SCHENECTADY — In the two ECAC Hockey games that Union and Clarkson played against each other this season, the winner of the first period took the game.
In the first men’s hockey meeting Nov. 5 at Messa Rink, the Dutchmen jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. The Golden Knights rallied to tie the score before Collin Graf’s goal with two minutes left in overtime gave the Dutchmen a 4-3 victory.
In the rematch Jan. 15 at Cheel Arena, Clarkson scored six first-period goals and had an 8-0 lead in the third period. Two power-play goals avoided the shutout, but the 8-2 loss was a low point for the Dutchmen this season.
So, whoever controls the first period this weekend could find themselves playing in Lake Placid next weekend playing for an ECACH tournament title. The second-seeded and 17th-ranked Golden Knights (19-9-6) host the sixth-seeded Dutchmen (14-17-4) in the best-of-three quarterfinals beginning Friday at 7 p.m. at Cheel. Game 2 is Saturday at 7 p.m. Game 3, if necessary, will be played at 4 p.m. Sunday.
It’s the fourth postseason meeting between the two schools, all previously coming in the first round and at Messa Rink. Clarkson swept the 2004 series, then won the next year with all three games decided in overtime. Union swept Clarkson in 2009.
The Dutchmen are coming off a first-round series sweep of Princeton, while Clarkson had last weekend off. Union senior captain Josh Kosack knows how important it will be to get off to a good start at Clarkson.
“It’s huge to get off on the right foot,” Kosack said earlier this week. “We’re really emphasizing it this week in practice, starting fast. Clearly the outcomes of our previous two games are definitely impacted by our first period. It’s huge for us, especially coming off last weekend. They didn’t play last weekend, so hopefully we come out flying.”
The Dutchmen are trying to forget what happened in that first period at Clarkson.
“We’re not trying to focus too much on what’s happened,” Union junior defenseman Dylan Anhorn said. “Obviously, we’re a different team now, and we feel like we’ve been playing really well, especially in first periods. We’re just trying to focus on our process at the moment, honestly, and leave the past in the past and be excited for this opportunity this weekend. I think that’s where our heads are at.”
The last time Union played at Cheel turned out to be the final game of Rick Bennett’s head coaching career with the Dutchmen. Nearly a week after that game, Bennett was placed on administrative leave as the Union athletic department conducted an investigation into his coaching style. Bennett resigned on Jan. 28.
Union interim head coach John Ronan was on a recruiting trip and wasn’t behind the bench for the game at Cheel. When he was asked about what he saw on tape from that game and what went wrong, he kiddingly said, “Do you have enough time for this?”
Then, Ronan got serious.
“We just weren’t plugged in,” Ronan said. “We weren’t very good. Every facet of our game was lacking. For us, right now, we’re just focused on Friday. [We] pretty much burned that tape.”
Before that game at Cheel, Union had beaten St. Lawrence the prior night, while Clarkson was off. The Golden Knights’ scheduled game against RPI was moved to the day after the Union contest because the Engineers were just coming out of COVID-19 protocols.
“We were sitting here waiting for [Union],” Clarkson head coach Casey Jones said. “We clearly understand that’s not the team we’re going to see [in the quarterfinals]. So it is what it is. We’re playing good hockey right now. We’re looking forward to being at home for the playoffs and, hopefully. that gives us the advantages that’s needed.”