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Union has momentum on its way to Cornell

Union has momentum on its way to Cornell

Dutchmen have picked the right time of year to get on a winning streak
Union has momentum on its way to Cornell
Union captain Cole Maier (17) goes after a loose puck in the ECAC Hockey playoffs against Colgate last weekend.
Photographer: PETER R. BARBER/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER

SCHENECTADY -- Sure, there are certain advantages to finishing high in the standings.

If you're in the top four in men's ECAC Hockey, you get to relax with a first-round bye and work on your game, maybe heal up from the long regular season.

Then you get to host a quarterfinal best-of-three series against a team that had to work its way through the first round.

There's something to be said for getting your game in order at the right time of year, though, and riding that wave into the postseason, regardless of your seeding number.

The Union Dutchmen appear to be such a team, having finished with the seventh seed, which was below expectations for the season, but not necessarily an impediment to their championship hopes. They'll travel to Ithaca for a quarterfinal series against No. 2 Cornell with some momentum -- and a little bit of history -- on their side.

"I think we're right up there, with our best hockey," Union head coach Rick Bennett said after a sweep of Colgate last weekend.

"I guess I'd have to go back to the beginning of the year, but I'd say yes. Yes, we are. We humbly go into the next series, just like we did this one. That means respecting your opponent and you can't get too high or too low, too full of yourself."

"I think we're very confident," senior wing Ryan Walker said. "We know we can play with anyone. We've proved that throughout the year."

To find a historical reference point about how the seeds can be misleading, look no further than last season, when it was the Dutchmen who were No. 2, biding their time waiting for a quarterfinal opponent to come to Messa Rink.

That was No. 7 Princeton, and the Tigers not only swept Union in two games, but made it all the way to the championship game in Lake Placid, and won that, too. It can happen.

In fact, the No. 7 has won in the quarterfinals in three of the last four season. Dartmouth knocked off Yale in 2016, and Brown bumped RPI in 2015.

"You saw last year, Princeton came in and took two from us right away, so anything can happen in this league," Union sophomore goalie Darion Hanson said.

Through an up-and-down season of inconsistent play from day to day, the Dutchmen appear to be hitting their stride when it counts the most.

Union (19-11-6) started with four wins and a tie, but after that, did not win more than two in a row until the last two weekends.

The Dutchmen bring a four-game winning streak to Lynah Rink this weekend, and are 6-2-1 in their last nine. Bennett and his team contend that even in the two losses, at Colgate and Cornell, Union played well.

On Feb. 23, Cornell was up 2-1 before clinching it on an empty-netter with 52 seconds left, a reversal from the first meeting, when Bennett pulled both Hanson and senior Jake Kupsky in a 4-0 loss at Messa.

"I thought we were playing our best hockey of the year, even before the Cornell-Colgate weekend, when we came out winless," Hanson said. "I thought we played great both games. I think we're a team that you're going to want to watch out for."

"We've been playing some pretty good hockey," Walker said. "If we can clean up some tiny details in our game, we'll figure that out this week and be ready to go."

NOTEBOOK

Hanson was named ECACH Goalie of the Week after Union defeated Colgate 4-1 and 4-0.

That was his fourth career shutout and third this season.

Union captain Cole Maier is one of three finalists for the ECACH Best Defensive Forward Award, along with Cornell's Morgan Barron and Clarkson's Nico Sturm.

The finalists for Coach of the Year are Casey Jones (Clarkson), Rand Pecknold (Quinnipiac) and Mike Schafer (Cornell).

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

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