Injury is history for Union’s Luke Cain

Luke Cain returns to Thompson Arena for the first time since breaking his fibula in 2007 the 16th-ra

Mario Valery-Trabucco saw his Union College teammate Luke Cain lying flat on his back on the ice in the Dartmouth zone with 13:33 left in the third period the night of Nov. 7, 2007.

“I was right next to him,” Valery-Trabucco said. “I didn’t know what happened. I thought he got winded or got knocked out. I just told him to relax. He yelled at me, ‘Look at my leg! How am I going to relax?’ ”

What Valery-Trabucco and the rest of the people in Thompson Arena saw that night was a very gruesome injury. Cain’s right foot was bent at a 90-degree angle to the right. He suffered a broken fibula after being checked by Dartmouth defenseman Joe Stejskal along the left-wing boards, an injury that ended his freshman season.

Cain returns to Thompson Arena for the first time since that injury when the 16th-ranked Dutchmen face the Big Green tonight at 7.

Union (9-3-4 ECAC Hockey, 15-7-6 overall) is in a three-way tie for first place with Cornell and Yale.

Cain didn’t play in last season’s game at Dartmouth. He is confident he won’t be nervous when he steps on the ice.

“Now that I’m back on the ice and playing, getting back on the ice was the most important thing,” Cain said. “Where it happened doesn’t really matter to me.”

Cain had two goals and one assist in seven games, and had been one of Union’s top players in the early going of the 2007-08 season. Trying to get back to that level has taken some time.

Last season, Cain played in 32 games and had three goals and six assists. He was in and out of the lineup for the first half of this season, but has played in the last 11 games.

And his play has picked up in recent weeks. He scored the overtime game-winner against Quinnipiac Jan. 9, and sealed the Dutchmen’s 3-1 victory over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute a week later with an empty-net goal as he dove between two RPI players to push the puck into the net.

Cain was Union’s best player in a 4-3 loss at Yale two weeks ago, getting a goal and an assist and earning time on the power play. Last Friday against Clarkson, he scored 28 seconds after Corey Tamblyn had given the Golden Knights the lead 20 seconds into the game. Cain’s goal triggered a five-goal first-period outburst, and sparked the Dutchmen to an 11-2 rout of the Knights.

“It has been a long road, that’s been the hardest thing,” said Cain, who has four goals and two assists in 18 games this season. “And another really tough part about it was when you know there were things you could do before that you aren’t able to do now. Not so much phys­ically, but thinking the game. I lost some of that when I was gone for a whole season.”

But one thing the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Cain has improved on is moving his feet.

“That’s the big thing,” Union coach Nate Leaman said. “He’s got to move his feet. He’s got to get to the net, too. He’s a big horse, and that’s where he’s going to make his money.”

The last time the Dutchmen faced the Big Green (4-11-1, 6-16-1), they fired 40 shots on Dartmouth goalie James Mello but dropped a 3-1 decision Jan. 23 at Messa Rink. That was the capper on a weekend when the Dutchmen were stymied the night before by Harvard goalie Ryan Carroll, who made 47 saves in the Crimson’s 4-1 win.

“We have to work a lot harder against Dartmouth,” Leaman said. “I watched that game. I wasn’t real enthused about our work ethic in that game. I thought we took a lot of short cuts. The bottom line is we have to get to a lot of our second-chance opportunities. In my opinion, we have to play good defense in these games because Dartmouth is a team that likes to transition to offense. They’re good offensively. If we give them a lot of room, they’re going to take advantage of it.”

RPI faces Harvard

RPI (8-6-2, 15-12-3) seeks to strengthen its hold on at least a home-ice berth in the first round of the ECACH tournament when it faces Harvard (6-7-3, 6-14-3) at the Bright Hockey Center.

The Engineers, who are in fifth place and trail St. Lawrence by a point for the final first-round by spot, are unbeaten in their last three games (2-0-1), and are 7-3-2 since their 5-4 loss to Union Dec. 9.

RPI and Harvard played to a 3-3 tie Jan. 23 at Houston Field House. Louis Leblanc scored with three seconds left in regulation to tie the score.

The Engineers are coming off a three-point effort last weekend. They tied St. Lawrence, 3-3, and beat Clarkson, 2-1.

“All league games carry such value,” RPI coach Seth Appert said. “But even more, these last eight games in the homestretch, it’s such a log jam. Realistically, one to six is a log jam, and also five to 10 is a big log jam.”

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