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RPI, Union Open College Hockey Season This Weekend

It may be only a month from Labor Day and it may also reach 70 degrees this weekend, but the college hockey season is upon us.

Union and RPI, both fresh off of NCAA tournament appearances last season, open their 2011-12 campaigns this weekend.

Union is coming off of its first NCAA tournament berth in school history, but there are a lot of things different in Schenectady.

Courtesy Union Athletics

Gone is coach Nate Leaman, who elevated Union over the past few years to an perennial ECAC contender. Leaman is replaced by Rick Bennett, an assistant of Leaman’s.

Also gone is goalie Keith Kinkaid, who now suits up for the Albany Devils.

Something that isn’t gone is a powerful offense that helped propel Union to its first Cleary Cup (ECAC regular season championship).

Senior Kelly Zajac leads an offense that returns six of its seven leading scorer from last season, as the Dutchmen hope to keep lighting the lamp plenty this year.

The Dutchmen begin the season Saturday evening, when they travel down to take on Army.

Over in Troy, another goalie must be replaced – Allen York.

York helped lead RPI to the NCAA tournament, but now he is playing for the Springfield Falcons, AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Engineers also must replace ECAC Player of the Year, Chase Polacek, who also earn All-American honors, a season ago.

RPI’s best player is defenseman Nick Bailen (below), a transfer from Bowling Green, who earned All-ECAC honors last year, as a sophomore.

Sara Melikian/RPI Athletics

The Engineers host Minnesota State-Mankato on Friday and Saturday, at Houston Field House.

Despite the question marks, both Capital District teams begin the season in the USCHO.com’s Top 25.

Union begins the season at No. 11 (its highest preseason ranking ever), while RPI is No. 18.

Both teams will be gunning for a return trip to the NCAA tournament, something they each are capable of attaining.

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