SCHENECTADY — This is no time to get comfortable.
The seventh-ranked Union College men’s hockey team is in a dogfight for first place in ECAC Hockey, and although it would seem reasonable not to mess with a top line that has placed all three players in the top 20 in scoring in the country, head coach Rick Bennett saw fit to break it up last weekend.
After a 6-2 loss at Harvard, playmaker Brett Supinski found himself occupying the wing with center Mike Vecchione and Sebastian Vidmar, replacing junior Spencer Foo, who was moved to another potent combination using parts from three different lines.
Skating with Cole Maier and Ryan Walker, Foo cranked out a hat trick in an 8-3 win over Dartmouth last Saturday, and Maier and Walker also scored first-period goals.
As jarring as it was to see Foo’s name anywhere but on the Vecchione line, it was a seamless and smooth transition by a team looking to rebound from the Harvard loss.
Shake it up, shake it off.
There’s a chance that mix-and-match on offense will remain in effect when the Dutchmen (13-4-1 ECACH, 20-8-2 overall) host Quinnpiac (10-7-1, 16-12-2) at 7 tonight and Princeton (6-9-3, 11-11-3) on Saturdaynight in the final home series of the regular season.
Foo has been practicing with Maier and Walker this week, and felt comfortable with the new combo without missing a beat.
“Obviously, I love playing with Veccs and Viddy,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of chemistry and have been able to do some special things. With Cole and Walks, it was awesome, too. We worked hard in the ‘O’ zone, and plays kind of happened for us.”
“We needed that win on Saturday night, and sometimes you do a little line juggling to kind of shift the gears a little bit,” Bennett said. “We needed to get going, and needed a fresh feel. And Brett Supinski had played there before. It wasn’t like huge deal. He’s played with Mike Vecchione, and we had some consistency with Viddy. And we felt like, no matter where we put Spencer Foo, he’s going to produce.”
Did he ever.
Besides the hat trick, Foo, a co-candidate with Vecchione for the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s most outstanding player, assisted on a goal by Vidmar when Union was on the power play.
As productive as Vecchione, who is seven points away from becoming the all-time leading scorer in program history, has been all season, he had just one assist against Dartmouth.
It didn’t matter a bit.
The Dutchmen scored on four of five power plays and hit the eight-goal mark while taking an 8-1 lead with almost 18 minutes left in the third
“We’ve juggled it this week, and I’m not really going to know until I get a game feel for Friday night,” Bennett said. “The No. 3 and 4 lines, I’ve been doing that all season long, and no one makes a big deal of it. So why can’t they [first and second lines]?”
“I think it was for a bit of a shake-up,” Foo said. “We were getting a little complacent where some of the lines were. I think Rick just wanted to mix things up and see how it worked. It worked pretty well. I don’t think we were too surprised. As a player, you have to go out and try to make an impact no matter who you’re playing with.”
Despite its record and (narrow) first-place standing in the conference, Union has lost three of its last five.
The Dutchmen sailed through the first weekend in December against this week’s opponents, winning at Princeton 7-3 and at Quinnipiac 5-2, but has just four games left to build momentum heading into the postseason.
“Four wins is what we want,” junior defenseman Nick DeSimone said. “We want that first spot. It’s something we’ve talked about, and I think we have the team to do it. We’ve got Quinnpiac first, and go from there.”
CRACK THE BOOKS
In conjunction with both games this weekend, there will be a “children’s bookraiser” called “Project: Cameron’s Story” for which fans are encouraged to donate new books in the Messa Rink lobby.
Because the books will be delivered to babies in a sterile hospital environment, they must be brand new with as little handling as possible.
The first 1,800 fans arriving tonight will receive a free Union Hockey T-shirt as part of Whiteout Night.