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Union College students forgiving of coach’s action

Most interviewed see Bennett as passionate, sincere in his apology

January 28, 2014
Updated 11:03 a.m.
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Union College student Derek Kahr, sitting in the Reamer Campus Center on Monday, talks about the Union College hockey brawl against RPI on Saturday night.
Photographer: Marc Schultz
Union College student Derek Kahr, sitting in the Reamer Campus Center on Monday, talks about the Union College hockey brawl against RPI on Saturday night.

— Derek Kahr plays club hockey at Union College.

He knows the game. And he thinks he knows what caused Union coach Rick Bennett’s fiery actions on the ice at the Times Union Center Saturday night.

“The RPI coach should have never let his team clear the bench — that was a pretty bush league thing to do,” said Kahr, 21, a sophomore economics major from Needham, Mass.

A fight between Union and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute players broke out with just 1.7 seconds left in the game, as RPI prepared to take an upset 2-1 victory and the Mayor’s Cup home to Troy. Video of the altercation showed an agitated Bennett going after RPI coach Seth Appert. Referees and assistants restrained the third-year Union coach; Union players eventually withdrew and RPI skaters celebrated a win over the NCAA’s then third-ranked college hockey team.

Bennett and Appert both apologized for their actions in postgame press conferences. On Sunday, Union suspended Bennett for two games; other penalties could follow.

“Obviously, we are disappointed and embarrassed by what happened,” said Phillip J. Wajda, director of media and public relations, in an email. “The leadership of the Athletics Department took swift and appropriate action, which the president supports.”

Officials at RPI released an email statement about the Albany incident Monday night.

“The Rensselaer men’s ice hockey program has a proud history, with a strong commitment to outstanding sportsmanship,” said Allison Newman, acting vice president of strategic communications and external relations. “Rensselaer will continue to review this recent incident for opportunities to further reinforce our high standards.”

Students on the Union campus, most interviewed Monday afternoon inside the Reamer Campus Center, backed Bennett’s play.

Kahr, eating lunch with fellow club hockey player Reed Houston, believes RPI players rushing the ice set the stage for Bennett’s reaction. “I think he had every right to be pretty mad,” he said. “I don’t know if that was the right away to handle it, but from a hockey perspective, that was pretty low to let your team clear the bench.”

If Bennett has been suspended for two games, Kahr believes Appert deserves the same punishment.

Sophomore Houston, 20, an economics major from Pittsburgh, believes Bennett reacted to what he saw on the ice.

“Granted, coach Bennett did come after the RPI coach with a few swings, which also wasn’t very appropriate, but I think that was just a very impulsive response,” he said. “I can’t blame him, but I think it was kind of shameful on both coaches’ parts.”

Paul Torres-Cohen, 18, a freshman political science major from the Bronx, didn’t like Bennett’s rowdy moves at the end of the game.

“Maybe he’s passionate about the team,” he said. “I think maybe he might have stepped over the line, but it shows that he’s committed to Union. I think it reflects badly on both Union and RPI, but it’s sport, and it was our last meeting of the year. It’s a neutral site and those things can happen. … We had two out of three in the series. It would have been nice to bring home the win. I guess everyone got a little bit frustrated.”

Some students didn’t much care about the Dutchmen-Engineers rivalry or Bennett’s tirade.

Sophomore Emily Myers, 19, said the fight story was not a big topic of conversation in her circle of friends. “I’ve heard about it from one or two people, but I wasn’t at the game,” said Myers, a political science major from Waitsfield, Vt. She admitted the Mayor’s Cup ending stirred some people — but not her.

“I don’t really care,” she said.

Sophomore economics majors Dave Pope, 19, from Beverly, Mass., and Nick Littas, 20, from Weston, Mass., believe Bennett was just standing up for his players. Neither thought the post-game hysterics were that big a deal.

“I grew up in Boston, so I’m used to all the fights with the Bruins,” Pope said.

“I don’t think it turned any kids off,” Littas said. “It might turn some parents off.”

Warren Thompson, 20, of Boston, could not endorse Bennett’s actions in the name of school spirit.

“I think our team did not represent our college well,” said Thompson, a junior music and biochemistry major. “I think they acted very irresponsibly, notably the coach.”

Thompson was at the game. He said nobody in the stands wanted to see a fight between the longtime rivals.

“The fans just thought the players should have left the ice,” he said. “Absolutely Union. And it would have been the responsible thing for RPI as well.”

Joshua Fields, 21, a mechanical engineering major from Schenectady, said he knew people were talking about the angry ending. As he walked the campus on a blustery day, Fields said he didn’t think the incident reflected poorly on the college.

“It shows that we’re passionate about hockey,” he said.

The incident is not likely to tarnish the reputations of Union or Bennett.

“The school acted pretty quickly and there was an apology,” said David Hoff, senior vice president at Hager Sharp in Washington, D.C., which performs media relations and other services for clients in the education and health sectors. “By taking quick action like that, I think the school is showing it’s taking this seriously and the statement from the coach sounds like he’s taking this seriously as well, so I don’t see this having a lasting effect for the school.”

Hoff said there could be another issue.

“I do see, thinking more broadly, it’s a problem for the game of hockey, and I say this as a father of a 16-year-old who plays hockey,” he said. “This behavior is associated with hockey in a way that it’s not in other sports. And Union as a school that is a traditional hockey power and has a reputation as a hockey power has to be concerned when things like this happen and take actions so they don’t happen again.”

 
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