Since ECAC Hockey changed its tournament format from a 10-team playoff to allowing all 12 teams in, Union has earned five first-round byes.
The Dutchmen, who have collected four straight first-round byes, were the top-seeded team the last two years, and the No. 3 seed in 2010.
But the Dutchmen may appreciate this year’s first-round bye most of all.
After a tumultuous season that had more ups and downs than a roller coaster, the Dutchmen got the fourth and final ECACH tournament first-round bye. The Dutchmen came into the final weekend of the regular season in sixth place. They needed just two points to clinch home ice for at least the first round, but to get the bye, they needed to beat St. Lawrence and Clarkson and get some help.
Everything came to fruition for the Dutchmen (17-12-5). Now, they will begin defense of their ECACH tournament championship in the best-of-three quarterfinals beginning March 15 Messa Rink.
“It’s always nice to get that final bye spot,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “It was a long year, as far as adversity and dealing with expectations. I’m really proud of the guys for how they fought through all of this, this year.”
The Dutchmen will use the bye to get a couple of key players healthy. Junior goalie Troy Grosenick was injured midway through the third period of Friday’s 5-1 victory over St. Lawrence. On a goal scored by Chris Martin, Grosenick appeared to have trouble moving his right leg as Martin slid the puck past him. Grosenick immediately went to the locker room, and was replaced by sophomore and Niskayuna native Colin Stevens.
Even though Grosenick was listed as the starter for Saturday’s game against Clarkson, it was Stevens who was the first goalie on the ice for the pregame warmups. Grosenick was one of the last players to come out. He took two rounds of shots during the warmup, but appeared to be laboring.
Stevens made 24 saves, and posted his third shutout of the season.
Senior defenseman Shawn Stuart returned to the lineup after suffering an ankle injury in the Feb. 8 game at Clarkson. Stuart missed four games, and it was his second injury of the season. A shoulder injury suffered Jan. 13 against Quinnipiac kept him out of action for four games.
Stuart returned Saturday night because sophomore defenseman Charlie Vasaturo was injured in the first period Friday.
“It’s one of those things where anybody will take it [the bye] because we’ll get some players back healthy,” Bennett said. “Basically, everybody has played so much this year. It’s refreshing to have [the bye]. We have to make the best use of it. I thought we did so last year. We’ve got to continue to do what works for us this year.
“Last year is last year. We’re going to have to worry about this year.”
BYE FOR RPI
For the first time since the start of the 12-team tournament, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute earned a first-round bye.
The Engineers (17-12-5) are the second seed in the tournament
after beating Clarkson and St. Lawrence overall. It’s the highest finish for RPI in the seven seasons that Seth Appert has been head coach.
Even though it’s the first bye RPI has earned, Appert is treating this week like any other week.
“It’s not foreign,” Appert said. “Everybody’s had a bye week before at one point in the season. It’s not that uncommon. We do it a couple of times a year.
“We’re not going to change anything. We’ve earned this week off, and we will utilize the opportunity to create a little bit more rest for our guys than you would have in normal week. That being said, we’re going to practice competitively on the days we do practice. Those are things that made us a pretty good hockey team over the last three months. We’re not going to change that.”
For the first time since Oct. 10, 2011, RPI and Union are ranked together in the USCHO.com/NCAA hockey top-20 poll.
The Engineers are 17th, receiving 207 points. The Dutchmen are 20th, with 105 points.