After a rough road trip to Colgate and Cornell last weekend, Union coach Rick Bennett’s message to his players this week was simple — get off to a quick start against St. Lawrence, and don’t let up.
The message was heeded in a big way Friday night.
The Dutchmen scored twice in the first 4:05 of the game and rolled to a 5-1 victory over the Saints at Messa Rink to clinch home ice for at least the first round of the ECAC Hockey tournament.
Union outshot St. Lawrence, 46-20, including 17-4 in the opening period.
“I’m not going to say it’s the best we’re going to get because, hopefully, there’s a lot more in the tank, and I believe there is,” Bennett said. “It was nice effort tonight. It was a great team effort. A lot of guys showed a lot of heart tonight.”
However, the victory came at a cost. Junior goalie Troy Grosenick and sophomore defenseman Charlie Vasaturo departed with injuries. Vasaturo was hurt in the first period, and Grosenick left after allowing Chris Martin’s goal at 9:10 of the third period.
When asked about the injuries, Bennett said, “No comment.”
The Dutchmen (9-8-4 ECACH, 16-12-5 overall) are in a three-way tie for the final first-round bye spot with St. Lawrence (9-8-4, 16-13-4) and Dartmouth. If the teams remained tied after tonight’s season finales, Union would lose the head-to-head-to-head tiebreakers. Union needs to beat Clarkson tonight while the Saints and Big Green tie or lose to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Quinnipiac, respectively, to get at least the final bye slot.
Union still has a chance to land the third seed. It trails third-place Yale by a point.
The Dutchmen have a shot at the bye thanks to their quick start. Kyle Bodie just missed scoring 15 seconds in on a setup by Shayne Gostisbehere.
Thirty seconds later, Josh Jooris won a faceoff in the Saints’ left circle. Matt Wilkins tapped it back to Vasaturo at the left point, and his shot deflected off of a St. Lawrence player and past goalie Matt Weninger.
Matt Hatch made it 2-0 at 4:05 when he ripped a wrist shot from the right circle over Weninger’s right shoulder.
“We had a great start,” Dutchmen captain Mat Bodie said. “ ‘Ghost’ was on there for the first [shift], and he started a great breakout. Kyle had a nice chance right from the start. And right off that offensive draw, Chucky got a great shot through. It was big for us to get a good start. We’re much better team, obviously, when you’re playing ahead.”
On Hatch’s goal, he got a cross-ice feed from Wilkins. The puck was a tad bit behind Hatch, but he gathered it and picked the top corner.
“ ‘Wilkie’ was breaking up the ice there,” Hatch said. “I had just gotten on the ice for a line change. He sifted me a nice saucer pass right across the ice. I caught it and just ripped it.”
Kyle Bodie was in the right spot to make it 3-0 early in the second period. He was to the right of the net when the rebound of a Gostisbehere shot caromed out in front. Kyle Bodie had an easy tap in.
“The [Saints defender] came at me pretty hard at the [left] point, and I stepped around him,” Gostisbehere said. “I took a shot, and it hit [Weninger’s] blocker. It hit off the backboards and went right to Kyle.”
Shortly after Niskayuna native Colin Stevens replaced Grosenick, Gostisbehere sent a pass to Mat Bodie as both teams went for line changes. Mat Bodie skated down the left wing, and then fired a shot from the left circle over Weninger’s left shoulder to make it 4-1.
“Anytime you get that one, it’s big,” Bennett said. “That’s a big-time goal by a big-time player. That was a heck of a pass by Shayne to find him when everything was kind of scrambling and line changes. Things looked like a New York City traffic stop.”
And, in an ironic twist, Wayne Simpson closed out the scoring late in the game. Simpson, the Dutchmen’s top goal scorer with 14, was a healthy scratch for last Saturday’s Cornell game, ending his streak of playing in 151 consecutive games.
“He played better than he has recently,” Bennett said. “That’s what we’re looking for.”
St. Lawrence 0 0 1 — 1
Union 2 1 2 — 5
First Period — 1, Union, Vasaturo 2 (Wilkins, Jooris), :45. 2, Union, Hatch 8 (Wilkins, Gostisbehere), 4:05. Penalty — K. Bodie, Uni (hooking), 5:54.
Second Period — 3, Union, K. Bodie 8 (Gostisbehere, Ciampini), 3:28. Penalties — Bruckel, StL (roughing), 5:09; Ciampini, Uni (high-sticking), 9:42.
Third Period — 4, St. Lawrence, Martin 7 (Baker, Ge. Hughes), 9:10. 5, Union, M. Bodie 5 (Gostisbehere, Ikkala), 13:01. 6, Union, Simpson 14, 18:13. Penalties — Carey, StL (checking from behind), 3:36; Hagen, StL (hooking), 6:49; Hagen, StL (tripping), 15:49; Bruckel, StL (tripping), 19:06; Essery, StL (roughing), 19:54; Gu. Hughes, StL (roughing), 19:54; Roy, Uni (roughing), 19:54; Gingras, Uni (roughing), 19:54; Ikkala, Uni (slashing), 19:54; Wick, StL (cross-checking), 20:00.
Shots on Goal — St. Lawrence 4-8-8 — 20. Union 17-14-15 — 46.
Power-play opportunities — St. Lawrence 0 of 3; Union 0 of 6.
Goalies — St. Lawrence, Weninger 16-13-4 (46 shots-41 saves). Union, Grosenick 12-9-5 (18-17), Stevens (9:10 third, 2-2).
A — 2,022. T — 2:10.
Referees — Peter Feola, Joe Carusone. Linesmen — Justin Prusak, Andy Petrus.