Union hopes to get going against North Country foes

The last time Union was on a four-game winless streak, the Dutchmen got going with a sweep of Clarks
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Sometimes, strange things happen in sports.

Take, for example, the Union men’s hockey team. Earlier this season, the Dutchmen had a four-game winless streak when they went north to face St. Lawrence and Clarkson. The Dutchmen won those games, starting them on an 11-1-2 run.

Now, the Dutchmen are on their second four-game winless streak this season, and guess who their opponents are this weekend?

Yep, Clarkson and St. Lawrence.

The 20th-ranked Dutchmen hope to duplicate what they did back on Nov. 13-14 when they host the Golden Knights tonight at 7:07, and the Saints Saturday at 7 p.m. in ECAC Hockey games at Messa Rink.

Union (7-3-4 ECACH, 13-7-6 overall) has cooled off over the last two weeks, going 0-3-1. The losses were against Harvard and Dartmouth two weeks ago, and Yale last Friday. The tie came against Brown last Saturday.

The slump knocked the Dutchmen out of first place. They are in a three-way tie for second with St. Lawrence and Yale.

Coach Nate Leaman believes the team’s work ethic needs to improve if the Dutchmen want to get back to being successful.

“Our work ethic was there the first two games that we’ve been in this skid, but our attention to detail wasn’t,” Leaman said. “Then I thought against Yale, our work ethic wasn’t there at all, and our compet­itiveness wasn’t there at all. Against Brown, thought we were OK. We just didn’t pull away.”

Dutchmen forward Jason Walters, who had his 15-game point-scoring streak snapped last Friday, knows the solution.

“We just have to get back to our systems, and get back to our game plans,” said Walters, who leads the team with 13 goals and is tied with Mario Valery-Trabucco for the team lead in scoring with 28 points. “That’s been the key all week. Coach has been making sure we’re getting back to our systems, knowing our forechecks and just little things that go a long way in our games that we’ve gotten away from the last four.”

Valery-Trabucco, who has 12 goals and 16 assists, is three points away from 100 for his career. However, he has had just an assist in the last four games, and knows he needs to step up his game.

“Every player goes through a slump here and there,” Valery-Trab­ucco said. “I’ve just to keep my feet moving, shooting the puck, put them on net and, hopefully, things will start bouncing.”

The Dutchmen are facing a Clarkson team that has struggled all season. The Knights (1-11-2, 5-18-3) are in last place in the league. They are winless in their last seven, which includes six straight losses. Clarkson is 1-10-3 in its last 14 games.

In their Nov. 14 meeting at Cheel Arena, the Dutchmen overcame a 1-0 first-period deficit by scoring four times in the second period and cruising to a 5-1 win.

“The key is coming out and having a strong start,” Walters said. “If we can get that first goal, even if we get down, just make we to stick to our systems, getting pucks to the net and men to the net.”

RPI hosts St. Lawrence

Since becoming Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s head coach in 2006, Seth Appert has yet to guide the Engineers to a home-ice berth in the ECACH tournament.

The closest the Engineers came was in 2006-07, Appert’s first

season, when they finished in a three-way tie with Colgate and Yale for eighth. The Engineers lost a tiebreaker to Colgate, and were the ninth seed. The Raiders swept the best-of-three series.

But now, RPI is not only in contention for home ice in the first round, it has a shot at a first-round bye.

The Engineers (7-6-1, 14-12-2) seek to improve their playoff pos­itioning this weekend at Houston Field House when they host St. Lawrence (8-4-2, 14-9-4) tonight at 7 and Clarkson at 7 p.m. Saturday.

RPI is tied for fifth with Colgate, and three points behind the Saints, Union and Yale for one of the four first-round bye berths.

The Engineers haven’t had a first-round bye since the league changed the playoff format in 2003 to allow all 12 teams in the tournament. The last time RPI hosted a playoff series was in 2006, when it was swept by Quinnipiac in the first round.

“This is the first time in Feb­ruary that we’ve had an opportunity to fight for one of those top-four pos­itions,” Appert said. “Since the league went to this format, stat­istics will bear out that your best chance to get to the ECAC finals is to secure one of those top-four spots.”

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