Union hockey team is putting it all together

Killing off power plays is a good example of how the Union College hockey team is putting it all tog
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There are many elements that help a hockey team’s penalty-killing unit successfully fend off an opponent’s power play.

You could credit the players for knowing when to be aggressive, or when to be patient. The play of the goalies also goes a long way in determining the success or failure of the group.

Or, it could just be a lucky bounce of the puck.

It’s been a combination of all of those factors that have helped Union kill off 20 straight oppos­ition power plays over the last five games. The Dutchmen, who are in a three-way tie with Harvard and Yale for fifth place in the ECAC Hockey standings, look to extend that streak when they host

19th-ranked Princeton tonight at 7 at Messa Rink.

Union’s penalty killing percentage is 84.4 percent (92 of 109), up from 80.1 percent (72 of 89). The last power-play goal the Dutchmen (6-4-2 ECACH, 11-9-3) allowed was against Colgate Jan. 11. Tyler Burton scored on the Raiders’ final attempt of the game.

Dutchmen coach Nate Leaman believes improved goaltending by Corey Milan and Justin Mrazek has been important during the penalty- killing streak.

“The first half of the season, we were definitely below average in goaltending,” Leaman said. “The second half of the season, our goaltending has come around, and the guys are playing well. It helps your penalty kill a lot.”

The players who make up the penalty-killing units are also getting more and more comfortable in their roles. Leaman used some of the freshmen early in the season. They made some mistakes then, but have cut those down to a minimum.

“We’re playing, as a team, better on the PK,” said freshman forward Andrew Buote. “Everyone’s working together a little more so than earlier in the year. When you’re on a streak, the bounces seem to go your way.”

Leaman credits associate head coach Rick Bennett with helping improve the penalty killing. During their 7-1 January, the Dutchmen allowed only three power-play goals in 35 chances.

“The biggest thing is the guys are finally starting to get it,” Bennett said. “It’s just a credit to them.”

The Dutchmen will need to keep it up against the second-place

Tigers (8-4, 11-8), who have won six straight.

Princeton has the league’s second-best offense with a 3.11 scoring average. Quinnipiac, Union’s opponent on Saturday, leads with a 3.12 average.

The Tigers, who beat the Dutchmen, 4-3, at Hobey Baker Rink on Dec. 1, are led by junior forward Lee Jubinville. He has seven goals and 17 assists, and is tied with Quinnipiac’s Brandon Wong in conference scoring with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists).

Princeton has been unbeatable in league road games, going 5-0. It is 8-2 overall on the road, and is coming off Tuesday’s 5-2 victory at Robert Morris.

Union has been tough at home. It is 3-0-2 in league games, and

7-1-3 overall.

“It’s definitely going to be a very close game,” Union forward Chris Potts said. “Princeton’s obviously a very good team.”

RPI HOSTS QUINNIPIAC

It will be a big weekend for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, which snapped its team-record 10-game losing streak with last Saturday’s 6-3 win at St. Lawrence.

The Engineers (4-7-2, 9-15-3)

host 16th-ranked Quinnipiac

(6-3-3, 14-7-3), which is tied for third place with Cornell, tonight at 7 at Houston Field House. Former RPI great Frank Chiarelli will be inducted into the school’s Hockey Ring of Honor.

On Saturday at 7 p.m., it’s the 31st annual Big Red Freakout when the Engineers face Princeton. RPI is

18-7-5 all-time in the Freakout, and is 12-0-5 in the last 17.

RPI coach Seth Appert isn’t worried about extending the Freakout. He is taking the Bill Belichick approach: focusing on the opponent they are playing that night and not looking ahead to the next oppon­ent.

“I haven’t thought about [the Freakout],” Appert said. “We play Friday first. There’s no reason to concern yourself with things that don’t affect how we play Friday night. That is what our focus has to be. We’re playing one of the best teams in the league, one of the most offensively dynamic teams in the league, on Friday night.

“If our focus, or our energy, or our attention shifts even slightly away from that, we’re going to put ourselves in a position that we don’t want to be in.”

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