The Union men’s hockey team, and especially the senior class, has been used to playing ECAC Hockey tournament games in March at Messa Rink. Usually, the Dutchmen look forward to getting the first weekend off and preparing for a quarterfinal-round matchup.
But when the Dutchmen take to their home ice this weekend, it will be their final games there this season.
It’s an unfamiliar position to be in for the Dutchmen (6-13-1 ECACH, 14-16-2 overall), who take on 19th-ranked St. Lawrence (14-5-1, 18-11-3) tonight at 7, and Clarkson at 7 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s definitely weird, definitely a little bit different,” said Union leading scorer Daniel Ciampini, who is one of seven seniors who will be honored after Saturday’s game. “That’s the nature of hockey. I’m just looking forward to getting to the playoffs and getting going.”
The last time Union didn’t have a playoff series at home was in 2007, when it finished in last place in the 12-team conference. The Dutchmen were swept by fifth-seeded Quinnipiac in the best-of-three first round.
“We put ourselves in this position,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “You know? So be it. Let’s just make it the best two homes that we possibly can.”
Union last played a road playoff series in 2009, when it was the eighth seed. After sweeping ninth-seeded Clarkson in the first round, the Dutchmen lost in three games to Princeton in the quarterfinals.
The Dutchmen seniors have a 94-43-18 record, including 48-28-10 in ECACH play. They are 38-16-8 at home, but half of those losses have come this season.
“It will be a little different, compared to the last three years,” said senior forward Max Novak. “It’s just the way the hand fell this year.”
The seniors have won an NCAA title, two ECACH regular-season championships and three ECACH tournament titles.
“It’s a weird feeling. It’s crazy how fast it goes by when we’re here,” said senior goalie and Niskayuna native Colin Stevens. “Our class’ last game at Messa. Obviously, a lot of good memories. But we’re not done yet. We still have a lot of work to do. [There’s] a lot of hockey left.”
There is very little for the 10th-place Dutchmen to play for this weekend. They can finish as high as ninth — they are two points behind Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute — and as low as 11th. Union has a one-point lead over surging Brown, which is unbeaten in its last five games.
The Dutchmen have had a bad February. After opening the month with a 4-1 win at Clarkson on Feb. 6, the Dutchmen were routed by St. Lawrence, 7-1, the next night.
Union got its defense in order, allowing just seven goals in the next four games. But the Dutchmen’s offense went missing in action. They set
Division I program records for being shut out three straight times and not scoring in 223 minutes, 40 seconds before Ciampini snapped that in last Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Cornell, the Dutchmen’s fifth straight defeat.
“We have two games this weekend that are pretty important to us,” Ciampini said. “We, moreso, need it for confidence-wise. You approach them like any other. We’re going for the two points [tonight] and the two points Saturday night. You can’t look at it any differently.”
The other Union seniors are defenseman Charlie Vasaturo, forwards Mark Bennett and Sam Coatta and goalie Dillon Pieri. . . .
Dutchmen defensemen Jeff Taylor and Sebastien Gingras are doubtful for this weekend’s games. Both have upper-body injuries. . . .
Even though it’s on an eight-game winless skid, RPI (7-12-1, 9-23-2) has an outside shot of getting home ice in the first round of the ECACH tournament. The Engineers take on eighth-place Clarkson (8-10-2, 11-17-4) tonight at 7 and St. Lawrence at 7 p.m. Saturday at Houston Field House.
RPI trails Clarkson by three points. It will need to win both games this weekend and have Union beat Clarkson to get eighth place and the final home-ice slot.
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