PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Nate Leaman should have been happy. The Dutchmen coach and his team have been celebrating its first-ever ECAC Hockey tournament first-round bye.
But after meeting with his players following their 2-0 loss to Brown in the regular-season finale for both teams at Meehan Auditorium, Leaman wasn’t in a celebratory mood.
Leaman was unhappy with his team’s effort. The Dutchmen took some bad penalties again, but didn’t get away with it like they did the previous night in their 2-1 win at Yale. They had shots hit posts, and missed some open nets.
“We have to spend the next two weeks improving,” Leaman said, “because that effort won’t be good enough in the playoffs. That’s the bottom line. The effort needs to be a lot better, especially on the one-on-one battles.”
But getting the bye is a nice consolation prize.
“We’ve got to be happy with the bye,” Leaman said. “It’s a season-long accomplishment, so we’re OK with that.”
The Dutchmen (10-7-5 ECACH, 15-12-6 overall) had locked up the bye with 14:08 left in the third period. That is when they found out that Harvard beat Cornell, 3-1, at Lynah Rink. Union and Cornell finished in a tie for fourth place. But the Dutchmen earned the bye by winning the season series from the Big Red.
The fourth-place finish is the highest in Union’s 17-year Division I history.
The Dutchmen’s previous highest finish was fifth, in 1996-97. The tournament back then had 10 teams. The 12-team format was introduced in 2003.
Union will host the best-of-three quarterfinals March 14-16 at Messa Rink. The Dutchmen could face the Big Red in that series. Cornell hosts 12th-seeded Dartmouth in next weekend’s best-of-three first round. The teams are reseeded after the first round.
Leaman was so unhappy with the team’s effort that he didn’t allow the media to interview the players. What upset him were penalties at inopportune times.
Penalties by Brendan Milnamow and Torren Delforte just over a minute apart early in the second period gave the Bears (6-13-3, 6-19-4) a two-man advantage. They scored on it, as Sean Hurley took a Jeff Prough pass and fired a wrist shot from the right circle past a sliding Justin Mrazek at 4:56.
With the Dutchmen pressing for the tying goal late in the game, Delforte was called for tripping. That turned into a Ryan Garbutt game-clinching power-play goal.
Meanwhile, Union had a five-on-three of its own in the second. With goalie Dan Rosen down, Adam Presizniuk had an open net. But instead of curling his shot into the opening from the bottom of the right circle, Presizniuk fired it right into Rosen.
“I wasn’t happy with the penalties,” Leaman said. “That’s three games in a row we’ve put ourselves down, five-on-three. They scored on their five-on-three. We had our five-on-three, we had our cracks and we missed.”
Then there were shots that got past Rosen, but hit the posts. That happened to Matt Cook early in the first period from the low slot, Mike Harr from the right point late in the first and Chris Potts from the right wing in the second period.
Since the introduction of the 12-team tournament, Union had home ice advantage four straight years (2003-06). They were at Quinnipiac last year.
“It’s major for us,” Union athletic director Jim McLaughlin said about getting the bye. “I couldn’t be happier with what Nate has done with the program. This is just a major turning point, and the direction we’re trying to go in.”
Ken Schott covers college hockey for the The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.