The Union College hockey lineup sports some of the best offensive defensemen in ECAC Hockey. Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet knows that, and it concerns him.
If the Big Green want to prevent the 19th-ranked Dutchmen from heading to next weekend’s ECACH tournament championship round in Atlantic City, N.J., Gaudet knows that his team must harass Union’s offensive defensemen.
The fourth-seeded Dutchmen (17-12-5) begin defense of their ECACH tournament title tonight at 7 when they host the fifth-seeded Big Green (15-12-5) in Game 1 of the best-of-three quarterfinals at Messa Rink. Game 2 is at 7 p.m. Saturday. If necessary, Game 3 will be at 7 p.m. Sunday.
The Dutchmen’s offensive defensemen are senior Greg Coburn, sophomore Shayne Gostisbehere and junior Mat Bodie.
Coburn and Gostisbehere each have 23 points. It has been a career year for Coburn, who has eight goals and 15 assists, the best numbers he has produced in his college career. Gostisbehere, a Philadelphia Flyers draft pick, has six goals and 17 assists.
Bodie has five goals and 16 assists. He is the Dutchmen’s all-time leading scorer among defensemen in the program’s Division I era, with 82 points.
Union is the only ECACH team to have three defensemen with over 20 points.
“Their defensemen move the puck and are a key to their team,” Gaudet said. “Obviously, [they] have good goaltending and excellent forwards, but they really have an excellent strong group of defensemen. Having the ability to try to neutralize that is hard, and that’s definitely what we have to do.”
Union coach Rick Bennett is very confident that his team can turn aside Dartmouth’s attempts to stop the offensive defensemen.
“It’s very easy to say you want to try and stop our defense,” Bennett said. “Bob’s not the one that’s got to stop our defense. It’s got to come from within. [With] our defensemen, we practice it enough. We have full faith that they’re going to be jumping into the play and making the plays.”
The Dutchmen’s defensemen are smart enough to know when they can move the puck up the ice, or when they are better off making the pass to one of the forwards in order to start the breakout. If they get too fancy or sloppy, turnovers can happen.
“It’s just a matter of finding the right balance between when you’re carrying the puck up and when you’re moving up to the forwards,” Bodie said. “If we can beat that first forechecker and then get the puck in our forwards’ hands and let them go to work, that’s when we’ve been successful this year. Obviously, we’ve got some guys on the back end that like to jump into the rush. Our forwards have been doing a good job lately of hitting that second wave. I think we can create some chances from our back end.”
Coburn said, “We strive on getting up the ice and pushing the pace. Going into [tonight], I think that’s what we can focus on, getting it into our forwards’ hands and, hopefully, creating some opportunities from the back end.”
The Dutchmen have won their last four games at Messa, and they have been lighting up the shots on goal board in the process. They have averaged 45.5 shots per game in those four wins.
Taking it back further, Union has averaged 41 shots on goal per game over its last nine games at Messa. The last time Union failed to reach 30 shots on goal at home was Nov. 30 against Quinnipiac. The Dutchmen had just 20 shots on goal that night in the 4-0 loss.
If it wants to be successful and move on to Boardwalk Hall next weekend, Union knows it must continue to keep firing pucks at the net and wear down Dartmouth’s defense.
“We’ve focused on that a lot all year, and we’ve just gotten to it at the end,” said Dutchmen junior left winger Daniel Carr, who is the team’s third-leading scorer with 12 goals and 13 assists. “Getting pucks to the net and just trying to get men there [to the front of the net], that’s really big heading into the playoffs. Goals aren’t easy to come by in the playoffs. They’re all scored in the hard areas in front of the net. We’ve just got to get pucks there like we’ve been doing, and get more men there to get