BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — All season long, Union has been lauded for its consistency — the buzziest of hockey buzzwords.
It’s the Holy Grail of team play; the be-all, end-all of what every player, coach and fan is looking for at both the micro and macro levels.
2014 NCAA East Regional
The Dutchmen skate hard every shift. They make smart first passes. They forecheck like demons and backcheck with desperation regardless of the time, score or opponent. Even their results are consistent: Schenectady’s icers are on a 14-game unbeaten streak (13-0-1), won their last three games by 5-2 scores and the three before were all shutouts.
Resident college hockey expert Dave Starman picked Union for the national championship because the Dutchmen can “play any game.” That’s not because they are versatile; it’s because — inevitably — almost any game becomes Union’s game.
Whether winning, tied, or losing, it never seems to take long before the game resembles something familiar.
In last weekend’s ECAC Hockey championships, Union had a quick response for Cornell and Colgate when the lower seeds threatened to stick around. Each time the opponent scored, Union was there with a decisive counterpunch.
The Dutchmen did it again in Friday’s East Regional semifinal game against Vermont after Catamounts captain Chris McCarthy knotted the game at 1-1 midway through the opening period.
Max Novak’s power-play strike 69 seconds later extinguished Vermont’s momentum and the Catamounts never got it back.
“One thing we’ve discussed as a team is, take whatever’s given,” said Dutchmen captain Mat Bodie, one of the team’s three goal-scorers Friday afternoon. “The guys did a great job of battling back. … That power-play goal to get that lead back was huge for us.”
“I thought they were pretty much what I expected them to be coming in,” said McCarthy. “They’re a good passing team, they find open guys, their D were moving. They’re going to be a tough out for anybody, for sure.
“They’re really deep, play tough, good special teams, obviously. They were pretty tough to play against — it’s going to be really tough for anybody to beat ’em, I think.”
Some pundits have ruminated on Union’s vulnerability to physical hockey, but that seems to be fading away as either outdated methodology or outright myth.
Cornell tried to hit the Dutchmen and missed. Colgate hit them but at the expense of responsible defending.
Friday, the Dutchmen hit right along with the elephantine Catamounts, but also managed to outskate and outwork the burly Burlington boys over the course of 60 minutes.
“I thought this was a lot more physical,” Union coach Rick Bennett said of Vermont. “They were a lot more physical than what we saw last weekend. You’ve gotta keep your head up, especially on their forecheck. They force you into spots where you don’t want to be, and that’s a sign of a good team.”
Vermont did that, but couldn’t contain.
“They’re an excellent team, and they took advantage of their opportunities,” Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon said. He was talking about Union’s 2-for-7 power play, but he may as well have been talking about the entire evening.
After all, in the end it was just another consistent performance in another familiar Union game.