SCHENECTADY — Two weeks ago, the Union College men’s hockey team got a taste of what it was like to play in front of a home crowd during its exhibition game against RPI.
Friday night, the Dutchmen will get the chance to play in front of the Messa Rink faithful in a game that counts.
After losing twice at New Hampshire last week, the Dutchmen make their regular-season home debut when they host Colorado College at 7 p.m. Friday. The two teams will also play at 7 p.m. Saturday.
It’s the first regular-season home game for Union since dropping a 3-2 overtime decision to Quinnipiac on Feb. 22, 2020. The Dutchmen canceled their 2020-21 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s huge,” Union junior goalie and Hudson Falls native Connor Murphy said during the team’s media availability Tuesday. “For myself personally, it’s big just because it’s close to home. It’s like playing in my own backyard, so it’s nice.”
Murphy was joined by sophomore center Liam Robertson and sophomore right winger Gleb Murtazin on the dais. Murphy was excited for Robertson and Murtazin because, like him, it will be their first home opener.
“Especially for these guys, who haven’t played in the last year,” said Murphy, who was with Northeastern the past two seasons. “It’s probably even bigger for them. The excitement’s very high for everybody on our team, and I think it’s going to keep growing as we get close to game time.”
Robertson is very anxious to play.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a year and a half now,” Robertson said. “It’s been a long time for me, being back at Messa Rink with everybody in the stands. We got a glimpse of it [Oct. 2], but nothing compared to what’s going to be this weekend. It’s just going to be a great feeling, all the adrenaline going through the body.”
LATE GOALS ALLOWED
In all three of Union’s games this season, it has allowed a goal in the final minute of a period.
It happened twice in the Dutchmen’s 3-2 loss to UNH last Saturday. Luke Reid scored with 1.4 seconds left in the second period — that tied the score 1-1. The backbreaker goal was scored by Joseph Cipollone. It snapped a 2-2 tie with 56.5 seconds remaining in the third period and gave the Wildcats the victory.
Union knows it must clean that up.
“We need to be more mentally tough the last couple minutes of the game,” said Robertson, who scored his first career goal in Saturday’s game. “We have to collapse in front of our net, have that pack-of-wolves mentality.”
Murtazin, who scored his first collegiate goal in last Friday’s 4-1 loss, agreed.
“We’ll get more experience as the games go on,” Murtazin said. “We didn’t play for a year. We’ve just got to win the battles.”
Murphy was the victim for the last-minute goals in the two UNH games. It’s frustrating to him.
“Nobody likes to do that,” Murphy said. “Like Gleb said, once we start playing some more games and everybody starts to learn our systems and everybody gets more comfortable, I think it’s going to help that aspect a lot where guys are going to start dialing it in and guys are going to figure it out and trying to bear down the minute of the period.”
Union coach Rick Bennett and his coaching staff are making the players aware of it during their video sessions.
“It’s one of our processes,” Bennett said. “Again, you’re good at one process and you have to work on another. That’s where we’re at with that.”
This weekend marks the return to campus of former Union College goalie Kris Mayotte. Mayotte, who played for the Dutchmen from 2002-06, was named head coach of Colorado College in April.
Mayotte’s senior season was Bennett’s first year as an assistant coach under then-head coach Nate Leaman.
Union didn’t have a goalie coach then, so it was Bennett’s job to work with the netminders.
“Kris and I had a good time,” Bennett said. “I know I did, shooting on him and just having some fun with him and vice versa.”
Mayotte posted a 16-15-5 record with a 2.33 GAA, a .918 save percentage and five shutouts.
When it was suggested that Mayotte was good at stopping Bennett’ shots, Bennett said with a laugh, “We built his confidence up.”
“He didn’t miss a single goalie session,” Mayotte said. “He had a stick that was a white one-piece that we called ‘White Lightning,’ and it could bring the heat. But he was fantastic. I learned a lot about coaching from him, even though we were together in a player-coach relationship for one year.”