The Union hockey team is dealing with something it hasn’t had to in a long time — an extended slump.
In the Dutchmen’s last eight games, they have gone just 1-4-3 — the longest slide they have been on since early in the 2009-10 season, when they went through a 1-3-3 stretch.
However, if you believe that the 16th-ranked Dutchmen are panicking, think again. They are confident that they can snap out of this funk.
Union returns to ECAC Hockey play for the first time in a month when its faces Princeton tonight at 7:30 at Hobey Baker Rink. The game will be televised nationally by NBC Sports Network.
The Dutchmen (3-2-3 ECACH, 9-6-4 overall) believe getting back to basics will turn things around for them.
“We have to play simple hockey,” Dutchmen junior defenseman and team captain Mat Bodie said. “We’ve been playing hard the past couple of weeks but haven’t been playing smart, simple hockey. We’ve given teams some goals that, characteristically, we don’t [usually] as a team. . . . I think it’s just a lapse of mental awareness. We’ve let up a couple of goals right off the faceoff. In my time at Union College, I can only remember that happening once or twice.”
And the Dutchmen have struggled to score. In three of their most recent losses, they scored just one goal in each game. In last weekend’s two losses at Lake Superior State, Union was 1-for-11 on the power play.
“Our Union trademark is getting pucks deep and going to work and being good on the forecheck,” Dutchmen junior center Josh Jooris said. “We just have to be disciplined to our systems. That’s what will help us. That’s what worked for us last year, and that’s just what we’ve got to stick to.”
While there is plenty of concern, Union coach Rick Bennett doesn’t see any loss of confidence.
“We talked to the leaders, and the weight of the world is not on anybody’s shoulders as an individual,” Bennett said. “We’ve just got to learn from that.”
Union’s overall record is nearly identical as last year’s mark was after 19 games. The Dutchmen were 9-5-5 at the same juncture last season. And their ECACH record after eight games this season is the same as last year.
The Dutchmen went 11-2-2 over their final 15 regular-season games and won their second straight ECACH regular-season title. They will a need similar run just to try and catch Quinnipiac, their opponent Saturday. But with the Bobcats at 10-0 in league play and threatening to skate away from the rest of the conference, the Dutchmen may be playing for one of the four ECACH tournament first-round bye spots.
“You just can’t live in the past,” Bennett said. “We field a lot of questions — the players do, the coaching staff — about the last year, and the year before was the year before. It’s a different animal. We are just going to focus on ourselves going forward and not get caught up in last year.”
The Dutchmen could have sophomore defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere back in the lineup. Gostisbehere just returned to Union on Monday, two days after helping Team USA win the gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ufa, Russia, last Saturday.
Gostisbehere was scheduled to practice with the Dutchmen on Thursday, his first since coming back. It was Gostisbehere who ignited a third-period rally the last time Union faced Princeton (4-3-3, 5-7-4). He scored a goal and then set up Daniel Carr’s breakaway goal with 1:14 left that helped the Dutchmen to a 4-4 tie Dec. 1 at Messa Rink.
“I think it’s going to take a lot for Shayne Gostisbehere not to play.” Bennett said. “He’s already missed some games, and that kills him. I think he’ll be ready to go, but in the same token, you just don’t know.”
RPI faces Quinnipiac
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (1-5-2, 6-9-4) has the unenviable task of trying to knock off league-leading and fifth-ranked Quinnipiac (10-0, 16-3-2) when the two teams faceoff tonight at 7 at the High Point Solutions Arena at the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Conn.
The last time the two teams met, the Engineers and Bobcats were tied, 1-1, heading into the third period Dec. 1 at Houston Field House. RPI got a two-man advantage for two minutes midway through the third, but it was Quinnipiac’s Matthew Peca who scored a short-handed goal to snap the tie and send the Bobcats to a 3-1 win.
Quinnipiac is 13-0-1 in its last 14 games.
“We need to do what we did against them last time, where we played really good and gave ourselves a chance to win the game,” RPI coach Seth Appert said. “We didn’t give them many transition chances. They’re a good transition team. They sit back and have three or four guys back most of the night. They lull you into trying to get cute in the neutral zone, and then they transition on you.”