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Seger puts himself on fast track at Union

Seger puts himself on fast track at Union

With two speedy wings, freshman center is pivot point on Dutchmen's most productive line
Seger puts himself on fast track at Union
Union freshman center Gabriel Seger camps in front of Cornell goalie Matthew Galajda.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY -- Gabriel Seger has been trying to keep up with his linemates, and they've been trying to keep up with him.

The native of Uppsala, Sweden, near Stockholm, has a strong grasp of the English language, which means he's also been introduced to certain vocabulary that may be appropriate in the heated moments of a hockey game, if not a church service.

And Seger has reciprocated -- senior wing Anthony Rinaldi, who's from Quebec and speaks French, joked on Tuesday that he is now equipped with a small arsenal of Swedish profanity.

On the ice, it's no coincidence that the Rinaldi-Seger-Christian Sanda line has emerged as the most productive in Union's lineup, since the lightning-fast wings are centered by a 6-foot-4 freshman whose primary role in the give-and-take is to give.

As Seger has done extra work on his skating speed all season, the three have developed an extra sense of where each other are on the ice, multiple lines of communication that fit his cerebral style perfectly.

Heading into a road weekend at Yale on Friday night and at Brown on Saturday, Rinaldi and Seger are the top two in assists and points for the Dutchmen and were involved in the most important goal scored by the team this season, last weekend at home against Cornell.

"I love playing with him," Rinaldi said. "We've been working off each other pretty well so far. I think he brings size, skill, I think his hockey IQ is one of the best I've seen here at Union, besides [Mike] Vecchione and [Spencer] Foo.

"He's always in the right places, uses his body well, positions himself well in certain situations, and Union should be very happy to get a player like Seger and watching him develop in the next few years."

That profile revealed itself against Cornell, when Seger scored at 9:09 of the third period to give Union a 3-2 lead that was short-lived -- the Big Red answered 38 seconds later -- but gave the Dutchmen a 3-3 tie against a team that was ranked No. 2 in the country and moved into the top spot on Monday.

Desperate for points and still stinging from a 3-2 loss to Colgate on Friday, the Dutchmen played perhaps their best game of the season against one of the best teams in the country.

On Seger's goal, Chaz Smedsrud had his shot from the top of the right circle blocked by defenseman Alex Green, who was slow to get up, and Rinaldi collected the puck and skated deeper past Green looking for a passing lane.

He shoveled it back diagonally into the slot toward Seger, and he was able to whack it past Matthew Galajda for his third goal of the season, the giver taking what his linemate offered this time.

"That was a tremendous poised play," Union head coach Rick Bennett said. "It was poise versus panic. Anthony made a tremendous play, and Gabe had the hands to put it in. And he also kept his feet around the net when it was really chaotic. So in order to get a pack-of-wolves goal, you've got to be able to keep your feet."

"It was very chaotic," Rinaldi said. "I ended up fumbling the puck a little bit, saw two, three guys in front of the net, saw him in front, waiting patiently. I just tried to get a lane and ended up not even going in his lane, hitting [Dylan] Anhorn's skate and going right to him. We were all super-happy."

"I just tried to get it off as quick as possible at the net, so ... it was an amazing feeling, at home, big crowd," Seger said. "They're [Cornell] great, but I think we showed them and showed the rest of the teams in our league that we can play even with the best teams."

The Dutchmen head into the weekend playing two teams from the same neighborhood of the ECAC Hockey standings.

Although Union (4-7-1 ECACH, 6-15-2 overall) holds the all-important eighth place with nine points, the Bulldogs (4-6-0, 6-9-0) and Bears (3-7-0, 3-14-0) have each played two fewer conference games than the Dutchmen.

At Messa Rink in early December, Union blanked Brown 5-0 before losing to Yale 2-0 in a game in which the Dutchmen weren't able to finish their scoring chances.

At this point, there are nine players on the roster who have played in all 23 games, and Seger, Anhorn and Liam Robertson are the only ones among the 12 freshmen who have done so.

Seger, who came to the U.S. last year and played one productive season in the NAHL with the Amarillo Bulls, was motivated to improve his skating just on its own merit as he made the jump to college hockey, but also needed a little more turbo boost once Bennett and his staff decided to give him wings in the form of fellow freshman Sanda and Rinaldi.

"We like the fact that Anthony Rinaldi and Christian Sanda push the pace for him, so you've got to keep up," Bennett said. "You don't have a choice. And in turn, you get faster. As a staff, and as a personal thing, you learned that when you played with a fast guy.

"Then the second thing we like is that he can make plays to those guys. So, it's a give-and-take on that line, and that's what we like."

"You can tell right away, it's one more step in developing and adjusting your game," Seger said. "And I'm playing with some pretty fast guys, with Tony and Sanda. Probably two of the fastest wingers in the whole league, but it feels pretty good.

"Our chemistry is getting better every game. We bring different things to the table. He's [Rinaldi] a shooter, a sniper and really fast, and I'm more of a passer. In the neutral zone, I know his speed, so maybe play some pucks for him to skate at, and in the 'O' zone, maybe try to find him in the slot. When I'm top speed, I'm pretty good. It's more like the first three strides and making turns and stuff like that that I'm working on, to get quicker in corners.

"So I can keep up with these guys."

Seger, an engineering major, said he hasn't had any difficulty keeping up in the classroom.

He follows in the footsteps of fellow Swede Sebastian Vidmar, who hosted Seger during his campus visit last February as Vidmar was winding down his senior season.

"They're humor is similar, but the biggest part is they think the game the same," Rinaldi said. "He's always analyzing every play and wants to know what we're going to do the next play. It's fascinating, and it's helping me, too, realizing certain things."

While the Vidmar comparison is obvious, Bennett also likened Seger to another former Dutchman, Kelly Zajac.

"He's very smart. That, to me, just jumps off the table," Bennett said. "And puck protection to keep plays alive in the 'O' zone play. He shields that puck ... he's pretty good as a freshman, I'm going to like to see him as a senior.

"You almost want like a Jaromir Jagr look to him by his senior year, where that puck is his and his alone. I think he's starting to develop that now. And I think he's still trying to figure out this college game. Once he does, and can slow it down a little bit to his pace, it reminds me a little bit of Kelly Zajac.

"Kelly Zajac, when he first got here, was one smart hockey player, one of the smartest hockey players I've had a chance to work with. And it took him a year-plus to figure out the game to slow it down to his pace, and not many players have that ability. And Kelly Zajac did. And I think Gabriel Seger has the same ability to do that, as well."

NOTEBOOK

Freshman Owen Farris, who has missed some games recently with an injury, returned to full practice on Wednesday and might be available this weekend.

He had been centering Josh Kosack and Zach Emelifeonwu on a line devoted to checking opponents' scoring lines.

"I really liked that line when it was going, and I thought Chaz Smedsrud did a nice job there [for Farris]," Bennett said. "But with Owen Farris there, it's a big, heavy line and it can wear on top lines, which they were doing. So hopefully when Owen gets back, we can put that line together and try to get the same results." ...

The lineup tinkering that has occasionally put senior defenseman Vas Kolias on a forward line could continue, depending on matchups, among other factors, Bennett said.

"It's going to be one of those things, whatever we need him, he's going to be a Swiss Army knife, similar to Ryan Walker playing three different forward positions, where Vas can play anywhere."

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

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