Union going back to basics against Cornell, Colgate

Union faces a crucial ECAC Hockey League matchup at Cornell tonight as the Dutchmen position themsel
PHOTOGRAPHER:

No one could blame the Union men’s hockey team for thinking

tonight’s ECAC Hockey game against Cornell at Lynah Rink is its most important so far this season.

The Dutchmen (7-5-4 ECACH), are in a position that, since the league started including all 12 teams in its postseason tournament in 2003, they have rarely been in — battling for a first-round bye in the conference tournament this late in the season. Union was home for the first round of the postseason from 2003-06, and its highest seeding was sixth, in 2003 and 2006. Last year, the Dutchmen finished last, and were at Quinnipiac for the playoffs.

The top four finishers receive first-round playoff byes.

Union is tied for fifth in the standings, one point behind Cornell (9-6-1, 11-9-3). A win would put the Dutchmen ahead of the Big Red by one, and also give them the season series. The Dutchmen beat the Big Red, 2-1, Jan. 12 at Messa Rink.

However, the Dutchmen’s focus isn’t just on overtaking the Big Red. They are more concerned about getting back to basics after earning just one point in two games last weekend against teams below them in the standings. Plus, there is Saturday’s game at Colgate to worry about, so the Dutchmen don’t want to get caught up in putting all their energy into the Cornell game and have nothing left for Colgate, a place where they have won just once in 16 years.

“It’s definitely a two-game weekend,” Dutchmen co-captain Matt Cook said. “Colgate’s definitely a hot team right now. Every time we go up there, it’s two hard games. You don’t think of the weekend as just going to Lynah Rink. You think of it as two hard games on your hands. We’re taking it one game at a time, but we’re just as worried about Colgate as we are Cornell.”

Between mid-term exams and the flu, the Dutchmen last week didn’t look like the same team that went 7-1 in January, and 8-1-1 in their last 10.

In their 3-2 loss to sixth-place Harvard last Friday, the Dutchmen had no jump, and did not show much emotion in the first period as they fell behind, 2-0. They played better the next night against last-place Dartmouth, but couldn’t score. Neither did the Big Green in the 0-0 draw.

“We’ve been focused on ourselves a lot this week,” Union coach Nate Leaman said. “We really haven’t spoken about Cornell or Colgate. We’re not preparing any differently than we do any other week. We’re preparing for a Friday game. And then after Friday’s game, we’ll prepare for Saturday’s game. We just want to keep everything consistent in our approach.

“We didn’t do a lot of little things well this past weekend. We have to get back to doing those little things well, and make sure we have the guys out there that can do those little things, and are focused on

doing those little things well because those are what makes us successful.”

Leaman is hoping to have enough healthy bodies for the weekend. The flu continues to ravage the team.

“We have a number of guys that have missed practice this week,” Leaman said. “I won’t know who I have until the game.”

One decision yet to be made is who will start in goal. Freshman Corey Milan earned his first collegiate shutout in the scoreless tie, and stopped 16 of 17 shots in the final two periods against Harvard in relief of starter Justin Mrazek.

Milan, who was named ECACH rookie of the week on Monday, said he hasn’t been told if he will start. Mrazek started against Cornell last month, and made 17 saves.

If Milan gets the start, he will be ready for the razzing from the

Lynah faithful.

“I’ve heard it’s a lot of fun to play there,” Milan said. “It’s a great atmosphere. Whether I get the start or not, I’m really excited to be

going there.”

TIE A SPARK

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coach Seth Appert is hoping last Friday’s 4-4 tie against Dartmouth provides a big lift for the Engineers’ game against eighth-place Colgate (5-7-4, 11-12-15) tonight at Starr Rink. The game will be televised by Time Warner Cable channel 3.

The 10th-place Engineers

(4-9-3, 9-17-4), who are three points behind the Raiders for the final ECACH tournament first-round home-ice spot, rallied from a 4-0 deficit against the Big Green. In a season where RPI has blown leads, particularly in the third period, Appert was happy to see his team pull off the comeback.

“I think they gained a little more confidence and belief in each other through overcoming a tough sit­uation,” Appert said. “We’re struggling a little bit, in terms of the last month. . . . Considering the circumstances, it would have been an easy game for the team to pack it in. So we were real happy how our guys responded. We’ve had sit­uations like that in the second half of the season where we’re playing pretty well, and good things aren’t happening because we can’t finish, or we make some mistakes and the [opposing] team exposes us.”

RPI and Colgate are meeting for the third time this season. The Eng­ineers won, 2-0, in the Governors’ Cup final Oct. 27. Colgate took a 4-0 win Jan. 12 at Houston Field House.

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