SCHENECTADY -- Saturday's game was the one that got away.
Friday's game was the one that jumped in the boat.
To hear the Union men's hockey team tell it, last weekend's results at Canisius were a perfect blend of losing a game that should have been won and winning one that could have gone the other way.
Playing against the team that was picked last in Atlantic Hockey by the conference coaches, the Dutchmen shut out the Golden Griffins 3-0 on Friday, then lost 4-0 on Saturday. For a 2-8-0 team desperate for wins, Friday was good -- with reservations -- and Saturday was bad -- with encouraging signs.
So the Dutchmen will proceed into this weekend armed with the knowledge that they can figure out a way to win a game in which they're not at their best, while having seen some offensive progress -- scoresheet notwithstanding. That could come in handy against one team, Clarkson, that is very good, and another, St. Lawrence, that was picked last in the ECAC Hockey poll.
Also good to know, if you're Union: despite the preseason poll, while the Dutchmen were in Buffalo last weekend, the Saints were taking No. 8/9-ranked Clarkson to overtime twice, before losing both.
"We're in no position to take anybody lightly," Union head coach Rick Bennett said with a rueful chuckle. "Even teams that have won 30 games here, you never had the luxury of taking anybody easy. Just watching both these teams, Clarkson is the cream of the crop of the league. They have a big D corps, and an excellent goaltender, it looks like.
"Watching St. Lawrence, I'm not sure who picked on them, but they look really good. They look pretty fast, they're making plays. And I also think -- I joke around -- but they've got the new-car smell, with a new coach. I think there's always something to that. Those players play a little bit harder. It's human nature."
Union (1-1-0 ECAC Hockey, 2-8-0 overall) will play Clarkson (2-0-0, 5-2-1) 7 p.m. Friday at Messa Rink and St. Lawrence (0-2-0, 2-5-1) at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
The Golden Knights have a new goalie, and the Saints, who won just six of 37 games last year under Mark Morris, have a new coach, Brent Brekke, who has some familiarity with ECAC Hockey.
He was an assistant at Clarkson last year and for nine years at Cornell. Between those stints, Brekke was an assistant (then associate) coach for 10 years at Miami (Ohio), where he helped the RedHawks reach back-to-back Frozen Fours.
First thing's first, though, which means Union must tackle a typically defensive-minded Clarkson team that has been relying on grad transfer Frank Marotte in goal. In the last three seasons, he played 107 games at Robert Morris, with a .917 save percentage and 2.55 goals-against average.
Marotte played 95% of the minutes last year, when the Colonials made it to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals.
The Golden Knights so far have done well to survive a pretty tough non-conference schedule that includes two road games each against Michigan and Wisconsin and a home game against Providence.
Despite splitting two games at Canisius and not scoring much, the Dutchmen were able to sustain some pressure in the offensive end, "probably the best we've been all year," junior goalie and co-captain Darion Hanson said. They'll need much more of that to have a chance to beat Clarkson.
"We're not going to ever win a game six-, seven-zero. We're going to be in a dogfight every night. No ... no laughers," Hanson said, laughing. "I mean, I hope so, it would be really nice, but it's not looking like that so far."
"We actually played better on Saturday night," Bennett said. "We just didn't put it in the net. An unfortunate bounce as you're hitting the post, and squeaking by the post and puck luck, and I think we got a little frustrated there in the end.
"We were controlling the play more on the second night. We didn't spend as much time in the D zone, and it was our best weekend as far as limiting our play in our defensive zone, which was a positive. We did take way too many penalties, and I think that caught us the second night, too."
The roadmap to defeat on Saturday started with a shot off the post by Liam Robertson midway through the third period when Union trailed 1-0, followed by a penalty for too many players on the ice.
With less than 30 seconds left in the game and Canisius up 4-0, the Dutchmen's frustration came to a head, and freshmen Dylan Anhorn and Robertson were sent to the penalty box for roughing penalties, joined by freshman Colin Schmidt for cross-checking.
Bennett was more concerned with the two penalties for too many players, the last one that to a Canisius goal for a 3-0 lead and one in the second period.
"We talk about it all the time on the bench, but if the one guy is Cadillacing back to the bench and the guy jumping over the boards is a Mustang, well, you're going to get zipped," Bennett said. "And we got zipped twice. Let's just say we addressed it yesterday [Monday]."
"Maybe somebody does something to us that he wouldn't do in a tight game," Hanson said. "For Liam and Schmidtty to stand up for themselves, that's good to see. That's really the only time you want to see that. When a game gets out of reach, that's the only time you want to see that. That didn't bug me. Liam has shown a lot of grittiness through his first 10 games, actually.
"We did play much better Saturday. That's just hockey. Lucky for us, we won the game that we didn't play very good. And that's encouraging, though. Good teams win games even when they play bad. Obviously, it's been a struggle for us up to this point. But that was encouraging. Then we turn around and lose on Saturday, and that leaves a bad taste in our mouth. Overall, we really didn't play that bad last weekend."