SCHENECTADY — Now that the Union College men’s hockey team has shaken off the cobwebs and played a game for the first time since March 8, 2020, it’s time to play for real.
The Dutchmen want to correct the mistakes they made in last Saturday’s 5-2 exhibition loss to RPI at Messa Rink and play a better game when they drop the puck on the regular season at New Hampshire.
The Dutchmen will play a pair of games against the Wildcats at Whittemore Center on Friday and Saturday. Both games start at 7 p.m.
Union head coach Rick Bennett reviewed the tape of the RPI matchup, and there were some aspects that he liked.
“I thought that we competed hard, which was a very good sign,” Bennett said. “I thought that the conditioning was a bit better only practicing a couple of weeks. Those were some positives. I thought a few players really stepped up, especially the younger guys, I would say, so I thought that was a good sign.”
But there are areas the Dutchmen do need to address.
“Just overall systems [and] getting to know the systems,” Bennett said. “A little more detailed, a little more structured. … You only have four practices to work on it since that game. We’re doing our best to work on some of the things we need to work on. It’s not anything too difficult, it’s just the fact of just the reps to get it down.”
The Dutchmen didn’t score many goals during the last season they played in 2019-20. They managed just 67 goals, their lowest output since 1998-99 when they scored 52. Union didn’t have any players reach double digits in goals in 2019-20. The last time that happened? You guessed it, 1998-99.
The Dutchmen had their chances against RPI. They were 1 for 7 on the power play and had 11 shots on goal with the man advantage.
“That reared its head the other night,” Bennett said. “Our top guys weren’t fortunate enough to produce. … We felt if the power play grabs another one, maybe it’s not a 5-2 game. To me, that’s a positive, and that’s what I talked about getting the reps. Those guys are getting to know each other, too. The chemistry between them, hopefully, starts to kick in here so that we are able to score some goals.”
Union’s top returning goal scorer is junior Gabriel Seger, who had seven in 2019-20. Junior defenseman Dylan Anhorn and sophomore forward Chaz Smedsrud are next with six each.
“[The goal scoring] is going to have to come from within,” Dutchmen senior forward and captain Josh Kosack said. “We have a lot of young guys that are highly skilled [and] very talented players. And we have [a junior] class that is two years older now. It’s going to have to come by committee. We’re just going to try to take it game-by-game, week-by-week and continue to learn and grow as a group.”
Senior Brandon Estes and alternate captain Anhorn will anchor the defense. Anhorn was the Dutchmen’s top defensive scorer in 2019-20 with six goals and 10 assists.
“It felt nice to play with him again,” Anhorn said. “It felt like we clicked as well when we talked. We have room to grow, as does everyone. No one was satisfied with last Saturday, especially the result, obviously. We think we can be leaders on the backend, and we think we can instill the details to our teammates that we want and need to to achieve our goals.”
Bennett hadn’t decided on a starter, but it would appear that junior Connor Murphy will be in net for Friday’s game.
Murphy, a Hudson Falls native who transferred from Northeastern, played the third period against the Engineers and shut them out. His best save came midway through the period when he stopped Jake Johnson on a breakaway.
Garrett Nieto, Merek Pipes and Joe Sahrib also saw action in goal against RPI.
“I did think Connor Murphy played really well,” Bennett said. “Garrett Nieto was balanced, too. Joe Sharib didn’t have too many chances, but he had one big save, which was nice to see.”
Murphy faced UNH three times and won them all for Northeastern.