Friday’s game against Cornell marks the first home game in 47 days for Union.
Messa Rink has probably never been a more welcome sight for the Dutchmen, who have won two of their last eight games, all on the road.
Still, coach Rick Bennett is optimistic the long stretch away from Schenectady will help prepare Union for the end of the season.
“We’ve been through some tough environments,” Bennett said. “Being on the road is how you are going to get better. If your longest road trip is three hours, I don’t think that prepares your players for the battle at the end of the year.”
While Bennett is hopeful the time away was beneficial, the Dutchmen didn’t have much of a choice.
“One thing you learn pretty quick being on the job is that to get teams back to your building, you have to go to theirs first,” Bennett said. “We’re not BC or Michigan. We usually have to go to the other places first.”
While Union faced a lengthy travel schedule and a smattering of injuries, Bennett isn’t looking for any sympathy.
“I can give you a lot of excuses and sound off about injuries,” he said. “That’s not our style. We never make excuses. We’ve been battling adversity just like everybody else. I haven’t gotten any get-well cards from other coaches.”
Senior Wayne Simpson became the ninth Union player in the Division I era to reach the 100-point mark last Saturday at Quinnipiac. Simpson has routinely been skating with Kyle Bodie and Daniel Ciampini, while the rest of the Dutchmen lineup has been frequently in a state of flux. Some of that is due to injuries and the absence of defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, who won a gold medal with Team USA at the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia.
“We’re just trying to find the right mix,” Bennett said. “We just feel that going into the second half of the season we need to find some parity through the lineup and not rely on certain lines to carry us the rest of the way.”
Union entered this season looking to replace the production of top centers Jeremy Welsh and Kelly Zajac, who are playing professionally, giving other players a chance to step into a main role.
“There are very few times in your life when you are ‘the guy,’” Bennett said. “It’s good for people to take on that role.”
Tigers in good position for stretch run
Princeton coach Bob Prier had to correct himself briefly when talking about the Tigers’ 15-day exam break.
Originally, Prier termed the stretch a mental health break, but as anyone who has gone through exam week at college knows, the words mental break and exams are oxymorons, especially at an Ivy school.
“These kids hit the books like you wouldn’t believe,” Prier said.
Still, the break is welcome for the Tigers, despite that Princeton is 3-1 over the last two weekends and sitting in second place behind unbeaten Quinnipiac.
“We have a 28-man roster and you can dress 18 with three goalies [per game] and that’s pretty much what we’ve had for the last four games,” Prier said. “We should get some healthy competition with this little bit of a layover.”
Forwards Tucker Brockett, Eric Carlson and Will Ford, and defenders Alec Rush and alternate captain Kevin Ross are just some of the players who have missed stretches of time.
Special teams have been a boost for the Tigers thus far. Princeton leads the nation in combined special teams percentage, ranking fifth in the power play and tied for 16th in penalty killing after ranking near the bottom half in both categories last season.
“We did change some things on the forecheck on the penalty kill, but at the end of the day, it’s the clientele that’s on them,” Prier said. “Andrew Calof, Tyler Maugeri, Andrew Ammon and Michael Sdao have been doing it for a while on the power play.”
Simple math dictates it’s unlikely Princeton will be in sole possession of second place when the Tigers host non-conference opponent Sacred Heart on Jan. 27. The Tigers are tied with travel partner Quinnipiac for the most league games played so far with 12, and three teams sit two points behind Princeton.
Still, the Tigers are in a good spot for the stretch.
“I think any team wants to go into the second half being able to control their own destiny,” Prier said. “We’re not at a point where we have to look around and see who has to lose. We just have to worry about ourselves.”
Around the league
Brown: The injuries keep piling up for the Bears. Mark Divver of The Providence Journal reports that defenseman Matt Wahl will be out two to three weeks with a shoulder injury. Wahl skates with Dennis Robertson on the top defensive pairing and sees time on both special teams units as well. Goalie Marco De Filippo will also be out this weekend with knee tendinitis.
Clarkson: Clarkson will go for its third straight win against St. Lawrence on Saturday. The Golden Knights will hold their alumni game at 10:45 a.m. prior to the matchup with the Saints.
Colgate: Former Raiders standout and last year’s Hobey Baker Award finalist Austin Smith recently made the top 10 plays on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” after scoring two goals for the Idaho Steelheads of the East Coast Hockey League. Click here to see the video.
Cornell: Junior Andy IIes is the only goalie in Division I this season who was used exclusively by his team last season. Iles has started 51 consecutive games in net for the Big Red.
Dartmouth: Both the men’s and the women’s teams took part in a sled hockey game for veterans Monday. Check out the event here.
Harvard: The Crimson are in the midst of nearly a month-long stretch away from the Bright Center. Harvard’s last home game was Dec. 29 against Northeastern, and it doesn’t return until Jan. 25 against Clarkson.
Quinnipiac: Quinnipiac’s 16-game unbeaten streak has it tied with New Hampshire and Boston College for first in the the PairWise Rankings. The Bobcats’ .804 winning perentage is tops in the country.
St. Lawrence: Longtime Saints sports information director Wally Johnson joined host Bernie Corbett on the league’s radio program last week. It’s worth a listen if you missed it.
Rensselaer: Engineers coach Seth Appert and Union’s Bennett were on hand Monday at the Times Union Center in Albany to promote the inaugural Mayor’s Cup game between the Dutchmen and Engineers Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the Times Union Center. RPI is 7-2-2 all-time at the Times Union Center.
Yale: The Bulldogs posted a North Country sweep for the first time since the 2003-04 season. Senior Andrew Miller notched his 100th career assist at St. Lawrence Friday, becoming the second player in Yale history to reach that mark.
As selected by the conference:
Player of the week — Kenny Agostino, Yale: Agostino had a goal and assist in both games last weekend. He scored the winner at Clarkson last Saturday by redirecting a teammate’s shot out of the air and assisted on the winner the previous night against the Saints.
Rookie of the week — Stu Wilson, Yale: Wilson scored the tying goal late in the second period at St. Lawrence last Friday night and assisted on the goal that put the Bulldogs ahead for good. His four goals and two assists lead all Bulldogs rookies.
Goalie of the week — Jeff Malcolm, Yale: The Bulldogs senior stopped 68 of 72 shots last weekend. Malcolm has a 2.57 goals against average this season but has allowed five goals on three separate occasions, against Colorado College, Rensselaer and Holy Cross. Take away those outings, and his goals against average drops to 1.85.
USCHO covers the ECAC all week long on the ECAC Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.