By Gabriella Levine
This past Saturday, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) defeated No. 3 Union 2-1 in the second annual Mayor’s Cup at the Times Union Center, ending Union’s 10-game winning streak against the Engineers. This upset was amplified by an on-ice brawl that occurred between the two teams at the end of the game, in which both players and coaches got involved.
Union’s Head Coach RIck Bennett (left) and RPI’s Head Coach Seth Appert (right) got into an altercation after Saturday’s Mayor’s Cup. Courtesy of John Carl D’Annibale from the Times Union
Union Captain Mat Bodie ’14, Eli Lichtenwald ’17 and RPI’s Mike Zalewski and Luke Curadi received single game disqualifications on Saturday. As of Monday evening, the ECAC extended Bodie’s suspension to two games; additionally, Daniel Ciampini ’15 will be serving a one-game suspension, and RPI’s Ryan Haggerty and Bo Dolan will each serve one game suspensions.
On Sunday, Union suspended Head Coach Rick Bennett for two games for joining in the on-ice altercation. In a video that has been circulating online, Bennett can be seen shouting at and charging after RPI Head Coach Seth Appert before being restrained by two referees. On the video, it appears that Bennett initiated the confrontation, with Appert responding and being held back by two of his own players.
On Wednesday, the ECAC handed down an additional two game suspension to Bennett, for a total of four games. The ECAC also suspended Appert for one game. However, RPI did not believe a suspension of Appert was warranted from the school.
“After reviewing all the video, talking to the commissioner, talking to the athletic director of Union, communicating with my boss, the VP of Student Life, we determined that Coach Appert’s conduct did not warrant supplemental discipline,” stated RPI Athletic Director Jim Knowlton in an email to the Concordiensis.
Appert contends that he does not know what precipitated the confrontation with Bennett, claiming that he has “no idea why” Bennett went after him.
“I was on the ice trying to get our players to break away from the altercations and to end it and get back to the bench, and I can’t speak for why … but I will add that I have a tremendous amount of respect for Rick Bennett as a person and as a coach. Sometimes things go wrong in the heat of the moment, but that doesn’t change my feelings about him,” Appert stated.
Director of Union Athletics Jim McLaughlin explained the reasoning behind Union’s decision to suspend Bennett.
“These are two great academic institutions that belong to the most prestigious academic league in the country. The behavior demonstrated by coaches and players from both sides did not uphold the values of our department or our league. As a result, and in consultation with senior campus officials, we made the decision to suspend Coach Bennett on Sunday morning for his part in the incident,” McLaughlin stated.
He went on to note that the behavior demonstrated by Bennett at Saturday’s game was “completely out of character” in comparison to what he has personally witnessed from the coach in nearly 10 years of working with him.
“Regardless of what led to the altercation we all have a responsibility to act in accordance with our department and institutional values and not let emotion get the best of us. We have high expectations for our coaches and student athletes as outlined in our coaching code of ethics and student athlete standards of conduct. We did not live up to these ideals or represent the College in a positive light on Saturday,” McLaughlin continued.
Mary-Kate Farber ’15, a passionate hockey fan who was present at Saturday’s game, described how the fight unfolded on the ice. “At the end of the game, we were all getting ready to leave as the last face off was about to happen and then all of a sudden we saw the RPI players jumping the bench and then the huge fight broke out. And right when you thought it was all over, the coaches got involved,” Farber explained.
Farber added that, following the fight, a “Let’s Go U” chant echoed throughout the halls of the Times Union Center.
During the post-game interviews on Saturday, both Bennett and Appert apologized to the presidents of their respective schools and their fans.
“I’m actually embarrassed by my actions,” Bennett said. “I apologize to our president, athletic director, fans, Garnet Blades members, to the RPI fans, their coaching staff, their players. That’s not how we want to be represented.”
Appert expressed a similar sentiment in his own interview and added that despite what happened, there is more to the hockey program than what was demonstrated after Saturday night’s game.
“I just want to apologize to Dr. Jackson, our school president and our fans and the Union fans, because that’s not what either team is about,” Appert said. “It’s good hard hockey and sometimes that happens, and it’s certainly not what we want to be about and I know they [Union] don’t either.”
As for the reason for the on-ice fight, there seems to be a consensus that it stemmed from the long-lived rivalry between Union and RPI.
“The Union-RPI hockey rivalry is the most heated rivalry I’ve ever been a part of,” Bodie stated in an email to the Concordiensis. “Anytime the two teams meet emotions run high. Unfortunately, things got a little out of hand at the end of the game.”
Appert shared a similar opinion. “When you play in a heated rivalry game, sometimes things boil over,” Appert said in his post-game interview.
In an interview with the Concordiensis on Monday, Appert noted that tensions were also running high between the two teams at their last contest on Nov. 16, 2013 at RPI. “A game in November in our building—when it wasn’t a brawl—but when there were a lot of penalties at the end of the game,” Appert described, referring to the end of a November matchup which accrued a total of 12 misconduct penalties between Union and RPI.
“The game of hockey is a passionate game and it led to the outburst,” Bennett explained on Monday to the Concordiensis.
Even after the fight was broken up, the teams did not shake hands. Bodie skated out to shake hands with an RPI captain, while the rest of Union’s team left the ice.
Both coaches remain adamant that this is not a reflection of their programs.
“We try to do everything we can at RPI to try to run a first-class program, just like I know Union tries to do,” Appert remarked. “This isn’t how we want our program to be portrayed and we certainly are not proud of what happened at the end of the game, and I’m sure both teams feel that way.”
Bennett addressed his regret about Saturday’s post-game antics and stated that Union’s program intends to learn from its mistakes.
“I feel terrible that this incident occurred and our program will move forward, learning from this,” he said. “My hope is that the students, student-athletes, administration and loyal supporters view this as an isolated incident. Our program will conduct itself in a first class manner going forward, and hopefully not be judged by this past game,” he continued.
Bodie paralleled Bennett’s thoughts in his own statement, saying, “We’ve got some of the best fans in college hockey and they deserve better than what we showed on Saturday night.”
Union President Stephen Ainlay, who attended the Mayor’s Cup (he dropped the puck at the beginning of the game with RPI’s vice president of student life), shares similar opinions with the team on the matter.
“I was very disappointed by what transpired at the end of the game,” Ainlay wrote in an email statement to the Concordiensis. “No matter what the provocation, the altercation was not acceptable. I am confident that the coaching staff and the players understand this. In fact, what happened Saturday night was totally out of character. Coach Bennett quickly took responsibility and apologized at the post-game press conference. I believe appropriate action has been taken in response to what happened and I look forward to supporting a team I know to have high standards and a team that I know understands the responsibilities that come with representing Union.”
This weekend, Union will play St. Lawrence University on Friday and Clarkson University on Saturday; RPI will play Clarkson on Friday and St. Lawrence on Saturday.
The Mayor’s Cup game was not a conference game. Union still leads the ECAC conference rankings in first place, but dropped from last week’s No. 3 rank to No. 4 in the national NCAA rankings.
As for the Union-RPI rivalry, mixed opinions abound.
“I hope we can continue to have a spirited rivalry that our student-athletes, fans and institutions can enjoy for years to come,” Knowlton said.
But Bodie has a different take on it: “I expect the rivalry will continue to be heated,” he said.
Union and RPI are not expected to face each other in the remaining 2013-2014 conference play.
This article reflects a recent update regarding the ECAC’s additional suspensions announced on Wednesday, January 29, 2014. This update was not announced at press time and was therefore not included in the print edition.