Union hockey coach Rick Bennett doesn’t want to even think about March in Lake Placid and the ECAC Hockey tournament championship round because there is still a regular season to think about.
But after sweeping New Hampshire on the Wildcats’ Olympic-size ice surface at the Whittemore Center over the weekend, playing on the bigger sheet could be an advantage, should the Dutchmen make it the ECACH’s final four March 21-22.
After sweeping a two-game series from the Wildcats by identical 3-1 scores, the Dutchmen improved to 3-0-1 this season on the bigger ice surface. Last month, Union went 1-0-1 at St. Cloud State, taking a 4-1 decision Dec. 13 and playing to a 3-3 tie the next night.
The ECACH championship round returns to Herb Brooks Arena this season after a 12-year absence. The ice surface made famous by the 1980 U.S. hockey team’s “Miracle on Ice” is 200 feet long by 100 feet wide, which is what Union played on at St. Cloud State and UNH.
Bennett did his best to sidestep a question about Lake Placid after Saturday’s win against UNH.
“I really don’t want to touch that one,” Bennett said. “But it’s so true. If we are lucky enough to get there, hopefully, these battles along the way will be very helpful. But the last time I checked, we have to play Harvard [on Friday].”
None of the 12 ECACH teams regularily play on the wider ice surface, playing, instead, on the regulation 200 feet long by 85 feet wide, although Messa Rink is one foot longer and one foot wider. So, getting a skate up on the competition and gaining confidence on the bigger ice surface will help the Dutchmen come March, if they get there, of course.
“It’s huge that we can win on a regular sheet or a bigger sheet,” said junior center Max Novak, who scored the game-winning goal in Saturday’s contest. “We treat these games the same way.”
Some of the Dutchmen, like senior defenseman Mat Bodie, do have some experience playing in Brooks Arena. Union played Capital Region-rival Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute up their twice. They earned a 3-3 tie on a late third-period goal by Bodie on Oct. 30, 2010, and then got a 5-2 victory Dec. 10, 2011.
But those were one-shot deals. Plus, in those years, the ECACH final four was in Atlantic City, N.J.
Bodie believes having played four games on the bigger ice surface will be an enormous help for the team.
“Whether you get the wins or the losses, anytime you can have the experience on the big sheet before you play it on a final weekend in Lake Placid, for whoever makes it there, it’s going to be an advantage.”
Union is tied with Ferris State four fourth in the Pairwise Rankings, which is a guideline the NCAA hockey tournament committee uses to determine the 16-team field. The top three teams are Minnesota, Boston College and Quinnipiac. . . .
Dutchmen senior forward Daniel Carr didn’t record a point Saturday, leaving him tied with Adam Presizniuk for the most career points in Union’s Division I era with 131. It was just the fourth time this season that Carr failed to get a point. . . .
When Union hosts Harvard at 7 p.m. Friday, it will be the team’s first home game since Dec. 11 against Dartmouth.