It’s mid-February, and all seems right with ECAC Hockey.
Union is once again in its familiar position at the top of the standings, as has often been the case under third-year coach Rick Bennett.
The Dutchmen (19-6-3 overall, 13-3-0 ECAC) are three points ahead of second-place Quinnipiac (20-5-5, 10-3-3) with three weekends to play. If they hold on, they will claim their third Cleary Cup – awarded to the ECAC Hockey regular-season champion – in four seasons. Union has also won two ECAC Hockey tournament championships and made two NCAA tournament appearances under Bennett.
Like most national-championship contenders, this year’s Union team is laden with upperclassmen. The top five scorers on the team – Daniel Carr (13-17-30), Daniel Ciampini (12-12-24), Mat Bodie (4-20-24), Shayne Gostisbehere (7-14-21) and Kevin Sullivan (4-17-21) – are juniors or seniors, as is the goaltender, junior Colin Stevens (16-4-1, 2.18 GAA).
However, there is plenty of talent in the pipeline. The Dutchmen have three freshmen – Michael Pontarelli (9-11-20), Eli Lichtenwald (7-9-16) and Mike Vecchione (6-10-16) with at least 16 points.
“We don’t want anybody to wait their turn here,” said Bennett, whose team went 3-1-0 while he served a four-game suspension due to an altercation after a loss to RPI last month. “It’s whoever is producing and playing well with the style we want to play.”
Perhaps it’s that inter-team competition that keeps the Dutchmen churning toward the finish line once again. With the postseason looming and two ranked teams in Cornell and Colgate on the schedule for this weekend, history would indicate Union is ready to make its annual push. The Dutchmen are 22-9-5 against ranked opponents in Bennett’s three seasons.
“There’s nothing given to you here,” said Sullivan, a senior from Darien, Conn. “You always have to work hard for a spot. My freshman year, I was battling with seniors for a spot. It didn’t come easy. Now I’m a senior, and I’m battling for my spot on the power play or the top two lines. That’s how it is here.”
Player of the Week
Gavin Bayreuther (Canaan, N.H.), St. Lawrence
In addition to providing outstanding defense in the Saints’ sweep of Princeton (7-1) and Quinnipiac (3-2), Bayreuther assisted on four goals in the Princeton game and scored his seventh of the year at Quinnipiac.
Game of the Week
Union at Cornell, Friday, 7 p.m.
Friday's game will be the 55th all-time meeting between the Big Red and Dutchmen, with Cornell holding a 32-15-7 lead in the series. Cornell holds an 9-3-2 advantage over the teams' last 14 meetings.
1. Quinnipiac (20-5-5; 10-3-3): Quinnipiac forward Connor Jones scored 10 seconds into Friday’s win over Clarkson after scoring eight seconds in against Dartmouth last weekend. Jones is the first player in NCAA history to score a goal in the first 10 seconds of a game twice in his career.
2. Union (19-6-3; 13-3-0): The Dutchmen ran their home winning streak to eight games with a 5-3 win over defending national champion Yale on Saturday. Union is 9-0 against Ivy League schools this season.
3. Cornell (12-5-5; 8-4-4): The Big Red’s nine-game unbeaten streak was snapped with a 6-1 loss at Colgate Saturday night. Cornell hadn’t lost a game since Nov. 30 entering that contest.
4. Clarkson (17-11-2, 10-6-0): The Golden Knights earned their 13th one-goal victory of the season Saturday with a 4-3 win over Princeton. Clarkson leads the nation with 21 one-goal differentials in games this season.
5. Yale (12-7-4; 7-6-3): In a show of how big this Friday’s matchup against Quinnipiac is for Yale, the Ivy League school is hosting a hockey media day Thursday to give the players and coaches one day to answer all questions.
6. Colgate (14-11-3; 10-5-1): Cancer survivor Spiro Goulakos, a junior defenseman, had his best point performance of his Colgate career with a four points on a hat trick and an assist in a 6-1 win over Cornell Saturday night.
7. Brown (9-11-3; 6-9-1): After getting swept on the road by Union and RPI last weekend, the Bears are seven points out of fourth place in the conference. Looks like they’ll be playing the opening weekend of the ECAC Hockey tournament.
8. RPI (12-12-4; 6-7-3): The Engineers beat Brown 4-1 in the Big Red Freakout! Saturday night, running their record to 20-8-5 all-time in Big Red Freakout! games.
9. St. Lawrence (11-14-3; 5-8-3): Freshman forward Gavin Bayreuther (Canaan, N.H.) assisted on four goals in a win over Princeton Friday night, and added an assist in a win over Quinnipiac Saturday.
10. Harvard (8-12-3; 4-9-3): The Crimson downed Boston University, 6-2, in the Beanpot Consolation on Monday night at the TD Garden. Harvard has scored at least six goals in each of the last four games against Boston University.
11. Dartmouth (4-16-3, 3-12-1): The Big Green traveled to Harvard Saturday, only to see a zamboni malfunction while cleaning the sheet in the pregame. The game was delayed almost two hours, and then Dartmouth lost 3-0.
12. Princeton (4-19-0; 3-13-0): The Tigers outshot Clarkson 37-32 in a 4-3 loss on Saturday night. Small victories.