With the curse of Colgate’s Starr Rink and the 8-0 loss there last Saturday in the rear-view mirror, Union College now has its focus and energy on the task at hand this weekend.
For starters, the Dutchmen need either a tie or a St. Lawrence loss to clinch home ice in the ECAC Hockey tournament for the fifth time in the last six years, since the league allowed all 12 teams to make the postseason in 2003. The Dutchmen (8-6-4 ECACH, 13-11-5 overall), in a three-way tie for fifth place with Harvard and Yale, are still in the hunt for a first-round bye.
Then, there is the streak Union has against league-leading Clarkson, tonight’s opponent at Messa Rink. The Dutchmen have won four straight regular-season games against the 12th-ranked Golden Knights (12-4-2, 17-10-3) at Messa, and are unbeaten in the last six
(4-0-2) regular-season meetings there. Clarkson’s last regular-season win at Messa came Jan. 13, 2001, a 5-0 triumph.
“They’re a well-coached team,” Union coach Nate Leaman said. “They’ve always had good teams. They usually bring out the best in us, which is what you want in an opponent.”
The Knights have had better success in the postseason at Messa Rink, sweeping the 2004 first-round series and winning the following year, when all three first-round games were decided in overtime. Still, Clarkson coach George Roll is looking for his first regular-season win at Union since taking over the Knights in 2003.
“First off, I think they are a very good hockey team, and play a very physical brand of hockey and are tough to play against,” Roll said. “I do not believe there other reasons than that. It is hard to win on the road in our league, no matter who you are playing.”
Last year’s win was a memorable one. T.J. Fox beat goalie David Leggio with a wrist shot off a two-on-one break 1:04 into overtime, giving the Dutchmen a 2-1 in on Jan. 20.
“We’ve always stuck to our game plan,” Union defenseman Michael Beynon said. “We’ve played a
really solid game against them. We haven’t made too many mistakes, and kept it simple. That’s what you have to do against a skilled team like Clarkson.”
With four games left in the regular season, the Dutchmen, along with Harvard and Yale, are one point in back of Cornell for the last first-round bye berth. The trio trails third-place Quinnipiac by two points, second-place Princeton by four and Clarkson by six. Union, Harvard and Yale are two points ahead of Colgate, which holds the
final first-round home-ice berth. The trio has a comfortable eight-point lead over ninth-place St. Lawrence, which plays at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute tonight and visits Union on Saturday in the Dutchmen’s final regular-season home game.
But clinching home ice won’t satisfy the Dutchmen, who dropped a 3-2 decision to Clarkson at Cheel Arena last month, ending their seven-game winning streak.
“Our goal is to finish top four,” Dutchmen defenseman and co-captain Lane Caffaro said. “That’s all we’re thinking about right now.”
home ice doubtful
Meanwhile, RPI is just trying to right itself in time for the postseason.
Mathematically, the Engineers
(4-11-3, 9-19-4) are still in the hunt for home ice in the first round, being seven points behind Colgate.
Realistically, it would take a miracle for that to happen. So, more than likely, tonight’s game against the Saints (5-11-2, 10-16-4) and Saturday’s matchup with Clarkson will be the final games at Houston Field House this season.
“We’re not concerned about [home ice],” said RPI coach Seth Appert, whose team is 0-4-1 in its last five games and 1-14-1 in the last 16, with the win coming at St. Lawrence Jan. 26. “We haven’t talked about it. We’re not going to get it. I have confidence in our team, in that we’re going to get going, and play better hockey and that we can put ourselves in position to win these last four. But I have zero confidence that Colgate is going to lose all four, with how good they’re playing.”