The Union men’s hockey team closes out its eight-game non-conference schedule to start the season when it travels to Amherst, Massachusetts for a two-game series against UMass at Mullins Center tomorrow and Saturday.
These games won’t be easy for the Dutchmen. The Minutemen (2-0-1) are ranked sixth in the USCHO.com and USA Hockey Magazine/USA Today hockey polls. They moved up seven spots in the USCHO.com poll and eight places in the USA Hockey Magazine/USA Today after sweeping a two-game series against defending NCAA-champion and top-ranked Denver in a meeting of the last two national champions. UMass, which won the title in 2021, beat the Pioneers by scores of 4-2 and 3-0.
The Dutchmen (2-3-1) are coming off a 1-1 week. They were dominant in a 5-1 win over Bentley at Messa Rink last Thursday. Two days later, they had many defensive issues in an 8-5 loss to RIT at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.
Union can’t afford to play like it did against RIT when it faces UMass this weekend. If the Dutchmen come up with two more subpar efforts, it could be a long weekend for them.
That’s why it may be more important for the Dutchmen to play well, even if they don’t win. Union must have confidence in its game, particularly on the defensive side, as it heads into ECAC Hockey play next weekend against RPI.
Union men’s head coach Josh Hauge discusses that Tuesday during the team’s media availability at Messa.
“It’s really important just to be taking steps, and we talk about it a lot.” Hauge said. “We don’t want to look at the score of every single game. We want to look at the process of our development as a group and are we growing. I think that’s the biggest thing for right now. We’ve established a culture of trust where we feel like we’re a family right now and we’re starting to get comfortable with each other.
“But we’ve got to continue to develop our game, and we’ve got to take steps defensively, as well as just continue to have more confidence with the puck.”
Union junior defenseman Nic Petruolo agrees.
“The defensive side of things, no matter who you play, has to be in tip-top shape going into any weekend.” Petruolo said. “I think we’re all at that level now where if we don’t take care of our own jobs on the defensive side of the puck, it’s not going to end up well.”
The Dutchmen must play smart games against UMass. Don’t try to do too much. If they play smart and get their defensive game in order, even if they don’t win this weekend, it will feel like a victory as they head into ECACH play.
Of course, the players want to win, and that is very understandable.
“If we play our game, and we play as a five-man unit and we just stay dialed in with our D-zone making plays together, moving our feet, we can beat any team,” Union freshman defenseman Nick Young said. “With the guys in the locker room we have, if we can stick to our game and do what we do, I think we should have no problem.”
STILL WAITING FOR A CAPTAIN
Hauge has yet to name a team captain and alternate captain. But that could be finalized soon.
“We started talking with the guys,” Hauge said. “I think that’ll probably be something [that will be decided] within the next week or two that we have the ‘C’s’ and ‘A’s’ on the jerseys.”
I have no inside information, but if I had a guess, I think that junior forwards Liam Robertson and Tyler Watkins will be co-captains, and senior forward Owen Farris and senior goalie Connor Murphy will be alternate captains.
The Union men will have one less 4 p.m. home game this season. The Dutchmen’s regular-season finale against Princeton on Feb. 25 will now be played at 7 p.m.
“We were actually hoping to try to make that work to be at 4 o’clock,” Hauge said. “But just with league scheduling and whatnot, both teams kind of have to confirm it, and something got missed on Princeton’s part and we didn’t ask them. We’ll play it at seven. That’s just kind of what happened.”
RPI’S SERTTI HONORED
RPI junior Lauri Sertti was named ECACH Defenseman of the Week on Monday.
Sertti collected three points in the Engineers’ wins against LIU and Army West Point last weekend. He scored the game’s only goal in a 1-0 over LIU last Friday. In the next night’s 7-4 against Army West Point, Sertti had two assists.
QUINNIPIAC HAS GOOD WEEKEND
In a battle of ranked teams, Quinnipiac earned a tie and a win over North Dakota in Grand Forks, North Dakota, last weekend.
The 5-5 tie last Friday was wild. The Bobcats had leads of 3-0 and 4-1. But the Fighting Hawks rallied to take a 5-4 lead, with three of the goals coming in a 2:22 span in the third period. Quinnipiac’s CJ McGee tied it with 9:35 left in the third.
The Bobcats won the next night 6-2. They trailed 2-1 after the first period before scoring the game’s final five goals. Ethan de Jong had two of those goals. Former Union forward Collin Graf collected two assists.
The 1-0-1 weekend vaulted Quinnipiac from eighth to third in the USCHO.com poll, with the Bobcats receiving three first-place votes, and from seventh to third in the USA Hockey Magazine/USA Today poll. Quinnipiac got five first-place votes in that poll.