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Needing a win, Union faces No. 4 UMass

Needing a win, Union faces No. 4 UMass

Dutchmen have lost first four games of the season heading into a weekend against the 2019 national runner-up
Needing a win, Union faces No. 4 UMass
Union co-captain Vas Kolias advances the puck against Northeastern last weekend.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY -- After losing the first four games of the season, the Union men's hockey team is looking for a win, any kind of win.

It doesn't have to be pretty. And because the Dutchmen have a freshman-heavy lineup that is still finding its way through college hockey, it likely wouldn't be pretty.

Trouble is, the coming weekend doesn't appear to be fertile ground  for victory, since Union will travel for two games at UMass, ranked No. 4 in the country with a team that has returned much of a roster that made it all the way to the national championship game last season.

Nevertheless, the Dutchmen have been knocking on the door, having lost each of their last three games by one goal, and perhaps can be encouraged by the fact that the Minutemen are coming off a 3-1 loss to Northeastern, the team that swept Union last weekend with a pair of 2-1 scores.

"To see that does maybe kind of put things in perspective," senior wing Anthony Rinaldi said. "Anyone can beat anyone at any given moment."

"Watching on film, they're [UMass] excellent," head coach Rick Bennett said. "I look at the depth, and you look at goaltending, defense and forwards, it's lights out. Top to bottom, they have all bases covered. What they are now, they'll be 20 times better at the end of the year. That's the scary thought if you're in Hockey East."

Gametimes are 7 p.m. Friday and 4 on Saturday afternoon.

Union is practically an adjunct member of Hockey East this season, with seven non-conference games scheduled against the league.

The Dutchmen were demolished by Boston University to open the season, but haven't missed by much in their last three. They lost the first five games of the 2017-18 season, and you have to go back to 1998-99 to find a longer streak (nine), in Union's third season at Division I.

Offense continues to lag, and Bennett said that has been more of a focus in practice this week, after the coaching staff spent much of the last few weeks trying to get the defense squared away.

"I wouldn't say I'm concerned, but I do need to start putting the puck in the net," Rinaldi said. "I've had chances, which is a good thing, knowing that you're in the right spot or getting opportunities where you can score. But I should start scoring. There's no excuses after four games."

"We're going to come out hard and play heavy," said freshman Christian Sanda, who had a shorthanded goal in a 3-2 loss at Army. "The end of the day, we're going to have to score some goals if you want to beat them, so we'll focus on that in  practice. Last weekend, one goal each game isn't going to do much for you."

"Let's say it's been marginally exercised here the first bit," Bennett said. "So we'll practice it a little more this week and, hopefully, it's going to break. We were oh-fer on the PP, so that's [lack of] offense that contributed. It's not just five-on-five."

The Dutchmen had some chances with the man advantage last weekend, but were 0-for-7 in the two Northeastern games to fall to 2-for-17 (11.8%) on the season.

Staying out of the penalty box, meanwhile, is always a priority.

In the Northeastern-UMass game, the Huskies pulled out the 3-1 win despite being outshot 35-23 while going 0-for-7 on the power play and killing all six of the Minutemen's PPs.

"Northeastern's probably better than [ranked] 15," Bennett said. "I don't think they're getting the credit they deserve. Just watching the game here and still going through it, that game could've gone either way, too.

"I think Northeastern gave them some light by taking a lot of penalties, too, so from what we've seen, if we can just keep our heads a bit, we're going to give ourselves a heck of a chance against a very good UMass team."

The ice sheet at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass., is a wider, Olympic-style surface, so the Dutchmen will have to adjust to that, Bennett said.

Junior defenseman Joseph Campolieto practiced Wednesday and appears to be ready to get back in the lineup after missing the Northeastern weekend due to injury.

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

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