Union faces opportunity to extend ECAC lead over rivals (with videos)

The last time Union and Colgate faced one another, the 12th-seeded Raiders celebrated an ECAC Hockey

The last time Union and Colgate faced one another, the 12th-seeded Raiders celebrated an ECAC Hockey tournament upset of the top-seeded Dutchmen last March at Messa Rink.

The two teams meet for the first time since that quarterfinal series tonight at 7 at Messa. But exacting revenge for last year’s playoff loss isn’t the most important thing for Union.

The ECACH-leading and 11th-ranked Dutchmen (9-3-2 ECACH, 15-6-6 overall) are more concerned about playing well and putting some distance between themselves and the teams behind them. Union has a four-point lead over the 20th-ranked Raiders (8-5-1, 14-9-3), who are tied for third with Harvard. Second-place Cornell, which comes to Messa on Saturday, is two points behind the defending ECACH reg­ular-season champion Dutchmen.

“We’ve got to take [tonight’s] game for the importance that it really has,” Union junior right wing Wayne Simpson said. “It’s an important game because we know that [Colgate] is going to be up there in the standings. We want to be there at the end of the year, and this is one of the games we have to win for that. That’s what we’re focused on.”

Union may be short-handed going into the game.

Sophomore goalie Troy Grosenick suffered a lower-body injury in practice this week. Grosenick, who leads the country with a 1.58 goals-against average, was on the ice for the start of Thursday’s practice. However, he didn’t finish it.

Union coach Rick Bennett said that Grosenick is probable to play.

If Grosenick can’t play, freshman Colin Stevens, a Niskayuna native, will get the start. Stevens hasn’t played since Dec. 30, when he started against Denver and was pulled after allowing two goals on four shots.

After losing the first game of the playoff series last year, Colgate won the next two, including the 3-2 win in overtime in Game 3 that sent the Raiders to Atlantic City, N.J., for the champ­ionship round. Union got the week off before it played in the NCAA tournament.

Bennett believes what happened last year won’t play a role in tonight’s contest.

“There isn’t any revenge factor, whatsoever,” Bennett said. “We have 10 new freshmen that don’t have any idea what happened last year. Not that they won’t be reminded, but that was last year. That’s last year’s team, and we’re not focused on that. We’re going to focus on being the best Union team that we can be [tonight].”

Colgate coach Don Vaughan knows that the Dutchmen will be ready for his Raiders, even if revenge isn’t on Union’s mind.

“We have a ton of respect for them,” Vaughan said. “Watching them on tape, they’re pretty deep. They play great in all zones. Obviously, they’re getting great goaltending. They’re special-teams play is incredible. From our perspective, I don’t think they need any extra motivation.”

The Dutchmen will have to contend with one of the nation’s top players in Austin Smith. The senior right wing leads the country with 26 goals and has 15 assists. He is a top contender for the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s top college hockey player.

“Austin Smith’s obviously having a good year,” Union junior center Jeremy Welsh said. “They have a lot of skill. Their whole lineup has good stick skill. You can’t give them too many chances because they’ll cash those.”

Smith leads the nation with six short-handed goals. Union’s power play will have to be wary of that.

“If you don’t have a play, don’t force it, first and foremost,” Bennett said. “When you start forcing things an ad-libbing, you’re going to add problems. When you ad-lib and add problems, [the puck’s] going to be in the back of your net.”

Union didn’t practice Wednesday because of a campus-wide blackout late in the afternoon. Bennett doesn’t see that as much of a problem.

“We try to look at adversity in this way,” Bennett said. “Adversity is our friend. That gave the guys a chance to rest. Our strength and conditioning coach, Dan Gabelman, did a nice job stretching them out.”

RPI Faces Cornell

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (4-9-1, 7-18-1) will look to end a home-ice slump against No. 14 Cornell (8-3-3, 11-6-4) when it hosts the Big Red tonight at 7:30 at Houston Field House.

The Engineers have gone 0-5 at home against the Big Red since Seth Appert became head coach in 2006. RPI’s last home-ice win over Cornell was in Dan Fridgen’s final season as head coach, a 2-0 triumph Feb. 24, 2006.

Three of the Engineers’ last four losses at home against the Big Red have been by one goal, including last season’s 3-2 overtime setback on Feb. 12.

“We’re going to have to be good in our team play,” Appert said. “We’re going to have to make them defend. What Cornell does well when they’re playing their best is they make you defend. They possess the puck and have a lot of possession time in the offensive zone, [and] in the neutral zone with their ‘D’ using each other in controlling and possessing the puck.

“Against them, you want to make sure you’re doing a good job with you team’s systems so you’re systematically strong, and that our forwards are doing a good job moving their feet and winning puck battles and hunting pucks so that we have more possession than they do.”

RPI hosts Colgate for the Big Red Freakout at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Categories: College Sports

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