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Union moving forward after two players leave

Union moving forward after two players leave

Dutchmen back to ECAC Hockey play against Brown, Yale this weekend, minus Morton, Breault
Union moving forward after two players leave
Union's Drew Blackmun (14) chases the puck against St. Lawrence on Nov. 9.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY -- Darion Hanson gave the house "a deep clean."

With the latest wave of exams complete and a break from schoolwork, the Union men's hockey team has had some extra time to concentrate solely on hockey while catching up on overdue home projects, like cleaning the shower.

"I got the music going last night, it took me about 2 1/2 hours ... Brandon Estes didn't help one bit; put that in the paper," the Dutchmen's co-captain said with a laugh.

Mopping up a spill on the roster will take considerably more effort.

As the Dutchmen (2-4-0, 3-11-0) head into an ECAC Hockey weekend against Brown and Yale on Friday and Saturday, they'll be adjusting to the departure of sophomore forwards Sam Morton and Lucas Breault, who left the program in late November.

The initial surprise from the departures may have worn off, but the need to regain equilibrium on the roster has not, especially for a team that has scored just 14 goals in 14 games and needs all the offensive help it can get. Both players took regular shifts on the power play.

"That's the million-dollar question," senior wing Anthony Rinaldi said on Wednesday afternoon. "Morty was my linemate, so playing without him [in practice] was an adjustment at the beginning, but I think with the new lines, everyone's clicking pretty well."

Breault had two assists in 12 games, and Morton had two goals and one assist in 13 games. He was benched for one game by head coach Rick Bennett after an ugly 5-1 loss to Clarkson on Nov. 8 at Messa Rink, where the Dutchmen are 0-6-0 this season.

In Union's most recent game, a 2-1 overtime victory at Princeton, Breault had the secondary assist on Dylan Anhorn's game-tying goal on the power play, and Morton was on the ice when Gabriel Seger banged in a rebound to win it, after Rinaldi had made an end-to-end rush.

Bennett pointed out that, with NCAA transfer rules relaxed this summer regarding how long players are required to sit out, the transfer portal has been getting more crowded with players switching schools.

"It's too bad, but we've moved on," Bennett said. "The players have been excellent. No one's lost any sleep.

"Yeah, I would say it was a bit of shock, but it's one of those things that was very unfortunate, and we've moved on. You never want to see a player leave this program, but in today's world, it is happening more and more. There's guys in that locker room that are probably jumping up and down, because it's more opportunity for them."

"It's two kids that we've spent every day with for the last two years," Hanson said. "I can't say too much about why they did it. That's their decision, and I can't judge them for doing what they think is best for their careers, and wish them the best.

"No, I don't think they quit. If they're unhappy and think they have to go somewhere else, we respect them for that. We put it behind us after the first day. We talked about it, and I think we got closer as a team because of it. Every day, we come here and focus on the games that we have coming up."

That means facing two teams that are scratching for points with the same desperation as Union and travel partner RPI.

The Bears (3-5-0, 3-7-0), who play Union at 7 p.m. Friday have six standings points, and the Bulldogs (2-6-0, 2-7-0) have four. The Dutchmen (four points) and Engineers (five) are in the same neighborhood.

Union lost all three games against Brown last year, including the Three Rivers Classic championship game a day after the Dutchmen had walloped No. 1-ranked St. Cloud State 7-2.

"Going into those Brown games, we were heavily favored, and I think we took them lightly," Hanson said. "This year, we're not heavily favored, and we can't take any team lightly."

The exit of Morton and Breault comes at a time when the Dutchmen, who began the season with a seven-game losing streak, are slowly starting to turn things around, Bennett said.

He pointed to Seger's goal against Princeton as an example of what the coaches are striving to get out of the players.

"We had a little more attention to detail as far as defensively," he said. "The game-winning goal against Princeton was a 200-foot goal, which we haven't seen in a bit. Anthony Rinaldi did a heck of a job taking that puck wide and taking it to the net, and Gabriel Seger stopped at the net, which is encouraged, and scored a pack-of-wolves game-winning goal for us. Those are signs that these guys are starting to get it."

"The first half of the season was a little ugly and capped off by something that was a little uglier," co-captain Vas Kolias said. "I don't think it's indicative of who we are as a group. You can walk in that locker room at any given time, and it's nothing but the friendliest, nicest, hardest-working dudes you're ever going to meet.

"So, yeah, we've had our adversity. There's no shying away from that. I can't sit here and lie and say we haven't had our adversity. You know our record, you've seen what has happened, we've lost two guys here. But I would say we're the furthest thing from a mess. I think we're actually starting to get in the right direction, and we're pretty excited about it."

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

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