If you were trying to identify the low point of the season for the Union men's hockey team, the 5-1 loss to Clarkson on Nov. 8 is just as good as any.
Head coach Rick Bennett called it "embarrassing," declined to make players available to the media afterward and labeled some of the Dutchmen "passengers."
Union has been playing better lately, and will get another shot at the Golden Knights at 7 p.m. Saturday, after a game on Friday night at St. Lawrence. The annual North Country weekend should serve as a good indication of how much the Dutchmen have turned around a season that was headed south.
Among the three wins for the Saints (1-6-0 ECAC Hockey, 3-13-3 overall) was a 3-2 overtime victory at Union on Nov. 9, and Clarkson (6-1-0, 12-3-2) has risen to No. 4 on the USCHO.com national poll and No. 6 on the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll.
"I'd like to say we did learn something from those two games, but it's such a rear-view mirror kind of thing, and it feels a like it was a year ago," Bennett said on Thursday afternoon. "I would think one thing we learned was not to take your foot off the gas."
Union (3-5-0, 5-13-1) wasted a 2-0 lead in the loss to St. Lawrence and played Clarkson close before the Golden Knights broke it open in the third period.
The Dutchmen got some good news last weekend with the return of junior wing Parker Foo from an injury that had kept him out of the first 17 games of the season.
He saw his first action in a 2-0 loss to Vermont and a 1-1 tie with nationally ranked Providence in two games of the Catamount Cup tournament in Burlington, Vt. Foo played on a line with Anthony Rinaldi and Gabriel Seger against the Friars, and has also skated with Sean Harrison and Liam Robertson.
"He had a pretty good weekend, and provided some value," Bennett said. "We'd like to find some continuity, but the lines could change, even from period to period.
"I really do think Parker is a very intelligent guy and a very intelligent hockey player, and we'll use him on the penalty kill and the power play. The good thing about him is he can make adjustments."
The Dutchmen are 3-2-1 over their last six games.
Part of the improvement could be due to the freshman-heavy lineup gaining experience in the college game.
"Going into this weekend, we already have a sample of who we're playing, and hopefully we can adjust to what they're doing, and hopefully we're a better team now, too," Bennett said. "You never know with the ECAC, but I like where we're going. We're going in the right direction.
"I see them [freshmen] grasping the systems better. They've grown a lot and have had a lot of opportunity to play. A first-year guy is going to be a little wide-eyed, and at the same time they might think they're going to dominate college hockey. For 90% of them, that's not the case."
St. Lawrence's other victories have been against Mercyhurst and Bentley. Friday's game will be held at SUNY Canton, as a $17 million renovation at the Saints' Appleton Arena experienced a construction delay.
Clarkson's only losses have been to Providence, Wisconsin and Cornell.