The ECAC Hockey-champion Union Dutchmen are going back to the NCAA tournament, and returning to a building they are familiar with.
The Dutchmen are hoping for a better fate this time around.
Union is the No. 1 seed in the East Regional, and third seed overall in the tournament. The Dutchmen (24-7-7) will face Michigan State (19-15-4), the fourth seed in the East and 14th seed overall, in the semifinals at 3 p.m. Friday at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. Friday’s other semifinal pits No. 2 seed Miami (Ohio) (24-12-2) against No. 3 seed UMass-Lowell (23-12-1) at 6:30 p.m.
The championship game will be played at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. All of the games will be on ESPNU.
The Dutchmen earned an automatic berth to the NCAAs by virtue of Saturday’s 3-1 win over Harvard in the ECACH tournament championship game in Atlantic City, N.J. It’s the second straight year that the Dutchmen are in the NCAAs.
“It’s a tremendous honor,” first-year Union coach Rick Bennett said at a Sunday afternoon press conference at Messa Rink. “We’re just approaching it the way we approached this past weekend — we’ve been here, we’re ready to go.”
It’s the second consecutive year that the Dutchmen will be playing in Bridgeport. That’s where their season ended last year in a 2-0 loss to Minnesota Duluth in the semifinal. Minnesota Duluth went on to win the NCAA title.
“Last year was disappointing,” senior center Kelly Zajac said. “Losing to Duluth, you can gain a lot from that. We’ve got a lot of returning players. We’re a mature team, despite having a lot of freshmen. We proved that over the last couple of weeks.”
Despite losing there last year, the Dutchmen are looking forward to the return engagement. Bennett believes it will help the team relax the nerves.
“I definitely don’t think it hurts you,” Bennett said. “Hopefully, we know from last year some of the boards or the glass, some of those smaller things. In general, it’s a good thing. This team is a mature group. We’ve got strong leadership. These guys are ready to go this year, moreso than last year.”
The Dutchmen were on their way back from Atlantic City when the 16-team field was announced. They watched the selection show on the bus.
“It was pretty cool to see ourselves up on ESPNU,” sophomore goalie Troy Grosenick said. “But at the same time, we’re pretty
focused on the task at hand. We’re not getting too excited with just being there. We’re going there to do a job.”
The Spartans are making their 27th NCAA tournament appearance, and the first since 2008. Like Union, Michigan State has a first-year coach in Tom Anastos, the former commissioner of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, the league in which the Spartans play.
Michigan State finished fifth in the league with a 14-11-3 record. The Spartans were swept in the best-of-three CCHA quarterfinals by Miami by a combined score of 10-1.
The Spartans are led by junior defenseman and CCHA Player of the Year Torey Krug, who has 12 goals and 21 assists. Senior forward Brett Perlini and sophomore forward Lee Reimer each have nine goals and 21 assists.
“I don’t know too much [about the Spartans],” Bennett said. “I’m going to have to call a few friends in that league. The positive is the guy I used to work for, [ex-Providence coach] Paul Pooley, is in that league, at Notre Dame. Obviously, he’s very familiar with them, so that will help.”