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Union heads into holiday off a dud of a weekend

Union heads into holiday off a dud of a weekend

Maintaining fitness is paramount as Dutchmen regroup for next assignment on Dec. 28-29 at home against Canisius
Union heads into holiday off a dud of a weekend
Union head coach Rick Bennett directs his team during a season-opening win over Army on Oct. 6.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

SCHENECTADY -- There's an ongoing (sometimes hilarious) debate over whether "Die Hard" and its sequel "Die Hard 2" should be considered Christmas movies.

There's no debate over whether the video of Union men's hockey's 3-0 loss to Yale on Dec. 8 is holiday viewing, at least if you're the Dutchmen coaching staff.

Call it "RPI 2," since it's a sequel, of sorts, to a sweep by the Engineers way back in October.

One plot device common to both is a dropoff in play after encouraging success against difficult opponents the previous weekend.

With no game action again until home games against Canisius on Dec. 28-29, the Union players have been sent home for some family time before they're due back on campus a week from this Saturday.

One nagging development the coaches will try to sort out in the meantime is how to impress upon the team not to get too puffed up when it finds success and receives accolades.

"We've found that when we've been in the 11, 9 range in the [national] rankings and all the poll jazz, that's because we've had some success," head coach Rick Bennett said Tuesday. "It's handling the success that's important. This is like the second time this has happened. It's about being consistent."

In October, Union (3-4-1 ECAC Hockey, 8-4-3 overall) was riding a 4-0-1 start to the season and coming off two nice wins at Northeastern when it lost a pair to RPI, a team picked near the bottom of the ECACH.

The Dutchmen rebounded well from that, but on the heels of a Friendship Four championship in Northern Ireland Thanksgiving weekend, when the Dutchmen beat Yale in a shootout and Boston University for the Belpot Trophy, Union tied Brown, another team picked near the bottom of the conference, and was blanked by Yale 3-0 heading into the holiday/trimester break.

"I thought against RPI, we did not play horrible," Bennett said. "Then this weekend, [goalie] Darion Hanson bailed us out a lot, and it could've been worse. It's being  careless and reckless. You're living off last weekend."

Union dropped to No. 14 in the USCHO.com and the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine polls this week and remains mired in the middle of the ECACH standings, while Yale and Quinnipiac have taken over the top two spots. The Dutchmen are No. 13 according to the Pairwise formula that attempts to mirror how the NCAA Tournament field shapes up.

Against the Bulldogs, Yale senior Joe Snively scored with two seconds left in the first period and scored shorthanded for a 2-0 lead midway through the third period.

Union came away with just one standings point on the weekend despite the fact that Hanson stopped 28 shots against Brown and 35 against Yale.

"It's more system things," Bennett said. "We got a little bit reckless, and that led to some glaring chances for Yale. A case in point, when we played them in Ireland,  we shut him [Snively] down. I think his best scoring chance was in the shootout. Today [watching video Tuesday], we counted five. We did not shut down their player."

POWERLESS PLAY

The Dutchmen had recovered from an early bout of anemia on the power play, but it's back with a vengeance, based on the last six games, during which the Dutchmen are  0-for-15.

Of the 60 Division I teams, Union ranks 38th in power play percentage, at .164.

That includes a 0-for-6 against Yale the last time out and 0-for-1 in the tie against Brown, which is perhaps even more gnawing than the 0-for-6, since that one power play came during overtime.

Bennett said the coaches will look at tweaking both the personnel and the system to get more production from that specialty team.

"If we're giving them the opportunity to produce, and they're just not finding the back of the net, then maybe you say, 'Relax, it's not the end of the world.'" he said. "But it's starting to cost us games. We'll do an audit during the break, and we've got a few ideas."

"And the power play starts on the faceoff. If you don't win the faceoff, then you have problems structuring yourself. If you lose the faceoff, now you're starting to  chase the game. As far as the breakout, we've had some games where it's been good and some where it has not."

COLD VIDMAR

Perhaps not coincidentally, the power play struggle has run parallel to a cold stretch in offensive production from senior wing Sebastian Vidmar, a key trigger man on  the power play who has gone the last six games without a point.

The Dutchmen are 3-4-3 when Vidmar gets shut out on the scoresheet, and 5-0-0 when he doesn't. In four of those five wins, he had multiple points.

"I think with Viddy, he's a very good hockey player, but for him to carry lines ... when he's successful, it's when he's a complementary guy," Bennett said. "What  hurts his game [at the offensve end] is that he does a lot in the 'D' zone, blocks a lot of shots and does a lot of things that the stats don't show. We need  [linemates] Brett Supinski and Anthony Rinaldi to bring up their games."

SKATE AWAY

Although the Dutchmen have an extended break, Bennett expects them to get in regular skating and follow a plan from strength and conditioning coach Dan Gabelman when they're home so they come back without much dropoff in fitness.

In fact, the players will weigh in on Dec. 22 for a body fat test.

"I think the question is how serious are you about your game and this current hockey team," Bennett said. "We don't want to catch people. If the season ended today, we'd be in the tournament. We want what's best for them. Let's not ruin where we currently are."

"Obviously, it's nice to get rest for the guys that are banged up to heal," Supinski said. "We get a lot of practice and get back to basics after that long stretch at  the beginning of the year."

"Every guy brings his bag home," junior defenseman Vas Kolias said. "Every guy is going to be skating. You don't want to lose a step. Two weeks doesn't seem like a lot  of time, but in hockey time, it's a year. Guys will make sure to stay on their feet and stay conditioned. Do whatever you have to do, but stay in line. And everyone  will be good with that. We've got a bunch of guys you can trust with that.

"We take this sport seriously and want to do well and make this college proud. It's not something we take for granted. You can bet on a lot of things, and I would bet  that every single guy will come back prepared after break."

The good news for the Dutchmen is that they've kept a pretty clean sheet on the injury front.

Bennett said sophomore defenseman Joseph Campolieto will be out for eight weeks with an "upper-body" injury. That should provide an opportunity for the freshman  blueliners Michael Ryan, Ryan Sidorksi and Fletcher Fineman to see more ice time.

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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