ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. Union hockey coach Rick Bennett looks at the Yale lineup and sees a lot of talented scorers.
There is junior forward Kenny Agostino, who leads the Bulldogs with 15 goals and 22 assists. Then there is senior forward Andrew Miller, who has 16 goals and 19 assists and has collected 150 points in his Yale career. Senior forward Antoine Laganiere has 14 goals and 13 assists. And don’t forget sophomore defenseman Tommy Fallon (7-15-22) and junior forward Jesse Root (9-11-20).
If the Dutchmen want to be in Saturday’s championship game for the second straight year, Bennett’s team must keep those highly skilled players under control.
The fourth-seeded and 18th-ranked Dutchmen (19-12-5), the defending ECACH tournament champions, face third-seeded and 11th-ranked Yale (18-10-3), in the semifinal tonight at 7:30 at Boardwalk Hall.
Union will be looking to become the first team to repeat as tournament champion since St. Lawrence won back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001. Facing a dangerous offensive unit in the Bulldogs will be a major test for the Dutchmen in achieving that goal.
“You hit the nail on the head when you said dangerous,” Bennett said. “They’re a very dangerous team. I feel they’re, quite possibly, the best transition-to-offense team in our league. The fact that they can really turn it up if you want to decide to start turning pucks over. They have the speed and the skill, in a hockey sense, to make some plays.
“It can be a long night if you decide if you wanted to turn that puck over.”
That got Union in trouble late in the third period of its first meeting with Yale at Ingalls Rink on Dec. 8. The Dutchmen couldn’t hold on to a 2-0 lead and had to settle for a 2-2 tie.
In the second game Feb. 15 at Messa Rink, the Dutchmen gave up 39 shots in goal. However, they were more careful with the puck, got great goaltending from Troy Grosenick and posted a 4-2 victory.
Yale is coming off a sweep of St. Lawrence in last weekend’s quarterfinals. The Bulldogs won Game 1, 6-1, with Agostino, Laganiere, Miller and Root combining for five goals and seven assists. Miller led the way with two goals and two assists.
The Bulldogs won Game 2, 3-0.
“We have to neutralize their forwards,” Union junior defenseman and team captain Mat Bodie said. “They have a great transition game. Once the D-men get the puck in their forwards’ hands, they can make some plays. [There was] evidence of that last weekend when they scored nine goals. If we can control the puck and take care of the puck in all three zones, we should be all right.”
Grosenick, who made 38 saves in the February win, is ready for whatever the Bulldogs fire at him.
“They’re really fast and skilled,” said Grosenick, who is 14-9-5 with a 2.17 goals-against average with a .923 save percentage and one shutout. “We just need to be focused on limiting the turnovers, and trying to play as much as we can down in their zone. When you can do that, that’s when we’re successful.”
The Dutchmen aren’t too shabby on offense, either. Like Yale, they scored nine goals in their two-game sweep of Dartmouth in last weekend’s quarterfinals. Union posted wins of 4-1 and 5-2.
Union is averaging 34.1 shots per game. It had a streak of getting 40 or more shots in five straight home games. The Dutchmen are on a streak of having scored a goal in 13 straight periods.
The Dutchmen fired 42 shots on Yale in the Feb. 15 win. However, senior Jeff Malcolm, Yale’s No. 1 goalie, was out with an arm injury. Nick Maricic left in two soft goals in the second period and was pulled in favor of Connor Wilson.
Malcolm played in the first meeting, and he had 33 saves. He has a 16-4-2 record with a 2.28 GAA, a .918 save percentage and two shutouts.
“Like any goalie, we have to get pucks to the net and go there,” said Union junior forward Daniel Carr, who is third on the team in scoring with 14 goals and 14 assists. “It’s the playoffs. Like I said last week, you need to score hard-area goals. That’s what we need to do again.”
Not only are the Dutchmen seeking to repeat as ECACH tournament champions, they are looking to secure a third straight NCAA tournament appearance. They sit 15th in the PairWise Rankings. A win over Yale could secure at least an at-large bid. They would get the automatic bid by winning the tournament.
“There are still so many combinations that can be played out,” Bodie said. “I think we can get as high as eighth, and I’m just as sure we can fall out of the tournament easily. You always want to make the tournament through the front door by winning your conference. That’s what we’re looking to do.”