For two periods Wednesday at Messa Rink, Union struggled to find its game against Dartmouth.
The Big Green, showing that they weren’t the same team the Dutchmen blew out last month, bottled up the neutral zone, which led to numerous turnovers. The Dutchmen were frustrated, and their seven-game winning streak was in jeopardy.
But in the third period, the Dutchmen showed why they are one of the top teams in ECAC Hockey and ranked 10th in the USCHO.com/NCAA hockey poll. They found their game in time, and got goals from sophomore right winger Nick Cruice midway through the period and freshman right winger Michael Pontarelli late to pull out a 3-2 win.
“I just thought our guys really battled in that third period,” Union senior defenseman and team captain Mat Bodie said. “We weren’t at our best in the first two, but good teams have got to find ways to win ugly sometimes. I thought we did that tonight.”
In extending their winning streak to eight games, one short of the team record in the Division I era set in 2010-11, the Dutchmen (8-1 ECACH, 11-3-2 overall) took over sole possession of first place by two points over Quinnipiac. Union has a game in hand on the Bobcats.
This game was a stark contrast from the Nov. 1 game in Hanover, N.H., when the Dutchmen cruised to a 7-2 victory. Union dominated from start to finish in that one, and put the game away with a four-goal second period that made the score 5-0.
But for the first 40 minutes in the rematch, the Big Green (2-8, 2-10) made life miserable for the Dutchmen.
The Big Green had a 1-0 lead after the first period on a Tyler Sikura power-play goal. The Dutchmen tied it 17 seconds into the second period on a Daniel Carr tally, only to have Ryan Bullock regain the lead for Dartmouth 39 seconds later.
“As we said to their coaching staff after the game, shaking hands, they deserved a lot better than that,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “I thought they did an excellent job of winning one-on-one battles for the first two periods. I thought they just gave it to us. That’s a credit to [Dartmouth coach] Bob Gaudet and his team.”
During the second intermission, Bodie spoke to his teammates in the locker room about what they needed to do to turn things around.
“I think just sticking with it and creating our own energy [was key],” Bodie said. “It was kind of a quiet night throughout. On the bench, on the ice, guys weren’t really talking. In between the second and third, we wanted to make that adjustment. I thought just supporting each other through talking, that was a big difference.”
And a combination of great passing and being at the right place at the right time helped, too.
Cruice, who turned 21 on Wednesday, tied it, 2-2, with 10:21 left in the third on great tic-tac-toe backhanded passing. Daniel Ciampini sent the puck to Max Novak, who got it to Cruice in the right circle. Cruice skated to the net and backhanded the puck between goalie Charles Grant pads.
“It definitely was one of the best birthday presents I got,” Cruice said. “It happened off of the forecheck. ‘Champ’ and ‘Novs’ did a great job of moving the puck. We just kept it simple. Luckily, we got a bounce.”
Pontarelli got a fortuitous bounce for his goal with 3:46 left.
Michael Vecchione won a faceoff in the Dartmouth left circle. He drew the puck to Ciampini, who sent it to Jeff Taylor at the right point. Taylor’s shot hit someone in the slot, and it caromed to Pontarelli, who was to the left of the net. He fired it past for his team-leading fifth power-play goal and seventh overall.
“ ‘Vechs’ did a tremendous job of winning a faceoff, just like [against] Quinnipiac,” Pontarelli said. “He always finds a way to just win it back. Jeff did a good job of taking a shot. I don’t know who it hit in front, but it kind of found its way back door. I just took a whack at it.”
All Gaudet could do was shake his head and ponder what might have been.
“A couple of tough breaks went against us,” Gaudet said. “Our team played really hard. They’re a good hockey team. It was just one of those games with the bounce of the puck.”
Dartmouth 1 1 0 — 2
Union 0 1 2 — 3
First Period — 1, Dartmouth, Sikura 1 (Patterson, Schierhorn), 3:22 (pp). Penalty — Taylor, Uni (hooking), 2:57.
Second Period — 2, Union, Carr 8 (Lichtenwald, Wilkins), :17. 3, Dartmouth, Bullock 1 (Neilley, Crema), :56. Penalties — Vecchione, Uni (slashing), :56; Ferguson Dart (interference), 7:01; Schierhorn, Dart (slashing), 17:45.
Third Period — 4, Union, Cruice 4 (Novak, Ciampini), 9:39. 5, Union, Pontarelli 7 (Taylor, Ciampini), 16:14 (pp). Penalties — Ferguson, Dart (tripping), 1:40; Taylor, Uni (tripping), 10:18; McNally, Dart (hooking), 14:54; Taylor, Uni (interference), 17:15; Neiley, Dart, misconduct, 20:00.
Shots on Goal — Dartmouth 13-14-12 — 39. Union 12-9-9 — 30.
Power-play opportunities — Dartmouth 1 of 4; Union 1 of 4.
Goalies — Dartmouth, Grant 2-5-0 (30 shots-27 saves). Union, Stevens 9-1-0 (39-37).
A — 1,591. T — 2:13.
Referees — Peter Feola, Justin Prusak. Linesmen — Jim Briggs, Glen Cooke.