Union (No. 11) skaters host Western Michigan (No. 12) tonight in battle of nationally ranked teams (with video)

Union junior center Jeremy Welsh remembers how big a thrill his first Dutchmen home opener was beca

Union junior center Jeremy Welsh remembers how big a thrill his first Dutchmen home opener was because Maine came to Messa Rink two years ago.

But tonight’s home opener should top that one for excitement.

It will be a battle of nationally ranked teams tonight, as well as Saturday, when the 11th-ranked Dutchmen host No. 12 Western Michigan at Messa Rink. Game time both days is 7 p.m.

“It’s really exciting,” Welsh said. “My freshman year, we had Maine come down. That was a big test, too.”

Union opened the 2009-10 season by sweeping the two-game series from Maine, 4-1 and 6-3. The Dutchmen, who opened their 21st NCAA Division I season last Saturday with an 8-1 drubbing of Army, would like to have a repeat performance of two years ago.

And also, exact some revenge.

Union played a two-game series at Western Michigan just before Christmas last season. In what was their weakest efforts of the year, the Dutchmen lost by the scores of 2-1 and 3-1. They generated just 43 shots on goal in the two games.

“It’ll be a great test,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “We get a chance to play Western Michigan. We all know the results last year.

“I give them all the credit in the world. They showed up ready to play, and they had something to prove and they proved it. They kind of gave it to us out there. For some reason, we didn’t have it. That’s the way it goes in this game.”

The Dutchmen are looking forward to the challenge of facing the Broncos, who opened their season last weekend by winning twice against Alabama-Huntsville, 7-1 and 4-0. Sophomore forward Chase Bailey, a Nashville Predators draft pick, leads the team in scoring with one goal and four assists. Soph­omore forward Shane Berschbach (3-1-4) and junior forward Dane Walters (1-3-4) are tied for the second in team scoring.

“It’s going to be a test,” said Union senior center Kelly Zajac, who had three assists in the Army win. “We’ve played one game so far, and it went pretty well. But we know Western Michigan is a tough team.”

Zajac said the team learned a valuable lesson from last year’s losses to the Broncos.

“They’re a fast-paced team, just like us, and they like to dump it in and get in there and work down low,” Zajac said. “We’re going to have to play that same game, but we’re going to play the body a little more. We’re going to have to play that Union hockey, and just get it in and work them.”

Both teams have new head coaches. Bennett took over for Nate Leaman at Union in late April, and former NHL coach Andy Murray replaced Jeff Blashill in late July.

“I know they’re going to be very detailed,” Bennett said. “Working with [ex-Union assistant coach] Ben Barr, who played for Andy back in the day at Shattuck, said [Murray] was a phenomenal coach, one of the best coaches he ever played for. He said that if you didn’t bring it that day, you’d be sitting the bench.”

Murray, who was head coach of the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues, is anticipating the matchup with the Dutchmen.

“They return 105 goals, which is the first thing you notice right away when you analyze a team,” Murray said. “We’ve taken a close look them, and they’re very, very talented. They’ve basically got their top two lines back. You can tell by the first game that they’ve added some good freshmen, as well. They’re very steady on the blue line. They’ve got size. They’ve got a lot key ingredients, and they beat a lot of good teams last year for a reason.”

Homecoming for Appert

It will be a trip down memory lane this weekend for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coach Seth Appert.

The 20th-ranked Engineers (1-1) will play two games at Ferris State (2-0), Appert’s alma mater, tonight and Saturday. Both games start at 7:05 p.m.

Appert was a goaltender for the Bulldogs from 1992-96 under coach Bob Daniels, who is in his 20th season at Ferris State.

“I’m really excited,” Appert said. “It’s not about me, it’s about our team. But personally, yeah, I’m excited. It’s a good opportunity. We talk all the time how we’re a family here and we want to treat it like that. This is an opportunity for me to share something with our guys at a place that was something special to me in my life.”

RPI will be without two of its centers for the games. Appert said sophomore Brock Higgs and junior Marty O’Grady suffered upper-body injuries in practice this week.

“It’s too early to say how long it will be,” Appert said. “Right now, they may be our top two-line centers.”

Categories: College Sports

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