SCHENECTADY — The good news out of Union men’s hockey this week — aside from the revelation that head coach Rick Bennett had finally broken down and bought a snowblower — is that, yes, this team can score goals.
That’s not insignificant for a 4-12-0 team that had averaged one goal per game through the first 14 games.
The Dutchmen (3-5-0 in ECAC Hockey) have a ripe opportunity to get the offense cranking — and to go into Christmas break on a winning note — when they face Merrimack (4-10-2 overall, 2-5-2 Hockey East) at 7 p.m. Friday at Messa Rink.
The Warriors have been giving up an average of over 3.6 goals per game as they sort out a three-freshmen goalie rotation, while the Dutchmen are near the bottom of the 60 Division I teams in scoring.
They got a glimmer of good production against Brown, in which five different players scored and 10 had at least one point.
“It was nice to explode offensively,” said junior forward Josh Kosack, who gave Union a 4-0 lead in the second period.
“We’ve been waiting for a game like that. We didn’t come out as hot as we should’ve on Saturday. Maybe we were riding that wave a little too high and got the result against Yale because of that. So we have to learn to put a weekend together and put a team away.”
A multiple-game weekend will have to wait until Dec. 28-29 and the Catamount Cup tournament at Vermont, as Union will play Merrimack Friday, then have a break before getting back on the practice ice on Dec. 23.
Prior to the Brown victory, the Dutchmen’s best single game goal total was three, in a 7-3 loss to Boston University to open the season and a 3-0 win at Canisius on Nov. 1.
Union has been shut out three times in 16 games.
“Scoring is a mental thing,” Bennett said. “You’ve got to bear down. You’ve got to want to score. Like, you’ve really got to want to score sometimes. And in today’s game, you’ve got to get in around that net.
“We need a little more Dan Carr hungry around that net, or Mike Vecchione. And I’m picking those two because they’re all-time leading point-getters here. But they were really hungry around the net. I never had to tell them ‘Let’s get hungry.’ Some guys wake up and say, ‘I love scoring,’ and some not so much. There’s only one Wayne Gretzky.”
Senior Anthony Rinaldi leads the Dutchmen in points (3-6-9), and Sean Harrison leads the team in goals, with four.
Union is 56th in Division I in power play percentage (.094) and is tied for 51st in shot percentage (.073).
“We’ve made an effort to work on our offensive zone play,” Bennett said. “We’ve done enough rushes throughout practice, but the ‘O’ zone play, we’ve worked at 5-versus-5 a lot, and I think it showed against Brown. Not so much against Yale. Eleven [scoring] chances for and 11 against.”
Despite the losses (including a seven-game streak to start the season), the departure of Sam Morton and Lucas Breault from the program and mid-season changes to captain and alternate captain designations, Bennett said he’s pleased with how the team has maintained a professional and even-keeled manner.
Junior goalie Darion Hanson and senior defenseman Vas Kolias had the ‘C’ removed from their jerseys three games ago, and — for now — Kosack and Harrison have been wearing the ‘A’.
“No one’s gotten in any trouble or any issues like that,” Bennett said. “And I’m talking about petty stuff. My phone hasn’t rang once. Or I haven’t gotten an email. That shows me these guys want to be student-athletes and are serious about what they’re doing. And their grade-point averages overall — I’m still waiting on one guy — was excellent this term. And that’s with 12 new [players] and a transfer.”
“We’re a leadership by committee,” Kosack said. “We have a lot of guys up there that are leaders. I think it can hurt you if you try to make too much of it. I try to play my role as best as possible and help the team any way I can. But it doesn’t change who I am or what I’m about.”
Kolias, who hasn’t played since Nov. 16, when he was injured against Princeton, practiced in a red “no-contact” jersey on Wednesday.
“Questionable. Doubtful? …. questionably doubtful,” Bennett said, of Kolias’ availability for the Merrimack game.
Kolias is one player who probably will appreciate the time off, if it helped him get back in the lineup.
The Dutchmen have been assigned a workout program by strength and conditioning coach Dan Gabelman to use after the Merrimack game, and they’ll scrape together what ice time they can when they’re away from campus.
“The first things to go, as these guys found out through Thanksgiving exam break, is your lungs, and the second thing is your hands,” Bennett said.
“You’ve got to take care of your body,” Kosack said. “Rest is huge, but that doesn’t mean not doing anything at all.”