No team wants to have a rash of injuries, especially as the regular season winds down and the playoffs are on the horizon.
The Union men’s hockey team had to deal with several key injuries over the weekend. But one of the reasons that the Dutchmen are on the verge of clinching their third ECAC Hockey Cleary Cup regular-season title in four years has been the team’s depth.
Lose forward Cole Ikkala to a lower-body injury after blocking a pair of shots against St. Lawrence on Jan. 31? Insert little-used forward Theo DiPauli.
Forwards Daniel Carr and Max Novak suffer injuries Friday against Cornell? Put Mark Bennett and Nick Cruice in for the game against Colgate on Saturday.
A stomach bug prevents forward David Roy from playing in the Colgate contest? Just have defenseman Matt Krug play left wing.
The ECACH-leading Dutchmen (14-3-1 league, 20-6-4 overall) remained third in Monday’s USCHO.com/NCAA hockey top-20 poll. They received 884 points.
“It’s a really good squad,” Dutchmen defenseman and team captain Mat Bodie said. “We have a lot of guys that can play. Anytime you have a defenseman playing forward, you’re just hoping that he doesn’t make any mistakes out there. I thought ‘Krugger’ did a great job playing on the fourth line and giving us some energy.
“It’s a tough roster to crack. Guys just do whatever they’re asked of them. It was a real gutsy effort in the face of adversity.”
Union has a four-point lead over second-place Quinnipiac with four games left in the regular season. The Dutchmen gained a point by tying Colgate, 4-4, while Quinnipiac lost to Brown, 4-2. The tie with Colgate clinched an ECACH tournament first-round bye for the Dutchmen, the fifth straight year and sixth in the last seven they had done so.
The Dutchmen rallied from a pair of two-goal deficits to earn the tie with Colgate, doing it with a makeshift lineup that had 11 forwards, one less than normal, and seven defensemen, one more than usual, dressed.
Earlier in the season, Novak missed time while recovering from offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. In the opening game of the year against Bowling Green, goalie Colin Stevens and forward Eli Lichtenwald were injured and were out about a month each.
“Depth plays a factor throughout the season,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “It really rears its head toward the end of the season. For guys to go in and get some valuable minutes, hopefully, helps us here for the last four games and beyond. Obviously, it’s no guarantee, but we do like the guys. Anybody goes in, anybody plays. It’s their job to provide value that night when they’re in the lineup.”
DiPauli, who was a healthy scratch for 22 straight games and 24 of Union’s first 26 contests, has proven himself since getting into the lineup Feb. 1 against Clarkson. In his last three games, he has two goals and an assist.
“When guys do what they’re supposed to do, they get rewarded,” Bodie said. “Theo’s been great since he got into the lineup for us.”
Krug, who has been splitting playing time with fellow freshman defenseman Noah Henry, filled in admirably on the fourth line against the Raiders.
“He did a good job,” Bennett said. “We were happy with his performance.”
Getting the first weekend off will allow all of the Dutchmen to get some extra rest and prepare for their quarterfinal-round opponent.
“Last year, we had to battle until the end for the first-round bye, so it’s definitely nice to clinch the first-round bye early and know you have it,” said Union forward Kevin Sullivan, who missed three games earlier in the season because of a concussion. “For the most part, it lets us rest up our players that need to heal, and it gives us time to watch some other teams.”