When it comes to Union’s special teams, the main focus has been on its power play, which has been one of the best in the country for the past three seasons.
But the other half of the Dutchmen’s special teams is emerging as a force, too.
Union’s penalty killing has been spectacular this season. It’s tied with ECAC Hockey foe Quinnipiac for second in the country, killing off penalties at a 91.2 percent (93-for-102) clip.
The 18th-ranked Dutchmen (6-4-3 ECACH, 13-8-4 overall) look to continue their penalty killing success when they face No. 16 Dartmouth (7-5-1, 11-7-2) tonight at 7:30 at Messa Rink in a game that will be televised nationally by NBC Sports Network.
Union has allowed just nine power-play goals this season, and has not given up more than one in a game. Only one time this season have the Dutchmen surrendered power-play goals in consecutive games, the second and third contests of the year at Bowling Green in October.
“It’s something that we work on every week,” said Union senior center Kyle Bodie, one of the key members of the penalty kill who leads the team with two short-handed goals. “The guys have bought into the system that has been in place for two years now. We’ve got guys on the PK who have been in that situation before. We’ve got enough guys on this team that, when we get into penalty trouble, we’re not tiring everyone out.”
Only New Hampshire’s penalty kill (71-for-76, 93.4 percent) is better than the Dutchmen’s. Union coach Rick Bennett gives credit to assistant coaches Joe Dumais and Jason Tapp, who work on the penalty kill with the players.
“Jason Tapp and Joe Dumais have done an excellent job of it,” Bennett said. “It’s amazing when you let people do their jobs and let them work. They’ve got those guys buying in. Possibly the best thing in the world is me keeping my hands out of it. It’s been working out well. The players deserve a lot of the credit for working hard at it.”
Much like when the Dutchmen get a stick on a shot to block it on the power play, Dumais deflects the credit.
“I don’t think anything’s changed,” said Dumais, who is in his second season as an assistant coach at Union. “They’ve been running the same PK for years here. It comes down to goaltending and players. Our guys are making plays, and our goaltenders are making saves right now. Our guys are making some good reads.”
Union junior forward Daniel Carr, another one of the Dutchmen penalty killers, said the team takes pride in shutting down the opposition’s power play.
“Penalty killing is one of those keys to your team,” Carr said. “It’s an identity. We try to be a hard-working team, and that shows in our penalty kill. But a lot of credit has to go to coach Dumais, who runs our penalty kill. He does a great job of letting us make reads out there.”
The Dutchmen’s power play leads the country at 26.3 percent (31-for-118). If Union can finish the season leading the nation in power plays and penalty kills, it would become the first team to do that since Cornell in 2004-05.
“Our special teams have both been great,” Union goalie Troy Grosenick said. “We worked a lot on it in practice, and it paid off for us. The penalty kill has been doing a great job keeping most of the shots to the outside and letting me see the puck. That’s the key on the PK.
“It’s always nice when we’re able to blow up their forecheck before they get into the zone. That’s something we pride ourselves on and getting pucks out. Overall, the PK has done a great job.”
Grosenick stopped 15 power-play shots, including 11 in the first period, in last Saturday’s 3-2 win over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the Mayor’s Cup game.
“Their special teams are the best in the country for a reason,” RPI coach Seth Appert said. “They do a great job with it. They execute at a high level. They win stick battles in both units. That’s a real key.”
RPI FACES HARVARD
RPI will seek to move up in the league standings while putting some distance between it and Harvard when it hosts the Crimson tonight at 7 at Houston Field House.
The Engineers (3-6-3, 8-11-5) are in 11th place, but just a point out of the final ECACH tournament spot for home ice in the first round. They are three points ahead of the struggling Crimson (3-11, 5-13-1), who are 1-11-1 in their last 13 games.
RPI dropped a 4-0 decision to Harvard at Bright Hockey Center on Nov. 10.
“It’s a one-game weekend for them,” Appert said. “Certainly, they want to catch us in the standings and gain some points. They have pride over there, just like we do and everybody else does. I’m sure they don’t like the situation they’re in. They’ve got guys out of the lineup with injuries and guys suspended.
“In that Union game [last Tuesday], I thought they battled their tails off and put themselves in great position to win a game on the road. . . . I think you’re going to see a team playing very hard for each other.”