Even when his team was struggling to score goals in the first half of the season, Union coach Nate Leaman would always say it was just a matter of time before the pucks would start going in.
The main reason for Leaman’s confidence was that he knew he had some talented scorers in his freshman class who simply needed time to adapt to the college game. Leaman’s patience is now being rewarded.
Union will look to complete a perfect January, and try to set a team record for longest winning streak, when it heads to the North Country this weekend. The Dutchmen (5-3-2 ECAC Hockey, 10-8-3 overall), who are in a three-way tie for fourth place, meet St. Lawrence (4-6-2, 9-11-3) tonight at 7 at Appleton Arena, and then face league-leading and 10th-ranked Clarkson (8-3-1, 13-7-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Cheel Arena.
One of the reasons the Dutchmen have won their last six games has been the play of freshman forwards Stephane Boileau, Adam Presizniuk and John Simpson. The trio have combined for nine goals and five assists during the streak, and have scored five game-winning goals.
“I’m excited about it,” Leaman said. “They’ve continued to improve all season, just like our team. It’s been real important to be patient. When people asked us what we thought [in the] preseason, we knew we were going to be young early. Everything’s starting to come around now.”
Leaman had little choice but to let the freshmen play and learn. The departure of sophomore forward T.J. Fox, the Dutchmen’s leading scorer last season, to the San Jose Sharks saw to that.
“With us losing T.J. Fox, that put some freshmen in tough situations this year,” Leaman said. “We paid the price for it a little bit early in the year. Now, they’re growing into those roles.”
Presizniuk is Union’s second-leading scorer, and third among ECACH rookies, with four goals and 11 assists. He has made his goals count — he leads the Dutchmen with three game-winners. That is tied for third best in the ECACH.
When Presizniuk played with the British Columbia Junior Hockey League’s Powell River Kings, he was a center. But Leaman shifted him to left wing, and calls him one of the best freshmen in the league.
“The first half, I was adjusting [moving to left wing],” said Presizniuk, who scored the game-winner in last Friday’s 2-1 win over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “I’ve been playing center my whole life. It was getting to know the boards, and learning my role in covering the points. I’m certainly used to it now.”
Boileau has four goals and eight assists. All of his goals have come on the power play, which is tops on the team. He scored on the power play in the first period of Saturday’s 4-1 triumph over the Engineers by cutting into the slot and redirecting defenseman Lane Caffaro’s right-point pass past goalie Mathias Lange’s left pad. It snapped a 1-1 tie.
“The main thing has been adaptation,” said Boileau, who had 42 goals and 71 assists with the Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League’s
St. Jerome Panthers last season. “The goalies in the NCAA are a lot better than in my junior years. I just keep working, and keep shooting the puck. Right now, I’m the lucky guy [on the power play] that’s putting the puck in the net.”
After not scoring a goal in his first 16 games, Simpson has collected three in his last five. He scored a great goal Saturday, skating down the left wing and firing a wrist shot over Lange’s left shoulder that tied the score at 1-1, 55 seconds after Jonathan Ornelas scored for RPI.
Simpson got a lift during Union’s trip to New Brunswick over Christmas when he had two goals and two assists in three games.
“It’s just adjusting to the game,” said Simpson, who had 18 goals and 29 assists last year with Lawrence Academy. “It’s a completely different game. You need leadership to help you, and we’ve had amazing leadership to really help me out.”
Another freshman, Justin Pallos, had an outstanding game Saturday against RPI. He picked up an assist on Simpson’s goal, and was flying all over the ice.
“Justin provides us with a great element of speed,” Leaman said. “He has great hockey sense.”
And who knows how much sooner Union could have broken through had not freshman Luke Cain broken his tibia Nov. 9 at Dartmouth. Cain had two goals and an assist in his first seven games.
“He was leading our freshmen in points,”
Leaman said. “What’s frustrating is when I went back to watch tape of RPI [in the Governor’s Cup] last week, and watched tape of St. Lawrence this week, he was such a dominating force in those games. Unfortunately, we lost him. But the flip side of that is we know we have a terrific player coming back for us next year. It’s almost like recruiting a blue chipper.”
RPI VISITS CLARKSON
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (3-6-2, 8-14-3) seeks to end its nine-game losing streak when it visits Clarkson tonight at 7.
A loss would set a team record for consecutive defeats, but coach Seth Appert remains upbeat about the situation.
“This week’s been an absolute blast,” Appert said. “Guys are just in tremendous spirits. It’s been an outstanding three days of practice. It’s been a lot of fun.”