Opening Faceoff: Finding a time not to start Union goalie Murphy may prove difficult

Union College men's hockey goalie Connor Murphy looks behind the net during last Saturday's season-opening game against RIT at Messa Rink.
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Union College men's hockey goalie Connor Murphy looks behind the net during last Saturday's season-opening game against RIT at Messa Rink.

OPENING FACEOFF – The only way you will ever get Union College men’s hockey senior goalie Connor Murphy to sit for an entire game is tell him that there is no game that night when there actually is.

When Murphy took to the ice for last Sunday’s game at Army West Point, it was his 60th straight start. That streak started during his sophomore season at Northeastern, when the Hudson Falls native started all 21 games for the Huskies during the 2020-21 season that was overshadowed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Murphy transferred to Union, and he started all 37 of the Dutchmen’s games last season. He set a program record with 1,060 saves while posting a 14-18-3 record with a 2.66 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and three shutouts.

“I know for myself, personally, I don’t want to take a break,” Murphy said during the team’s media availability on Tuesday at Messa Rink. “That’s just the way I am. I don’t want to have to take any nights off. But if it happens, it happens. “It could be my decision. But if it’s up to me, I want to play every night. But whether that happens or not, it’s still I’m still going to do the same thing I always do and try to prepare the best I can for the games no matter what.”

And that may be the tricky part for first-year Union head coach Josh Hauge. He saw what Murphy did to keep Union in its ECAC Hockey tournament quarterfinal series against Clarkson last March, when he was a Golden Knights assistant coach. 

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Hauge saw an excellent performance by Murphy in a 2-2 tie against Army West Point. Murphy made 30 saves, including one on a Max Itagaki one-timer tap in with 2:27 left in overtime when he slid from left to right to get his right pad on it.

The rest of the non-conference schedule this month dictates that Murphy should play. The Dutchmen head to XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, to face 20th-ranked UConn for games Friday and Saturday. Two weeks later, Union plays a pair of games at 13th-ranked UMass. The following weekend is the start of ECACH play with two games against Capital Region-rival RPI.

The only games that Hauge could start another goalie other than Murphy before the start of conference play would be next Thursday against Bentley at Messa Rink and next Saturday when they face RIT at Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena.

Hauge has four goalies on the roster — Murphy, senior Merek Pipes, sophomore Joe Sharib and freshman Kyle Chauvette.

“I think it’s just like any position,” Hauge said. “We evaluate every week, and we’re looking to see who’s going to win the starting job. You’d like the other guys to keep pushing, and I think they’re doing a great job pushing in practice. But it’s tough when you have an ace [and] give a younger guy a shot. But at some point, we definitely would like to get other guys in.”

Until that day comes, Hauge will keep writing down Murphy’s name as the starter on the lineup sheet.

UCONN MATCHUP

The Dutchmen will face UConn for the first time since dropping a 3-2 decision to the Huskies in the Frozen Holiday Classic on Dec. 27, 2014, in Bridgeport, Connecticut. That was Union’s first loss in the series. The Dutchmen lead the series 7-1-4.

That season was UConn’s first in Hockey East after playing in Atlantic Hockey, and its predecessor, the MAAC.

The Huskies come into this weekend’s games having swept Vermont last weekend in their opening two games. Head coach Brendan Cavanaugh is in his 10th season with UConn. He guided the Huskies to the Hockey East tournament championship game last season, the first time in program history. Former Union goalie Darion Hanson was the team’s top goalie. He has graduated.

The program has steadily improved under Cavanaugh. Hauge is expecting two tough games this weekend.

“This is an extremely difficult task,” Hauge said. “You look at teams in Hockey East, and I would expect them to be near the top at the end of the season. [They] have an unbelievable group of forwards led by Ryan Tverberg and Matt Wood. Matt Wood could be a top-five pick in this year’s NHL draft. They can play with pace, [and] they get up and down the sheet [in] watching the two games against Vermont. They’re extremely talented, and their power play can zip it around. It’ll be a really good test for us and definitely excited to get there.”

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RPI OPENS AGAINST MERCYHURST

The RPI men’s team begins its regular season Friday when it hosts Mercyhurst for a two-game series at Houston Field House.

The big news is that all fans will be allowed to attend games this season. RPI only permitted students, faculty and staff to attend regular-season games last season because of concerns over COVID-19.

“RPI hockey with fans is a special place,” said RPI head coach Dave Smith, who signed a five-year contract extension in August. “So to bring them back into the mix, to have them here in the field house brings an energy that is unmatched in our league and one of the top in the country. It’s really important to me when you can add that extra bit of energy at any time. We’ll take it.”

Engineers goalie Jack Watson can’t wait to hear the roar of the crowd each time he makes a save or each time his team scores a goal.

“That means a lot to us having our fans back this year,” Watson said. “I think everyone in the room is so excited to play in front of that really passionate fan base that we have. We just can’t wait to get going.”

Graduate student defenseman Kyle Hallbauer was voted team captain by his teammates.

“It’s a great honor to be named captain of RPI,” Hallbauer said. “It was a fully player-led vote this year, so it means a lot to me that they all voted for me. I think our team is really close this year. I’d say that my one goal as captain is to make sure everyone on the team has a voice so we stay close.”

TWO UNION WOMEN RECOGNIZED BY ECACH

Two Union women’s hockey players were honored by the ECACH on Tuesday.

Senior forward Emily King was named Player of the Week. King, the team captain, had three goals and an assist in two games against Holy Cross last weekend. Two of her goals in last Saturday’s 3-1 win. King scored the game-winning goal.

Freshman defenseman Stephanie Bourque was named Defender of the Week, which is a new award this season. Bourque had three assists over the weekend.

It’s the first time Union has had two players honored on the same weekend since Oct. 18, 2016, when Abby Ellis earned Rookie of the Week honors and Kate Spooner was named Goaltender of the Week.

MERRIMACK ASSISTANT COACH DIES

The college hockey community was stunned with the news Monday that Merrimack men’s hockey assistant coach Josh Ciocco died. He was 38 years old.

Ciocco was starting his fifth season at Merrimack. Prior to that, he was an assistant coach at Brown and Alaska Anchorage.

Ciocco played at New Hampshire from 2003-07. He was the team captain his senior season.

During his years as an assistant coach at Clarkson, Hauge would often see Ciocco on the recruiting trail.

“It’s a really tough one,” Hauge said. “Josh was a great person and a friend. Condolences to his family and the Merrimack team. It’s awful and [I] don’t wish that upon anyone. To go through that is just terrible.”

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