Union men’s hockey looking to get off to better starts

Union's Thomas Richter is taken off the puck by Princeton's Nick Carabin as the Dutchmen's Caden Villeges corrals the puck during a Dec. 3 game.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Union's Thomas Richter is taken off the puck by Princeton's Nick Carabin as the Dutchmen's Caden Villeges corrals the puck during a Dec. 3 game.

SCHENECTADY — First periods have not been kind to the Union men’s hockey team, especially recently.

The Dutchmen have been outscored 20-11 in the opening 20 minutes. While the nine-goal differential may not seem that great, the last three games have told a different story. Union has been outscored 10-1 in those games. The Dutchmen lost two of them — 4-1 to Harvard on Jan. 8 when they gave up three first-period goals, and the 8-2 rout by Clarkson last Saturday in which the Golden Knights took control with a dominating six-goal opening period. The game Union won was last Friday’s 3-2 triumph over St. Lawrence when it was tied 1-1 after one.

The Dutchmen know they must get off to better starts, especially with 11 of their final 13 games being ECAC Hockey contests.

Union (4-6-1 ECACH, 11 points, 6-11-3 overall) will host Brown (3-6-0, 10 points; 3-11-0) on Friday and Yale (2-7-1, 7 points, 3-10-1) on Saturday at Messa Rink. Both games start at 7 p.m.

Union is 1-7-1 when the opposition scores first, and 5-4-2 when it gets the opening goal. The Dutchmen haven’t scored the game’s first goal since Dec. 11 against Maine. Union lost 4-3.

The last time the Dutchmen scored first and won was the 1-0 overtime victory over Princeton on Dec. 3.

The slow start situation is being addressed by the team, which found out Thursday it won’t have head coach Rick Bennett on the bench for at least Friday’s game. The college announced Thursday that it had placed Bennett on paid administrative leave for an allegation that it received late Wednesday. Bennett did not respond to a request for comment Thursday and the college’s athletic department had no further comment.

Prior to Bennett’s administrative leave, he had discussed his team Tuesday with reporters.

“It starts with practice,” Bennett said on Tuesday. “I’ll talk to the leaders and chit-chat with certain players throughout the week and get their solutions, too, going forward. Ultimately, I think you learn that a little bit more as a pro hockey player in the fact that [if] you don’t get yourself fired up and aren’t playing on a consistent level coming out of the gate, you’re probably sent down [to the minors], or you’re looking for a new profession.”

Since this is college, Bennett can’t send players to the minors. But there is a more effective way to get the players’ attention.

“We do have Section P, and what I mean by that is they’re in the stands with their parents,” Bennett said. “That’s all we have as coaches to get these guys fired up. But that’s just one or two players at a time, that’s not a full team. So it’s on our coaching staff to make sure that we fix this problem very fast.”

It will be important for the Dutchmen to get off to fast starts against Brown and Yale. Union is in seventh place, a point ahead of Brown, which is tied for eighth with Colgate. Yale is tied for 10th with Dartmouth and Princeton. Right now, Union is in a home-ice slot for the first round of the ECACH tournament. A six-point weekend could help Union in its pursuit of home ice.

“We’re in a better spot if we’re not playing from behind,” Union forward Andrew Seaman said. “We are able to play more of a defensive game if we get off to a hot start and maybe score the first couple [of goals]. Obviously, we don’t want to be in a spot like we were this past weekend where we were chasing the game from the start. We have to bring some more urgency to the first period and, hopefully, get off to a hot start.”

HOME, SWEET HOME

The Dutchmen will play their first home game in over a month. The last time they played at Messa Rink, they dropped a 4-0 decision to Quinnipiac on Dec. 4.

Union was scheduled to host UMass Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, but those games were postponed because of health-and-safety protocols within the Dutchmen program.

“Going into it, it’s a nice feeling, but more importantly, it’s how our players feel,” Bennett said. “Hopefully, they’re feeling really good about it going into this contest.”

Union is 3-2 at Messa this season.

MURPHY ON RICHTER WATCH LIST

Union junior goalie Connor Murphy was named to the Mike Richter Award watch list, it was announced Thursday by the Hockey Commissioners Association.

The Hudson Falls native is 6-10-2 with a 2.80 goals-against average, a .918 save percentage and two shutouts. Murphy is fifth in the NCAA with 570 saves.

The Richter Award, named after former New York Rangers goalie Mike Richter, is given to the top goalie in NCAA hockey.

SCOUTING BROWN

The Bears enter the contest on a four-game losing streak, having been outscored 21-7. Their last victory came against Dartmouth, a 4-0 victory on Dec. 4.

Brown was scheduled to host Cornell and Colgate last weekend, but those games were postponed because of health and safety protocols within the program.

Forward Justin Jaller is the team’s leading scorer with five goals and five assists.

Brown leads the all-time series 26-21-13.

SCOUTING YALE

Saturday’s matchup with the Bulldogs will be the first since the teams met in the first round of the 2020 ECACH tournament. Yale won the best-of-three series 2-1. Both teams sat out last season due to the pandemic.

Yale lost its first seven games, but is 3-3-1 since. It’s coming off a 3-2 shootout win over Colgate on Sunday.

Forwards Niklas Allain, the son of Yale head coach Keith Allain, and Teddy Wooding, are tied for the team lead in scoring with seven points. Niklas Allain has four goals and three assists, and Wooding has three goals and four assists.

Yale leads the all-time series 31-28-6.

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