November 22, 2013

ECAC Journal: Union looking to make early-season move

By Dan Guttenplan

Coach Rick Bennett and the Dutchmen are 5-1-1 in their last seven games. (Photo: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

Now that the Union hockey team has established itself as a perennial NCAA tournament team, a random November weekend matchup against an ECAC Hockey rival doesn’t figure to get the blood flowing for the Dutchmen like it did a few years ago.

This was evidenced last season when Union seemed to sleepwalk through much of its ECAC Hockey regular-season schedule, going 8-8-4 through the first 20 games. Needing a strong finish on the final weekend to earn a first-round bye in the ECAC Hockey tournament, the Dutchmen turned it on, beating St. Lawrence and Clarkson by a combined score of 9-1.

Then, the Dutchmen never let their foot off the gas. They went 4-0 in the ECAC Hockey tournament, earning a championship for the second year in a row. They picked up their seventh consecutive victory in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, knocking off defending national champion Boston College.

This regular season seemed to be headed in the same direction for Union after a 1-2-2 start through its first five games. And who could blame the Dutchmen after playing deep into March each of the last two seasons?

Well, Union righted the ship last weekend with a sweep of RPI, a team thought to be in the upper echelon of the conference. Union coach Rick Bennett (Springfield, Mass.) said the early-season turnaround is not so much a matter of focus and motivation as collective team health.

“It was more getting healthy,” Bennett said. “We played strong opponents early that presented some tough matchups size-wise. They gave us difficult looks, and the only thing to do was battle through it.”

Union was swept by Lake Superior State in the second weekend of the season, but has since gone 5-1-1 over its next seven. Although the Dutchmen have started 5-1-0 in their first six ECAC Hockey games, Bennett believes the conference has gotten even stronger in the last year – a strong statement considering two ECAC teams, Quinnipiac and Yale, met in the national championship game last year.

“I think every school in the league has made a huge effort recruiting with more dollars,” Bennett said. “We’re spent more money to find players, and that boosts the programs. Some teams have improved their training facilities and playing venues. All of those things have made a difference in making this one of the premier conferences in the nation.”

Player of the Week

Shayne Gostisbehere, Union, Jr. defenseman

Gostisbehere scored twice in a span of 70 seconds to lead Union to a 4-1 win over Rensselaer Saturday. Both goals came off slap shots, one from inside the left face-off circle, the other from atop the right circle. He recorded two assists in Friday's win over RPI and finished with 14 shots on goal for the weekend. He was also part of a power-play unit that scored four times in sweeping the series against the Engineers.

Game of the Week

Yale at Cornell, Saturday

Cornell enters the weekend with the nation’s best power play, converting on 31.7 percent of its opportunities and netting 1.6 goals per game. Yale has outscored opponents 26-18 overall and 14-4 in the second period. The Blue is 4-0-1 when leading going into the third period.

ECAC Rankings

1. Quinnipiac (11-1-1, 5-0-1): Quinnipiac goaltender Michael Garteig was named ECAC Hockey Goalie of the Week for the third time this season Nov. 19. He earned the same honor Oct. 22 and Nov. 5. During that stretch, Quinnipiac ran its NCAA-beat unbeaten streak to 12 games. As of Nov. 19, Garteig was 11-1-1 with a 1.53 goals-against average, good for second in the nation.

2. Yale (4-1-2, 2-0-2): Clinton Bourbonaisthe Bulldogs’ hero in last year’s national championship game against Quinnipiacwas removed from the Yale roster prior to last week’s game against Sacred Heart. Yale coach Keith Allain said he’ll have no comment on the matter. Bourbonais was a healthy scratch for the team’s first five games this season. One of four seniors on the roster, Bourbonais had 15 goals and 42 points in 86 career games.

3. Union (6-3-2, 5-1-0): Union coach Rick Bennett says he’s looking for more scoring balance on his forward lines and strong special teams.

4. Cornell (4-3-1, 2-3-1): The Big Red snapped out of their scoring slump. After scoring only five goals in the team’s previous four games, Cornell scored five goals in a 5-2 victory over St. Lawrence Saturday night.

5. Clarkson (10-3-1, 4-2-0): Clarkson’s career leader in coaching victories, Mark Morris, became the first coach in history last week to record 300 professional wins to go along with 300 college wins. He notched his 300th coaching victory with the New Hampshire.

6. St. Lawrence (6-4-2, 2-2-2): The Saints’ promising start to the season took a major hit last weekend when they were swept by Cornell and Colgate at home.

7. RPI (6-4-2, 2-3-2): The Engineers and Union were two ships passing in the night in the national rankings when the Dutchmen recorded a weekend sweep of their geographical rivals.

8. Colgate (6-6-1, 4-2-0): After a weekend sweep over nationally ranked opponents St. Lawrence and Clarkson, Colgate freshman Emilio Audi earned ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Week. Audi tallied three points on a goal and two assists over the weekend.

9. Brown (3-3-1, 1-2-1): In a quirky twist of scheduling, the Bears will only play two games of their first 10 games at home. Perhaps home ice will do them some good in December and beyond.

10. Harvard (3-4-1, 2-4-1): Exactly a year after withdrawing from school, the Crimson’s top defensive pair of Patrick McNally and Max Everson returned to the ice Saturday night in a victory over Princeton. In addition, junior goaltender Steve Michalek, who also withdrew last season, recorded his first win for Harvard in more than a year to improve to 1-2-1 on the season.

11. Princeton (2-7-0, 1-5-0): The Tigers sported Hobey Baker-era jerseys Saturday in a loss to Harvard on Alumni Day.

12. Dartmouth (0-8-0, 0-6-0): The Big Green are getting dangerously close to going 0-for-October and November. They play next Nov. 30 vs. Harvard.