Union came out of its weekend ECAC Hockey games against Harvard and Dartmouth with just one point. But that was one point more than Cornell earned on its North Country trip.
And now, the stage is set for a pivotal game on Friday, as the fifth-place Dutchmen will take on fourth-place Cornell at Lynah Rink.
At stake is control of the final ECACH tournament first-round bye. The Dutchmen (7-5-4 ECACH, 12-10-5 overall) are just a point behind the Big Red (9-6-1, 11-9-3).
Union earned its point by playing Dartmouth to a scoreless tie Saturday at Messa Rink. The previous night, the Dutchmen dropped a 3-2 decision to Harvard.
Meanwhile, Cornell was getting swept up north. The Big Red lost to league-leading Clarkson, 4-1, on Friday, and then fell to St. Lawrence, 4-2, Saturday.
“If you can take points, you’re making progress,” Union coach Nate Leaman said. “If you’re not taking points, you’re not making progress. It’s really about that. It almost doesn’t matter what jersey you’re playing. Every weekend gets more and more amplified.”
With just six games left in the regular season, that certainly is the case.
While Union is in position to earn home ice, at least in the first round, nothing is guaranteed. Nine points separate the Dutchmen from Brown and Dartmouth, who are tied for 11th. Wins this weekend over Cornell and Colgate would make life easier for the Dutchmen, who were picked to finish last in the preseason coaches and media polls.
“We take a look at the standings, here and there,” co-captain Matt Cook said. “Right now, we’re worried about us. We’re worried about our process. There are some things we need to take care of in our game. Once we get our game going, things like the standings will take care of itself.”
Harvard and Dartmouth each won the season series from the Dutchmen. Union dropped a pair of 4-0 decisions to those teams in November.
But the coaches of the two teams, Harvard’s Ted Donato and Dartmouth’s Bob Gaudet, are impressed with the way the Dutchmen have been playing.
“They’re a well-coached team,” Gaudet said. “They’re tough physically, and they’ve got good goaltending. They are a very strong team in all facets of the game. There’s no hocus-pocus. They are what they are. They are a team that deserves to be there.”
Donato saw a 3-0 Harvard lead nearly disappear in the final 3:31 of the game.
“They hadn’t gone 8-1-1 in their last 10 for no reason,” Donato said. “They’re a good team, and they worked hard right to the end.
“If you ask me, they are already a force in the league. We’re looking up at them in the standings. They’re really playing well as a team. I give Nate all the credit in the world. They’re going to be a difficult team down the stretch, and in the playoffs.”
More from The Daily Gazette: