Union and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are heading into the two-week Christmas break believing there is room for improvement for both teams.
Neither Union coach Rick Bennett nor RPI coach Seth Appert is satisfied with the way things turned out in the first half of the season, even though their records are slightly better compared to the same number of games last season.
After 15 games, the 12th-ranked Dutchmen are 8-3-4. At the same time last year, they were 7-3-5. In ECAC Hockey play, the Dutchmen are tied for second place with Dartmouth at 3-2-3.
Bennett, whose team returns to action Dec. 29 against Vermont in the Catamount Cup, isn’t all that displeased. However, he does see room for improvement, especially since his team enters the break on a four-game winless streak.
“I do like that the teams we played in our league, we gave ourselves a fighting chance,” Bennett said. “There are a couple of things we need to correct that the guys actually know it. The one game that I thought we didn’t show up was the game versus Quinnipiac [a 4-0 loss].”
The Dutchmen’s strengths have been the penalty kill and the power-play. The penalty kill is clicking at 91.7 percent (55-for-60), which is third best in the conference and No. 4 in the country. The Dutchmen have killed off 26 of the last 27 opponents’ power plays.
“The penalty kill [coached] by [assistant coaches] Joe Dumais and Jason Tapp may be the brightest spot of the first half, hands down,” Bennett said. “Those guys have been the MVPs, as far as I’m concerned. And the guys that make it happen are the players, and they deserve a lot of credit.”
The Dutchmen’s power play leads the country at 29.4 percent (20-for-68) efficiency. That’s despite enduring a recent 1-for-20 skid.
The effort Union has been giving on special teams needs to be transferred to even-strength play.
“When you think about the power play and the PK, those are focused areas throughout the game,” Bennett said. “It seems like [with] your five-on-five, you’re just going through the game and then one of those [special-teams situations]
happens, you have to refocus, and that’s a key word. When you refocus, you’re channeling something different and start to bear down a bit more. We don’t want to get caught going through the motions of a game. We want to win your shift. We do it at times, but it isn’t consistent.”
The Dutchmen entered 2012 with a 9-5-5 record. They closed out the regular season with an 11-2-1 record and won their second straight ECACH regular-season title. The Dutchmen went on the win their first ECACH tournament championship and then the NCAA tournament East Regional to reach their first Frozen Four at the Div-ision I level.
While Bennett believes his team can do something similar to last season, he doesn’t think it’s fair to compare last year’s team with this season’s squad.
“That’s the worst possible thing we can do,” Bennett said. “We didn’t do it the year before. We talked a little bit about it this year. It seems like the more they know and the more the coaching staff knows, it becomes more dangerous. We just worry about the next practice, the next shift and the next weekend.”
Over at RPI, the Engineers go into the break at 4-6-4, including 1-5-2 in ECACH play. Through 14 games last year, they were 3-11, and in the middle of a seven-game winless skid that saw them bottom out at 3-16-1, and were 1-5 in league play.
Even though RPI’s overall record is better this season than last year, Appert isn’t happy. He pointed to the first two weekends of ECACH play. The Engineers went 0-4, including two losses to Union, and were outscored, 19-5, in those games.
“I’m not pleased,” Appert said. “Where we’re at in the league and where we’re at overall is not where I want to be. I really don’t look at year to year. What’s more important is where you are now compared to October, when we got going.
“When we started league [play], we were not nearly as good as we needed to be. We didn’t have a level of discipline and commitment to our style of play that you need to be successful. So, we put ourselves behind the eight ball. The last six games, we’ve started to show some real strong improvements in our overall and team play. Some of that has translated to wins.”
The Engineers may have found their No. 1 goalie in Jason Kasdorf. The freshman, who is a Winnipeg Jets draft pick, has started the last five games. He is 2-1-2 with a 1.46 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage.
“He’s playing real well right now,” Appert said. “But that’s going to play out over time. He’s done a good job of not giving up the easy goal. All of our goalies are capable of making big saves, and they have.”
Sophomore forward Jacob Laliberte has been RPI’s most improved player. After collecting just six goals and eight assists in 31 games last season, Laliberte has those same numbers in just 12 games and leads the Engineers in scoring.
“Jake has elevated his game from last year, but that was expected,” Appert said.
Harvard loses players
The academic cheating scandal that rocked Harvard over the summer may have cost the Crimson hockey team several players.
Last month, sophomore goalie Steve Michalek departed the team and is now playing for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the U.S. Hockey League. Michalek was the Crimson’s top goalie for most of last season before Raphael Girard took over down the stretch. Michalek, who was 7-7-8 with a 3.19 goals-against average last season, didn’t play a game this year.
On Monday, three more players, all sophomore defensemen, were taken off the roster. They are Max Everson, Patrick McNally and Mark Luzar.
McNally is the biggest name. He was an ECACH All-Rookie selection last season after collecting six goals and 22 assists. This year,
McNally had a goal and two assists in seven games.
Everson had four assists in 34 games last season. He had an assist in seven games this season.
Luzar missed last season because of injury. He hadn’t appeared in a game this season.
Girard, in effect, confirmed in an interview with The Crimson school newspaper that the players were removed because of the scandal.
“Some guys had to take a year absent,” Girard said. “I won’t say any names, but like any other team, we might have some problems with the academic scandal. Some of them just want to take leaves to get more playing time and come back later because they were younger guys. Some other guys were just injured. But overall, they’re going to come back; they’re still part of our family and still part of our team.”
The Crimson are down to 22 players, only six are defensemen. Harvard coach Ted Donato told the media after Monday’s 5-0 loss to UMass-Lowell that he can’t add any players in the second half.
Here’s a look at how college hockey players from the Capital Region are doing heading into the Christmas break.
u Union sophomore goalie Colin Stevens (Niskayuna) is 3-1 with a 1.88 goals-against average, a .920 save percentage and two shutouts.
u Boston College senior defenseman Patch Alber (Clifton Park) has three assists in 14 games.
u Boston University freshman forward Jordan Juron (Latham) has a goal and an assist in 17 games.
u Wisconsin freshman defenseman Courtney Burke (Albany) has three goals and 11 assists in 20 games. She is the tied for third in team scoring. In the WCHA, Burke is tied for fifth in scoring by a defenseman and tied for third in scoring among freshmen.