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Union needs to stay out of the box against Harvard

Union needs to stay out of the box against Harvard

Crimson has deadly power play unit that leads NCAA Division I
Union needs to stay out of the box against Harvard
Union's Sebastian Vidmar, left, and Harvard's Adam Fox go after a loose puck last season at Messa Rink.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

SCHENECTADY — Alexander Graham Bell famously said, "When one door closes, another door opens."

It's a metaphor that could have a solid, tangible application to the Union men's hockey team's chances of winning at Harvard Friday night.

The door in question is the one that swings open every time somebody is whistled for a penalty, and if the Dutchmen can keep theirs shut, it will open a door of opportunity to beat the Crimson.

That's because Harvard is leading Division I in power-play percentage. And it isn't even close.

It's worth noting that three of the Crimson's top seven point scorers are defensemen, led by all-everything junior defenseman Adam Fox (7-20-27).

Union head coach Rick Bennett didn't hesitate to explain that development: "To me, that's an easy one -- it's called power play," he said.

"The times that we've had those types of defensemen, we had a pretty good power play. They just put up 30-point years. We're just built differently this year, that's all."

"He's incredible. He's fast, he's skilled. He'll go around you," Union senior wing Sebastian Vidmar said of Fox.

"They're very skilled and obviously have one of the best power plays in the country, so that's going to be huge, staying out of the box. I think our PK [penalty kill] has moved forward and we're getting better. Be very physical. I know in the past we've beaten them when we've played a very heavy game. It kind of takes away their skill players."

Union (6-7-1 ECAC Hockey, 13-8-5 overall) is mired in a tie for seventh place and has enjoyed only one ECACH weekend sweep this season, against St. Lawrence and Clarkson at home way back on Nov. 2-3.

Harvard (8-5-2, 11-7-3) and Union's other road opponent this weekend, Dartmouth (7-6-1, 8-11-2), are above the Dutchmen in the standings, so this could be a big series for Union's playoff positioning the rest of the way.

The Dutchmen will close the regular season at home against these two teams.

"I'll peek at the standings. But it's not like I sit there and do the points and the math," Bennett said. "You've got to worry about today's practice and Friday's game."

"These games mean so much, so we're trying to let everyone in the locker room know that there's only so many points left that we can get, and every game means so much for where we're going to be in the playoffs," senior center Brett Supinski said.

Harvard is scoring on 32.4 percent of its power plays, and the only other Division I team in the country above 30 is UMass (30.5).

Besides Fox, Crimson defensemen Reilly Walsh (7-12-19) and Jack Rathbone (4-7-11) are in the team's top seven in points. Senior forward Lewis Zerter-Gossage leads Harvard in goals, with 12, while no one else on the roster has more than seven.

"Harvard, when they kicked it in [in a 4-1 win over Dartmouth last weekend], they were impressive," Bennett said. "They've got some talented forwards and probably one of the best 'D' corps in our league. People could wrestle with them having the best 'D' man in the league, with Fox. I think the [Chase] Priskie kid from Quinnipiac is right with him, but that kid has been consistent, and he's fun to watch."

"They have a great power play every year, so when it comes to the kill, we're really going to need to be sharp and plugged in, force the issue and do everything we can to deter their 'D' from running the system," Supinski said.

"We've done a decent job for the most part [avoiding 'stupid' penalties]. Obviously, we don't want to take hooking or tripping penalties in the offensive zone, because those penalties are so far from your own net, they're not really going to prevent goals."

NOTEBOOK

Harvard is one of the hotter teams in ECACH, having won five of its last seven, while Dartmouth has been inconsistent all season.

The Big Green do have early-season victories over Quinnipiac and Cornell, who are at the top of the standings. ...

Bennett said that sophomore defenseman Joseph Campolieto, who has missed the last 14 games with an injury, isn't close to getting back to action.

DO IT FOR DARON

The Union women's home games against Harvard and Dartmouth this weekend have been designated as the annual Do It For Daron campaign to advocate for suicide prevention and raise awareness about mental health.

The movement, which has been embraced by hockey leagues of all levels, including the NHL, is named for Daron Richardson, a hockey player who died of suicide in Ottawa, Canada, when she was 14.

"A couple of us, like myself, played against Daron, so it's definitely something that means something to us, and there are a few players on our team who are affected by mental health, so it's something we're doing as a family to show that you can still be an athlete and go through this stuff, as well as support other people," Union junior forward Haley Shugart said.

"It gives our kids an opportunity to put into perspective what's really important in life, the importance of mental health and what that means," Union head coach Josh Sciba said. "I can tell you, safely, it's something that hits home directly with our group."

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

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