SCHENECTADY — They remember.
Vas Kolias surely remembers.
He had the best seat in the house, which means he also had the worst seat in the house.
Princeton ended the Union men’s hockey season 3-2 with all of 9.5 seconds left in regulation on March 10 at Messa Rink, an ECAC Hockey quarterfinal sweep that was all the more excruciating for the Dutchmen because of the lightning-strike ending.
Kolias was the lone defender back on a Princeton 3-on-1 and did all he could to help goalie Jake Kupsky, but the Tigers had too many hungry attackers around the net, including then-senior David Hallisey, who buried the game-winner after the initial surge.
Every game on the Dutchmen’s 2018-19 season is important, but Friday’s matchup at Princeton is freighted with extra meaning for Union because the end of last season remains a sore spot. No. 12 Union (2-2-0, 6-2-1) will kick off an ECACH road weekend against two ranked opponents 7 p.m. Friday against No. 18 Princeton at Hobey Baker Rink, followed by Saturday’s game at No. 13 Quinnipiac (1-1-0, 6-1-0).
“The way we went out last year wasn’t too fun, right?” Kolias said. “Nine seconds. I was actually on the ice watching the goal go in the net. Yeah. That one lingers, for sure. Not ever a way you want to go out.
“It does mean a little bit more. We’re going to be geared up for this one. We want to send a message, for sure.”
“It was a great time. It was a great time,” Union head coach Rick Bennett ruefully joked. “That was pretty rugged for our coaching staff. We all feel differently about it, but for me, that was awful. It was awful.
“I just felt like we deserved a little bit better on the second night, by the way we played. But they could’ve said the same thing the year before, when we won.”
Before the two-game quarterfinal sweep, Union had dominated Princeton to the tune of 17-0-3 in the previous 20 games.
The 2017-18 Tigers, one game over .500 heading into the playoffs, didn’t waste their postseason opportunity.
They went to Lake Placid and beat Cornell, then Clarkson for the ECACH Tournament championship before their run ended with a 4-2 loss to Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament regional semifinals.
The Dutchmen, meanwhile, had the summer to simmer over the way their promising season ended.
Bennett said he watched video of the final game once a month during the offseason, not so much to brood over it, but to see what he could pull from the way Princeton beat Union that could be useful this season.
Kolias doesn’t need to look at video.
— Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam) November 7, 2018
He remembers the game-winning goal “very, very vividly,” and spent almost two minutes describing it in detail during the weekly media availability on Tuesday.
“Hallisey was sitting there to just tap it in,” he said in conclusion. “Then, obviously, I was standing there bent over, just staring at the thing in disbelief. So, yeah, not the best way to end the season. But we learned from it, and we can grow from it. That’s pretty much how the game goes sometimes.”
Union is coming off a solid weekend, with victories over St. Lawrence and Clarkson, after having dropped a pair of games to then-winless cross-river rival RPI.
Payback for that sweep will have to wait for the Mayors Cup in January. Friday offers a preview of that theme.
“When you watch it over and over, the score is the same, you’re not going to feel any better,” Bennett said. “So I guess all I have as a coach is just my way of getting across to them that I want them to feel the same pain. And I think they do, especially the older guys.”
“I don’t know if the bitter taste stuck around for too long, but definitely the motivation of ending the season like that has fueled me,” senior center Brett Supinski said. “We definitely talked about it. We watched film, I know Rick did.
“We always prepare heavily for each weekend, but this adds a little bit more of a fire throughout practice and everything.”
“It definitely left a bad taste in our mouth,” senior wing Ryan Walker said. “That’s not how you want to go out. We were worried about the eight games prior to this one, but this is definitely a big one on our calendar, and we’re looking forward to it.”
One common factor between Princeton (1-0-1, 1-1-1) and Quinnipiac is that both teams can generate offense from the blueline.
The Tigers’ Josh Teves led the nation in points per game for defenseman last season, at 1.06, and the Bobcats’ Chase Priskie leads his team in goals this season, with six.
He scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Boston College.
“They’re both excellent,” Bennett said. “Quinnipiac, looking at their ‘D’ corps, has about three of their top five scorers, whereas Teves is right up there with the two superstars [Max Veronneau and Ryan Kuffner] from Princeton. It’s just a tough matchup.”
This will be Union’s first road weekend facing two different opponents.
The Dutchmen won at Princeton 4-1 last season and at Quinnipiac 5-2, despite being outshot 39-23.
“It’ll be a lot of fun,” Kolias said. “I mean, c’mon. That’s what you’re here to do. That’s why people commit to Union. You get to go out there, and, yeah, their barn’s going to be going, they’re going to be chanting against us. Same ‘ol, same ‘ol. Whatever. What’s the environment? Let’s have some fun.”