win against Bentley, a win against RIT, and a tie against Army. Their only losses were to a UConn team now ranked in the top 10, and they even managed to force OT in one of those games.
Since then, it’s been all downhill for the Dutchmen though. In the 3 games since, they have been blown out by RIT and UMass. Against RIT, they lost 5-8, and the UMass series was never even remotely close with 1-7 and 0-7 losses. Scoring only 6 goals and allowing 22 is obviously terrible even though Union isn’t supposed to be good this season. They’re a rebuilding program in the first year of a new head coach, but you would still expect better than that.
The underlying metrics are not nearly as bad for Union. They have been only slightly below average in corsi and shots share, so it’s not like they are getting dominated possession-wise. Most likely, their issues are a combination of allowing quality chances, bad goaltending and a lack of ability to get to the dangerous areas of the offensive zone. Bad luck definitely factors in as well; I would expect Union’s results to start aligning with the underlying metrics as the season goes on.
While the underlying metrics are not bad, Union’s special teams have been truly atrocious. The power play is currently operating at 12.1%, and the penalty kill is even worse with only a 67.7% success rate. Last weekend alone, the Dutchmen allowed 7 power play goals! I don’t expect the special teams to continue at this level, but it’s certainly noteworthy right now.
Union is led by a trio of freshmen who have made really good immediate impacts.
Nate Hanley (#24, C) currently leads the team in scoring with 8 points in 8 games. He was a solid player in the USHL, so I’m not surprised he’s doing well for them although I definitely didn’t expect it to this extent.
John Prokop (#21, LD) has 7 points in 8 games from the back end, and he has also been really impressive as their top defenseman despite being a freshman.
Carter Korpi (#12, RW) has played RW on Hanley’s line and meshed well with his 5 points in 8 games. The line is mostly being driven by Hanley, but he has been good too.
Chris Theodore (#10, LW) and Josh Nixon (#15, RW) were both highly touted transfers who have had slow starts thus far. With their pedigree though, I expect they will get going at some point.
Lastly, Connor Murphy (#31, G) has had a rough start to the year with a 0.866 SV%, but he will definitely turn it around. He was great last year, and RPI saw firsthand how he can steal games when Union won the Mayor’s Cup last year despite the Engineers doubling them in shots.
What to Watch For
I’m not going to do the usual segment with RPI’s keys to the game because I want to focus on a couple interesting topics instead.
Which version of Union shows up?
If it’s the Union team that did fairly well in its first 5 games, RPI will be in for a battle, especially in a key rivalry game. If it’s the Union that got steamrolled by UMass, RPI has the explosive offense to make it a blowout real quick.
That being said, I think expecting anything other that Union’s best is foolish. Teams always bring their best for big rivalry games, and Union is going to be motivated to have a good game after putting up 3 straight stinkers. RPI needs to take Union very seriously and not underestimate them.
The special teams battle
I’m very curious to see the special teams play in the series. With Union’s major struggles on special teams and RPI’s very strong PP and PK, this should be a major advantage for the Engineers. If the Engineers make this the mismatch that it is on paper, they will have a huge advantage in the series.
Can the Engineers regain their defensive identity?
RPI has built an identity of having a strong defense under Dave Smith, but it has been inconsistent so far this year. They had great games against Mercyhurst and LIU but poor games against Army and the USNTDP. Generally, the defense has done a good job of not allowing much possession, but there’s been some breakdowns that have given quality chances to the opposition.
I think the team definitely has the potential to be a real lockdown defense given the problems have to do with breakdowns and mistakes. Even with those mistakes, the team is only allowing 2.4 goals per game. If that’s the defense now, imagine what it can be at its full potential!
Overall, this is looking to be a hard-fought series where Union will elevate their game to match RPI. In a big rivalry series, the Engineers will need to continue to play to their strengths and round out the other parts of their game to come out on top.
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