A Seat in the Bleachers: Union must elevate play at next level

If Union wants to experience a deep playoff run, they’ll have to play much better than they did agai

The Union hockey team is headed to Atlantic City, a renowned gambling resort upon which the board game Mon­opoly was based.

The school that is two short blocks from Park Place, in the city known for its railroads and electric company, reached the ECACH semifinals by sweeping RPI on Saturday night.

By its nature, a sweep perhaps does not suggest domination, but certainly some level of control over an opponent.

In this case, it’s a misleading term, because the Engineers controlled much of both games at Messa Rink this weekend, and it would not have been a shock if RPI, the No. 10 seed, had handed the No. 1 Dutchmen the dreaded “Go directly to jail, do not pass Go” card. A shock based on seeds, but not a shock based on how the two games looked on the ice.

Union can blame rust accum­ulated during a bye for Friday’s 3-2 squeaker, and head coach Rick Bennett observed that the Dutchmen were still grinding gears on Saturday, something he’ll address during practice next week.

If Union wants to experience a deep playoff run, they’ll have to play much better than they did against RPI.

They were fortunate to get past a team that, although outscored by Union, 15-4, in three regular-season losses, played its best hockey late in the season and played much better than Union did for much of this weekend.

“That bye week, sometimes it’s great, and sometimes it’s going to break down a few things within your team, and they did a good job of exposing that,” Bennett said.

It was out there for all to see in the second period on Saturday, when the Engineers stormed back from a 2-0 deficit to tie it at 2-2.

RPI kept the pressure on in the third period, too, but in the meantime, Union’s Kevin Sullivan had managed to backhand a shot over the left shoulder of goalie Bryce Merriam with a lousy 2:23 left on the clock in the second.

Opinions varied, but the mag­nitude of that goal cannot be overstated, because it put Union ahead during a long stretch in which RPI carried the play.

“We were struggling in the second half,” Sullivan said. “RPI was outhitting us, outplaying us, and I think that got us going a little bit.”

“Yeah. That was a real big one, especially late in the period like that,” said Kyle Bodie, who assisted on the goal. “It kind of deflates a team when they’re rolling.”

“I think it changed the outcome; I don’t think it changed the momentum,” RPI head coach Seth Appert said. “The momentum stayed, clearly, on our side, and I’m very pleased with how we played tonight, as evidenced by the shots on goal and scoring chances in the third per­iod. So I don’t think it changed the momentum. But it was a big goal in terms of the outcome.”

“It wasn’t that deflating,” RPI captain Mike Bergin said. “We’ve got good character guys in the room, and it was a tough goal, but we got right back on the horse.”

The Engineers continued to grind away for scoring chances against Troy Grosenick.

Sullivan did it again, at 5:58 of the third, cleaning up a rebound to make it 4-2.

And still, RPI kept coming.

“It wasn’t safe even with the 4-2,” Bennett said. “They really played with a sense of urgency,” Bennett said. “They outhit us for most of the series. I really think that generated a lot of offensive chances for them. There’s a couple things that we want to shore up that they kind of exploited.”

Union will have time to shore up such things.

The Engineers will have even more time to think about how close they came to knocking off the reg­ular-season champs.

Bergin, a senior, had plenty of time before the post-game press conference to take off his uniform, and chose not to, walking into the interview room with his red jersey still on.

No one brought up the word “lucky” in the post-game, but it was sort of hanging in the air, as the Dutchmen prepare for a trip to a city where your luck can run out in a hurry.

They’ll need to play better.

Bennett vowed not to leave anything to Chance, so Union will work on some things this week. He wouldn’t say which ones.

“I would love to tell you, but I know those other coaches read the paper and read a computer and watch video,” he said with a poker grin. “Just a couple things. Our forecheck was a little bit off and a few other things that are going to break down. So I’ll keep it [answer] with the forecheck.”

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