Opening Faceoff: Union College women’s hockey team opens season with eight road games

Union's Reese Chuback takes a shot on net next to Sydnee Wilson of Syracuse during last Saturday's women's college hockey exhibition game at Messa Rink.
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Union's Reese Chuback takes a shot on net next to Sydnee Wilson of Syracuse during last Saturday's women's college hockey exhibition game at Messa Rink.

SCHENECTADY Nothing has ever come easy for the Union College women’s hockey team since it became an NCAA Division I program in 2003-04.

The Dutchwomen have never had a winning season. They have never made the ECAC Hockey tournament. They are coming off a 2021-22 campaign in which they finished last in the conference with a 2-20 record and a 5-28-1 overall mark. They struggled offensively, averaging 1.2 goals per game and getting shut out 14 times.

It probably won’t get much easier for the Dutchwomen this season as they get set to face New Hampshire at 6 p.m. Friday in Durham, New Hampshire. The game is the first of eight straight on the road to start the season – two at UNH this weekend, two more at Holy Cross next weekend and games the following weekend at Providence and Boston University. After a two-week break, Union opens ECACH play at Clarkson and St. Lawrence Oct. 28-29. The Dutchwomen’s first home game will be Nov. 4 against Harvard.

It’s certainly a difficult task for a program that hasn’t experienced much success. But the Dutchwomen are looking at the eight-game season-opening road trip as a good thing.

“I think it’s great for the group to get on the road,” Union women’s head coach Josh Sciba said. “I think it’s really good for our women to be around each other and to be on the bus and build some camaraderie with each other. I think, honestly, they’re excited for it. So it’s going to be a challenge.

“Anytime you go on the road, it’s always challenging to go into a different team’s home rink and win hockey games. But for us, the focus is just getting better every day, and trying to continue to build our brand in terms of how we want to play.”

Senior defenseman Emily King, the team’s top returning scorer from last season with four goals and nine assists in 34 games, is ready to hit the road.

“I think it’ll be nice to get out,” King said. “I’m just happy to be playing. I think that some people are a little worried about less time in the classroom, and that might be a little bit of added stress. But I think that once we get there, and we’re dialed [in], we’ll just push through. We’re really good in the classroom and on the ice, so I think that if we can just find a way to balance it out, we can come up with some wins.”

Winning is important. But sophomore goalie Sophie Matsoukas believes playing well, even if they don’t win, will help the team’s confidence.

“When we get that confidence, it’ll help us for league play,” said Matsoukas, who was 3-11 last season with a 3.83 goals-against average and two shutouts. “We’ll be confident going in.”

Scoring goals will also help that confidence. Union scored over two goals in a game just five times last season.

“I think [the goal scoring] is going to have to be by committee right now,” Sciba said. “We’ve gotten more depth. I think we’ve got a really driven group of women in that freshmen class that want to contribute and will contribute right away. … We need everybody in that locker to contribute in some way for us to win hockey games.”

CAPTAIN KING

King was recently named the team captain. She is honored to wear the “C” on the jersey.

“I think that one thing I’ve been good at over the years is leading by example of how hard I work,” King said. “I think that it’s helped me gain confidence to continue to be that player and that person for the team, and I am excited to see everybody and work with everybody. and I’m just very thankful.”

NO CAPTAIN YET

During Wednesday’s men’s ECACH virtual media day, Union men’s first-year head coach Josh Hauge said he has yet to name a captain.

“I think that’s going to be something that’s going to be a little bit later,” Hauge said. “I want to make sure we get it right. We have a lot of guys that are stepping up and leading, but it’s going to have to be a thing that they have to be completely bought in and into their role and what we’re trying to do as a team. We only have an idea of the guys we like, but it’s going to be a later process and it is going to be before our first game.”

PECKNOLD ON GRAF

Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold talked about his new forward, sophomore Colin Graf, who was Union’s second-leading scorer last season with 11 goals and 11 assists. Graf entered the transfer portal after the season.

“We loved him before he got to Union, and I watched him this year and I thought he was an impact player for them,” Pecknold said. “He looks great, [has a] high IQ. He’s really committed, staying on late and getting on early. He’s a goal scorer, so we’re excited for what he can do for us.”

SCHAFER DISCUSSES ‘TRADE’

In a strange sense, Union and Cornell made a “trade” during the offseason.

Forward Garbiel Seger left Union and joined Cornell via the transfer portal. Forward Ben Tupker joined the Dutchmen after leaving the Big Red through the transfer portal. Seger was Union’s third-leading scorer last season with seven goals and 14 assists in 34 games. Tupker had two goals and four assists in 25 games.

“What we liked about Gabe is he’s played in the league. He’s he’s obviously produced offensively,” Schafer said. “… And he plays center, which was I thought was a need for us coming into the season.

“Ben Tupker is a great kid. He’s graduated from Cornell and kind of excelled himself to graduate in order to give himself another opportunity. We wish nothing but the best for Ben. Hopefully, things work out for him at Union and he gets the ice time that he is seeking and his career takes another step forward.”

CHRISTIANSEN BACK WITH USHL

Former Union men’s hockey player Doug Christiansen has rejoined the U.S. Hockey League. He was named deputy commissioner on Wednesday. He was the league’s Director of Player Development and Recruitment (2014-18) before joining the ECHL as head coach of the general manager of the Manchester Monarchs in 2018-18 and the Indy Fuel the last three seasons.

Christiansen resigned from the Fury late in the season to pursue the Union men’s head coaching job.

“I am thrilled to be back in the USHL. I am a firm believer in the League as a former player and employee,” Christiansen said in a press release. “The USHL is instrumental in the growth and development of many of the best young players in the world both on and off the ice. I am excited to work with [USHL president and commissioner] Bill Robertson and the League ownership to build upon an extremely strong foundation and continue to grow the League in local communities and throughout the hockey world.”

LANGE BACK AT WORLD JUNIORS

RPI men’s hockey assistant coach Mathias Lange will return to the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championships for Team Austria when the tournament takes place Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Moncton, New Brunswick.

Lange was behind the bench for Austria for the 2022 World Juniors, which took place last month in Edmonton, Alberta. The tournament was postponed last December because of COVID-19 issues.

DENVER LEADS POLLS

Defending NCAA champion Denver is on top of the USCHO.com/NCAA and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls, which were released Monday. The Pioneers received 37 of 50 votes in the USCHO poll and earned 974 points, 60 more than No. 2 Minnesota, which got eight first-place votes.

In the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, the Pioneers received 25 of 34 first-place votes and earned 666 points. Minnesota was second with seven first-place votes and 634 points.

Four ECACH teams made both polls. Three teams are in the same spot. Quinnipiac is seventh, Harvard is 11th and Cornell is 19th. Clarkson is 17th in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll, and 18th in the USCHO poll.

One note about the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll. It has expanded from ranking 15 teams to 20, something the USCHO poll has been doing for several years.

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