It has been 48 days since Union played a hockey game at Messa Rink.
And after a rough few weeks on the road, the 17th-ranked Dutchmen are ready to enjoy the comforts of home for awhile. The Dutchmen play four of their next five games, including three in five days, at Messa.
But it won’t be an easy homecoming for the Dutchmen. They face ECAC Hockey-foes Cornell and Colgate. Cornell, ranked 16th, faces the Dutchmen tonight at 7. The 20th-ranked Raiders visit Saturday night at 7.
Union (4-3-3 ECACH, 10-7-4 overall) played its last eight games away from Messa, and the results weren’t good. The Dutchmen went 2-4-2. In three of those games, they wasted two-goal leads.
The last time the Dutchmen were home, they needed a late third-period rally to tie Princeton, 4-4, on Dec. 1. Union has played just six home games this season, where it is 3-2-1.
Dutchmen coach Rick Bennett is happy to be back in the friendly confines of Messa.
“I just think it will be different for us,” Bennett said. “As long as we understand that just because we’re home and you have nice crowd support because we have the best fans in the league, we just can’t take that for granted. I thought we took that for granted against Merrimack in our first game of the year, and we have to learn from that. That is what’s going to be mentioned to the group, that these people support us, so we want to give them a great effort.”
The players are just as pleased, too, not having to pack for another road trip. In addition to the two games this weekend, Union hosts Harvard on Tuesday and Dartmouth Feb. 1. Sandwiched between those games is next Saturday’s Mayor’s Cup non-conference contest against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute at the Times Union Center.
“It’s nice to be home,” goalie Troy Grosenick said. “It’s been a long time. It’s probably the longest since I’ve been here. We’re really looking forward to it, and having the fans behind us and feeding off that energy.”
This is a critical four-game league stretch for the Dutchmen. With Quinnipiac unbeaten in the league and skating away from the rest of the conference, the Dutchmen will need to win to remain in the hunt for one of the four ECACH tournament first-round byes. Union is in a three-way tie with Dartmouth and Yale for third place, two points behind second-place Princeton. Union is 12 points out of first place.
“Like we always say, every game’s important,” Grosenick said. “Those out-of-conference games are important for the Pairwise [Rankings]. The league games, you’re battling for position. We definitely want to finish as high as we can in the league. We’re focused on the first one, and hopefully, picking up those two points and going from there.”
The Big Red (3-3-2, 7-6-2) haven’t played since losing a two-game series at Denver two weekends ago.
“The one component is that they have one of the best coaches [Mike Schafer] in the whole league,” Bennett said. “He’s excellent. He’s an excellent tactician of scouting the opponent. I’m sure he’s scouted us well and RPI well, given the time that they had off. They’re going to be a fired-up ballclub coming off their trip to Denver. We just have to be ready.”
The Dutchmen need to play better when they have two-goal leads. They blew a 2-0 lead in the third period last Saturday against Quinnipiac and lost, 3-2. They saw a 3-1 lead against Brown disappear into a 3-3 tie Dec. 7. A night later at Yale, the Bulldogs overcame a 2-0 deficit to tie the Dutchmen.
Dutchmen forward Cole Ikkala has a simple solution to prevent that from happening again.
“It’s just playing Union hockey for three periods,” Ikkala said. “We’ve been playing well for two, but in our league, the other teams are good, so you have to bring three periods of good hockey. That’s just the biggest goal right now.”
Dutchmen senior defenseman Shawn Stuart will miss at least this weekend’s games, and maybe more.
Stuart suffered an upper-body injury when he was checked midway through the first period of the Dutchmen’s loss to Quinnipiac.
“He’s going to be on the shelf for a while,” Bennett said. “It’s just one of those things in that he took a pretty good hit there at Quinnipiac. As far as the timetable, it’s all within the individual. Basically, [with] his pain threshold, it could be a week, it could be three weeks. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
RPI FACES COLGATE
RPI (1-6-3, 6-10-5), which finds itself in last place in the league, will host Colgate (3-4-1, 11-7-2) tonight at 7 at Houston Field House.
The Engineers posted an 0-1-1 record last weekend. They gave Quinnipiac fits in a 1-1 tie, then lost a strange 4-1 decision to Princeton in which they gave up just four shots on goal, and just two on goalie Bryce Merriam, in the final 40 minutes. Princeton had two shots on goal in the third period, and scored on both. However, they were empty-net goals.
RPI outshot Princeton, 25-13. However, the Engineers fell behind, 2-0, in the first period.
“But you get what you deserved,” RPI coach Seth Appert said. “We came out with a little bit of a casual mentality in the first period, and that cost us the game. We were dominate in the second and third, as dominate as I’ve seen our team be at any point since I’ve been here. It was one of the most dominate performances I’ve seen anywhere, for or against, to limit a team who likes to shoot the puck to two shots on goal in over 40 minutes of hockey.
“What we need to learn is if we don’t start the right way, you put yourself in a hole, you might not be able to recover from it.”