Dutchmen have found their focus

The eighth-ranked Dutchmen insist that their focus is sharp as ever as they head into their first NC
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Union was 20 minutes away from elim­inating Colgate from the ECAC Hockey tournament quarterfinal series two weeks ago, taking a 2-0 lead into the third period of Game 2 on March 12. But they didn’t do a good job of protecting the advantage, and the Raiders scored four times to win the game and extend the series.

The next night, the Dutchmen failed to hold onto three one-goal leads, and ended up losing in overtime to the Raiders. Instead of going to the ECACH final four in Atlantic City, N.J., the Dutchmen were left in Schenectady to ponder what went wrong.

It was a very simple answer — lack of focus.

The eighth-ranked Dutchmen insist that their focus is sharp as ever as they head into their first NCAA hockey tournament appearance at the Division I level. The ECACH regular-season champions will face 11th-ranked Minnesota Duluth in the first East Region semifinal game at 3 p.m. today at Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard. The game will be

televised by ESPNU and ESPNU HD.

The winner faces the winner of the Air Force-Yale semifinal for the regional championship at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The champion advances to the Frozen Four April 7-9 in St. Paul, Minn.

The Dutchmen (26-9-4) seemed relaxed, but business-like, during their one-hour workout Thursday.

“We’re very excited to be here,” Dutchmen senior defenseman Brock Matheson said. “But at the same time, with the NCAA format — the one-game elimination — you have no choice but to be focused and to be an all-business

attitude and to be ready to play your ‘A’ game. We’ve used the past few weeks well to prepare us for this tournament. We’re ready for [today’s] challenge.”

The Dutchmen’s collapse against the Raiders was stunning, given that they went 14-1-1 in their final 16 games.

“It still lingers,” Dutchmen forward Jeremy Welsh said. “I would say it was a learning experience for us. There’s a lot of pressure surrounding [today’s] game, but pressure can be self-inflicted, too. We learned a lot that weekend. We worked a lot with our team

psychologist, Wally Bzdell, on just staying in the moment and make sure we play our game and play the best we can. All the outside circumstances don’t really matter when you get on the ice.”

Without having to play for an ECACH tournament title, the Dutchmen had plenty of time to focus on what they did wrong, and also focus on their opponent, UMD (22-10-6).

“This has been the best team I’ve had at learning from their losses,” Union coach Nate Leaman said. “When Yale beat us, 5-0, earlier in the year, our goal at that point was to improve more than Yale for the next time we met them. That was a pretty easy goal for us, a simple goal for us.

“We’ve only had nine losses this year, so it’s easy to improve from our losses. But it was a rough film session, it was a rough first couple practices back, and what I mean by rough is that they clearly got the message of what we didn’t do well in that [Colgate] series because we got away from our game. We very much got a little lackadaisical in some areas.”

PROLIFIC LINE

It’s the first meeting between the two teams since the 2003-04 season, when Leaman was in his first season with the Dutchmen and the Bulldogs were on their way to a Frozen Four appearance. What the Dutchmen know about the Bulldogs is they have a great scoring line in Jack Connolly, Mike Connolly and Justin Fontaine.

Jack Connolly, a Hobey Baker Award finalist, leads the Bulldogs in scoring with 16 goals and 39 assists. Fontaine is second in scoring with 20 goals and 32 assists, followed by Mike Connolly with 26 goals and 23 assists. The trio has combined for 21 of UMD’s 41 power-play goals.

“They’ve got a great top line,” Leaman said. “But anyone you’re going to see at this time of the year probably has something special about their team. We have some special aspects about our team. Their top line’s very good in the neutral zone. They’re very good in their neutral-zone defense, and I think they have a good power play.”

The Bulldogs are very wary of the Dutchmen’s power play. Union leads the nation with a 31.1-percent efficiency rate (51-for-164). Freshman forward Daniel Carr leads the Dutchmen with 12 power-play goals.

“Everyone talks about their power play,” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “Obviously, that’s a given when you look at percentages. But when you watch it, we’ve had a chance to watch certain games on tape, and I’m very impressed. They move the puck extremely well. I’m more impressed that they’ve got the young players out there that do what they do. I think both units possess a concern. But we’re going to try to stay out of the penalty box.”

That could be difficult for the Bulldogs. They are the most penalized WCHA team, averaging 14.8 penalty minutes per game.

“We know they have a good power play,” Jack Connolly said. “We have to stay out of the box.”

If the Dutchmen can keep their focus and take advantage of their power-play chances, it could spell a victory and a chance to play for a trip to the Frozen Four.

“Our power play has to outwork their penalty kill,” Carr said. “That’s kind of where we get our success from. We have to get pucks to the net, and shoot the puck and see what happens.”

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