Union has the country’s second-ranked power play. However, the Dutchmen’s even-strength play has been anything but special.
Over their last 17 games, the Dutchmen have scored 37 goals, but only 18 of those have come at even strength. The lack of scoring at even strength has resulted in a 5-8-4 record over the Dutchmen’s last 17 games, snapped their run of 81 consecutive weeks in the USCHO.-com/NCAA hockey poll, cost them a shot of winning a third straight ECAC Hockey regular-season title and has put them in a position where they could be on the road for the first round of the ECACH tournament in four weeks.
Union seeks to pick up its even-strength attack this weekend, but it certainly won’t be easy. The Dutchmen (6-6-4 ECACH, 13-10-5 overall) host No. 10 Yale (9-6-1, 13-7-3) tonight and Brown on Saturday at Messa Rink. Both games start at 7 p.m.
The Dutchmen, who had been one of the top-ranked offenses in the country the last couple of years, are tied for 24th in the nation this season with an average of 2.93 goals per game. With six games left in the regular season, the Dutchmen need to find their offensive mojo before the postseason begins.
Despite the struggles, Union coach Rick Bennett isn’t ready to panic.
“We just have to stick with the process,” Bennett said. “At the same time, we can’t be satisfied with just getting shots on net. We need to put a little more sense of urgency within the shots, and put a little more sense of urgency around the opponent’s net. We can’t be satisfied. You’ve got to work through it.”
Getting shots on goal hasn’t been a problem for the Dutchmen —they are averaging 32.2 shots per game. Last weekend, they outshot Clarkson and St. Lawrence by combined 69-46. But the Dutchmen lost, 2-1, to Clarkson, and 4-2 to St. Lawrence.
In those two games, the Dutchmen managed one even-strength goal. In six of the 17 games, the Dutchmen haven’t scored an even-strength goal, and in six other games, they’ve gotten one even-strength goal. Only twice have they managed to score more than two even-strength goals in a game. They got three against Princeton Dec. 1 and versus Merrimack Dec. 30.
“It’s been a struggle for most of the year,” said junior center Josh Jooris, who scored the even-strength goal in the Clarkson game. “We’ve just got to get back to basics. I think we’re trying to do too much and trying to be too fancy. It’s got to be a work-ethic mentality, and getting to that net and taking pucks hard to the net.”
Junior left winger Daniel Carr believes that once Union gets some even-strength goals, the team will gain confidence.
“I think we’re right on the verge of getting a big offensive outbreak here,” Carr said. “As long as we stick to the process, keep throwing pucks to the net and keep going to the net, good things are going to happen.
“You look at any league, most goals are scored within 10 feet of the net. As long as we keep going to those areas, it’s going to start to go in.”
Who will start in goal for the Dutchmen remains a mystery. Junior Troy Grosenick was pulled in the first period of both games last weekend in favor of sophomore and Niskayuna native Colin Stevens. Stevens finished the Clarkson game, and Grosenick returned for the final two periods of the St. Lawrence contest.
After the St. Lawrence game, Bennett said that there would be open competition for the starting nod against Yale, and perhaps, beyond.
“That [the decision] won’t be made until [today],” Bennett said.
RPI’s scoring balance
Before the season started, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute coach Seth Appert talked about the need to have scoring by committee this season because the Engineers didn’t have a true goal scorer.
It took a while, but the Engineers (7-6-3, 12-11-5) are getting that balanced production. They have four players who have over 20 points. Only two other ECACH teams can boast that — St. Lawrence and Union.
After scoring 10 goals in their sweep at St. Lawrence and Clarkson last weekend, the Engineers seek to keep the momentum going as they host Brown (5-6-5, 9-9-5) tonight at 7, and Yale at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Nick Bailen, Ryan Haggerty and Jacob Laliberte lead RPI with 22 points each. Matt Neal has 21.
“That’s critical,” Appert said. “We’ve said it all year, and we felt we’d have it. It wasn’t always there. When you don’t have a lot of bona fide forwards in your junior and senior class that are big-time point producers, you have to score by committee. Your freshmen and sophomores are a lot less consistent that you’d like them to be. It’s very important that we’re getting that scoring by committee.”
RPI has won six straight league games.