SCHENECTADY — In its last two games, the Union College hockey team butted heads with two of the best programs in the country in non-conference play.
The Dutchmen will see another one of those teams this weekend, except this time it will come from within Union’s own conference.
No. 2/3 Harvard (11-2-1) comes to Messa Rink at 7 p.m. on Saturday, after playing RPI at Houston Field House tonight. Harvard’s ECAC Hockey travel partner, Dartmouth, will play at Union tonight.
The Big Green (5-7, 2-4) have lost 10 of their last 12 games against Union and haven’t won here since a 4-3 overtime victory in November 2014.
Dartmouth is coming off a 5-0 win over Princeton in which junior goalie Devin Buffalo posted his second career shutout and a 4-2 loss to Quinnipiac. The Big Green ranks 40th in scoring offense (2.60 goals per game), but Union head coach Rick Bennett is wary of Dartmouth for the simple fact that it’s an ECAC game, and rarely are they easy.
“Dartmouth has always been a very good transition-to-offense team,” he said. “It’s one game of the 22 battles, and this is another one of them.”
The Dutchmen are coming off a 3-1 loss to No. 8 North Dakota, the defending national champions, on New Year’s Eve and a 5-4 overtime loss at No. 5 Boston University, which has won five national championships, most recently in 2009.
Bennett hasn’t been shy about sprinkling the Dutchmen’s non-conference schedule with some of the best programs in the country — Union opened the season with two games at Michigan.
“I don’t think there’s a right or wrong with scheduling,” Bennett said. “It just worked out that we had two storied teams, North Dakota just won the national championship, so we lucked out there.
“We’re going to schedule the toughest teams we possibly can to see if we can get better for the second half of the year.”
No. 11/11 Union (14-5-2, 8-1) comes into the weekend with a narrow edge over Harvard for first place in ECAC Hockey.
The Dutchmen’s top line of Hobey Baker Award candidate Mike Vecchione, Spencer Foo and Sebastian Vidmar has been brilliant, but was nearly skunked in the scoring column against North Dakota.
“I think we learned a lot from those two games, that it’s a 200-foot game,” Bennett said. “In the defensive zone, I thought North Dakota was by far the best team we’ve played as far as their structure. It seemed like if you beat one guy, there’d be two or three waiting.
“Then you’ve got the goalie who won the national championship the year before waiting for you. That really woke us up.”
Union put itself in position to beat Boston U., taking a 4-3 lead late into the third period, but BU tied it with 2:54 left and won in overtime.
Barring a major upset against 3-19-1 RPI tonight, Harvard’s only losses have been to BU and Quinnipiac, a team the Crimson came to beat 5-2 in their second meeting this season last weekend.
RPI coach Seth Appert has already had a good look at Harvard this season, scouting the Crimson during their North Country trip for victories over St. Lawrence and Clarkson the weekend before Harvard hammered the Engineers 5-1 on Dec. 30.
His observation is that Harvard is a team with something to prove now that Hobey Baker winner Jimmy Vesey has moved on to the NHL.
“We forgot how good their senior class is, because everyone’s looking at Vesey,” Appert said. “But their four senior forwards are all all-league-caliber players, and they’re playing harder and are more physically engaged than I remember most Harvard teams. I think they might have a little chip on their shoulder to prove that it wasn’t the Jimmy Vesey Show.
“That’s what it felt like watching them. The two games I saw for pre-scout were in the North Country against two pretty good teams, and St. Lawrence and Clarkson didn’t touch the puck that weekend.”
Vecchione, who was featured in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd last week, needs six points to pass Daniel Carr as Union’s all-tiume leading scorer in Division I. . . .
Foo has 33 points during a 19-game point streak. He’s third in the nation in points (36) and tied for third in assists (22).
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 395-3148 or [email protected] Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.
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