Union men’s hockey keeps focus on games, not postponements

Union's Michael Hodge goes after the puck against Princeton's Spencer Kersten during a Dec. 3 game at Messa Rink.
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Union's Michael Hodge goes after the puck against Princeton's Spencer Kersten during a Dec. 3 game at Messa Rink.

SCHENECTADY — The stress and strain of wondering whether your scheduled game will be played or postponed because of COVID-19 health and safety protocols can take a toll on players.

They are creatures of habit. They know what time practice is. They know what time to be at the rink for a game, or for the bus if they are going on a road trip. When that routine is disrupted by a postponement, it can throw the routine out of whack.

The Union College men’s hockey team had its routine disrupted over the last two weeks. The Dutchmen’s two-game series against UMass on New Year’s weekend was postponed because of health and safety protocols within the Union program, and last Friday’s ECAC Hockey game at Dartmouth was postponed due to health and safety protocols within the Dartmouth program. The game against the Big Green will be played Jan. 26, while the UMass contests probably won’t be rescheduled.

The Dutchmen are hoping to return to a normal routine this weekend as they play their first back-to-back games in over a month when they head to the North Country. Union will play St. Lawrence at 7 p.m. Friday at Appleton Arena, and then face Clarkson at 7 p.m. Saturday at Cheel Arena.

It’s Union’s first two-game weekend since playing twice at Maine Dec. 10-11.

Union head coach Rick Bennett credited team psychologist Wally Bzdell and trainer Cheryl Rockwood with helping the team get through the distractions.

“The old saying is you coach what’s in front of you, and that is the players,” Bennett said. “What players do we have in front of us to coach? And that’s what we’re trying to do, trying to help the players who are going through COVID or other illnesses or injuries as we always do. But for practice sake and game sake, you have to coach with what you have. You can’t control it, so we haven’t focused on it.

“Do we have an excellent team psychologist in Wally Bzdell? Yes we do. He’s been a tremendous help, along with our trainer Cheryl Rockwood, who’s been a superstar through all this. We feel we have a lot of support staff to help us through.”

The players are doing their best not to be distracted by a potential postponement.

“It’s obviously something you’ve got to think about and something that you’ve got to keep in the back of your mind,” Union goalie and Hudson Falls native Connor Murphy said. “Right now, we’re just focusing on making sure that we play those games [and] doing the right things here this week to, hopefully, prevent [a postponement] from happening so we can focus on playing our game this weekend.”

The Dutchmen played their first game in 28 days last Saturday at Harvard. They fell behind 3-0 in the first period and couldn’t recover in a 4-1 loss. Despite the loss, Bennett was pleased with the effort.

“It helps in the fact that these guys have had a chance to get into some battles,” Bennett said. “Getting to play a 60-minute game and try to get their legs underneath them, I think that’s important. That’s why we practice. Everyone knows practices are a heck of a lot different than games are. It was nice they had a chance to play a game going into these next two.”

LAST MEETINGS

These games will be the second meetings of the season. Union lost to St. Lawrence 3-2 in a shootout on Nov. 6 at Messa Rink. The night before, the Dutchmen beat Clarkson 4-3 in overtime.

Bennett is expecting more tight games when they face the Saints and the Golden Knights.

“Not just us, but a lot of teams seem like they’re coming off COVID, so I can’t see them changing game [plans] or their systems too much,” Bennett said. “It’s always hard-fought battles with both these teams. I think St. Lawrence is really fast, a little similar to Harvard as far as speed, so we have to be ready for that.

“And then Clarkson plays a rugged brand of hockey that’s very well structured, too. You’re kind of going, I don’t want to say totally two different games, but there is a different look.”

RPI GAMES MOVED

RPI, which didn’t play its games last weekend at Harvard and Dartmouth because of health and safety protocols within its program, will also be in the North Country this weekend. However, the days the Engineers will play have changed.

The Engineers’ game Friday at Clarkson has been moved to 5 p.m. Sunday. Saturday’s matchup with St. Lawrence will now be played at 3 p.m. Monday.

RPI announced the game at Harvard that was postponed last Friday has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.

Categories: College Sports, Sports

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