Union hockey coach Rick Bennett calls it the “pack of wolves,” a ferocious mentality he wants his team to have on offense when the puck is in front of the net.
On Saturday, a lone wolf was plenty enough for another Union victory.
Senior center Mike Vecchione scored four goals as the Dutchmen beat Niagara 5-2 at Messa Rink to improve to 4-1-1 heading into next weekend’s home-and-home against RPI.
The Union captain has been on a tear since the beginning of the young season, no more so than Saturday, when he pushed his season totals to eight goals and 13 points in six games; he had nine goals and 29 points in 34 games last season (albeit a dropoff from his freshman and sophomore years).
Besides scoring two 29 seconds apart in the first period for a 2-0 lead, Vecchione scored on a breakaway out of the penalty box to make it 4-1 late in the third period, and added an empty-netter with eight seconds left.
“He was hungry for goals,” sophomore goalie Jake Kupsky said, in an understatement.
Kelly Zajac had the last four-goal game for Union, in a 7-3 win over Sacred Heart on Oct. 9, 2010.
Not only was Vecchione wildly productive, but linemate Sebastian Vidmar scored the other Union goal and assisted on three of Vecchione’s, including a feed on the breakaway.
“Not since men’s league in the summer,” Vecchione said with a chuckle, on his last four-goal game. “No, it was fun. The puck always seemed to be on my stick, and the guys are finding me and I was trying to do my best to bury the puck.”
“He just looks like he’s having fun out there,” Bennett said. “And it starts defensively.”
Bennett’s pack-of-wolves mentality demands that the Dutchmen get into the dirty traffic area in front of the crease and not only out-battle the defense for pucks, but get them in the net, too.
Vecchione said his second goal and Vidmar’s goal fell into that classification.
“I beat my guy, got a tip and then the puck’s just sitting there,” he said. “Same thing with Viddy, we were all around the net, Viddy wins a battle and puts it in. Those are the kinds of goals we need, the gritty ones, and that’s what we call wolfpack goals.”
Kupsky, who has settled into a Friday/Saturday platoon with senior Alex Sakellaropoulos, finished with 23 saves, none bigger than a pad-stacker shifting from his right to left to stop a 2-on-1 break late in the first period.
The rebound started a Union rush up ice that ended with Vidmar’s goal, his third of the season, to make it 3-0 with 1:41 left in the first.
“It’s one of those where we got caught, and sometimes your goaltender bails you out,” Bennett said.
On another night when the hinges on the penalty box door worked as hard as anyone, both teams were 0-for-8 on the power play.
Union’s last penalty was an elbow by Vecchione with 6:09 left and Union leading 3-1.
Seething in the box, he took it out on the Purple Eagles (0-3-2) by jumping into the play as soon as his penalty expired, tore down the ice with a defender in close pursuit, and put several dekes on Guillaume Therien before sliding it under the goalie to make it 4-1 with 2:51 left.
Bennett said the weekend — Union also won 5-2 on Friday with Sakellaropoulos in net— demonstrated a healthy competition between his goalies, so he doesn’t expect a looming platoon controversy, a la his favorite NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys.
“I’m far from [Cowboys coach] Jason Garrett, and that’s a good thing,” Bennett said. “As far as Alex and Jake, they’re finally starting to come around. We talk about this all the time: Competition’s a good thing.
“This weekend, they made it harder for the coaching staff.”
Niagara 0 0 2 — 2
Union 3 0 2 — 5
First period — 1, Union, Vecchione 5 (Campbell), 11:29. 2, Union, Vecchione 6 (Brassard, Vidmar), 11:58. 3, Union, Vidmar 3 (Vecchione, Foo), 18:19. Penalties — King, Niag (slashing), 1:14; Foo, Union (holding), 4:09; Hayes, Niag (holding), 7:17; Supinski, Union (tripping), 7:25; Kuhn, Niag (holding), 8:42; Supinski, Union (slashing), 18:50.
Second period — None. Penalties — Brown, Niag (slashing), 3:24; Kuhn, Niag (hooking), 4:48; Burton, Union (hooking), 10:45; Campbell, Union (hooking), 12:38; Hayes, Niag (interference), 14:40; Scarfo, Union (holding the stick), 15:09; Taylor, Union (holding), 18:28.
Third period — 4, Niagara, Spriggs 2 (Brown, Pietrobon), 18:19. 5, Union, Vecchione 7 (Vidmar), 15:51. 6, Niagara, Brown 2 (Pietrobon, Spriggs), 17:09. 7, Union, Vecchione 8 (Vidmar), 19:52. Penalties — Muto, Niag (boarding), :32; Harper, Niag (boarding), 7:49; Burton, Union (kneeing), 11:06; Vecchione, Union (elbowing), 13:41.
Shots on goal — Niagara, 9-9-7—25; Union, 16-13-19—48.
Power-play opportunities — Niagara, 0 of 8; Union, 0 of 8.
Goaltenders — Niagara, Therien 0-1-0 (47 shots-43 saves); Union, Kupsky 1-1-1 (25-23).
Time — 2:12. Attendance — 2,141.
Referees — Scott Wheeler, Marty Hughes. Linesmen — Jeremy Lemoine, Matt Luther.