Union played its two best hockey games of the season last weekend. Now, the Dutchmen know they must build off of that, especially with a first-round ECAC Hockey tournament bye still within reach.
The 20th-ranked Dutchmen will visit Starr Rink to face Colgate tonight at 7, and then head to Ithaca to take on Cornell at 7 p.m. Saturday.
It’s the final road trip of the regular season for the Dutchmen (8-6-4 ECACH, 15-10-5 overall). They are tied for third place with St. Lawrence. Both teams are one point behind second-place Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Dartmouth and Yale are a point behind the Dutchmen and Saints as the battle continues to secure one of the three remaining first-round bye spots. Quinnipiac clinched the top seed for the ECACH tournament last weekend.
It’s possible that the Dutchmen can clinch home ice for at least the first round of the ECACH tournament with a win over the Raiders (5-10-3, 13-13-4) and a Brown loss to Princeton.
Union, the defending ECACH tournament champion, has earned first-round byes in three straight seasons, and four of the last five. The last time the Dutchmen failed to get a first-round bye was in 2009, but they did have home ice in the first round. The last time Union failed to have home ice in the postseason was in 2007, when they finished in last place.
“We’re just trying to take it a game at a time, and trying to get two points out of every game,” said Union junior goalie Troy Grosenick. “If we feel we do that, we’ll be happy where we end up. There’s not too much focus on where we end up at the end of the year.”
Union is coming off wins over Yale, 4-2, and Brown, 2-0. They fired a combined 90 shots on goal in the two games, including a season-high 48 against Brown.
Union coach Rick Bennett wants to see that same type of effort this weekend. He wants the focus to be on that, and not the battle for postseason positioning.
“You always like to feed off of what you’ve done in the past,” Bennett said. “We have to keep the same momentum. It starts in practice. We have to get back to consistency with playing good hockey. . . . We have to make it a good string here.
“I have not thought about [the first-round bye chances] one bit. I don’t know where we are [in the] PairWise, I don’t know where we are in the standings. I don’t try to figure that out. Maybe, as a head coach, I should. But it’s nothing that concerns me.”
Playing at Starr Rink used to be a curse for the Dutchmen. In their first 20 years at the Division I level, the Dutchmen won just once at Starr.
But the Dutchmen have won their last two visits there, including last year’s 5-3 victory that gave them their second straight ECACH regular-season championship.
“It’s a tough place to play,” Union junior defenseman Mat Bodie said. “It’s a smaller rink, a darker rink. You really have to create your own energy. The past couple of years, we’ve been pretty good at that.”
Union has won the last four meetings with Colgate, including the 2-1 triumph Jan. 19 at Messa Rink. The Raiders are on a six-game winless streak, with losses in the last four.
Despite that, Bennett knows his team will be in for a tough battle.
“Obviously, we want to get the two points, but at the same token, that’s an excellent coaching staff over there,” Bennett said. “The head coach [Don Vaughan] has been around the block for an awfully long time. He has that team going.”
RPI visits Cornell
RPI (9-6-3, 14-11-5) can clinch at least home ice in the first round of the ECACH tournament tonight when it visits Lynah Rink to take on Cornell (5-10-3, 9-13-3), which is tied for 10th with Colgate. Game time is 7.
A win by the Engineers assures them of hosting at least the best-of-three first-round series March 8-10. It would be the third time in four seasons that RPI has been home for the playoffs. The Engineers, whose six-game winning streak is best in the nation, have never had a first-round bye in head coach Seth Appert’s first six years at the helm.
“I’m not worried about the home ice,” said Appert, whose team has won eight straight ECACH games. “It’s not a concern of mine. We just want to play the right way. We lost to Union a couple of weeks ago in that non-conference game, but we maintained momentum and kept building off of it because we played the right way.”
This will be the 100th meeting between RPI and Cornell. The Big Red leads the series, 59-33-7. The Engineers won the last meeting, 3-2, Jan. 19.