After a start to the year that solidified the men’s ice hockey team as a top-20 team in the nation, the Dutchmen used the month of December to further bolster their standing. The team strung together a six-game win streak over the course of the month, before dropping their last two games to perennial national contenders, North Dakota and Boston University.
The story of the year for Union Hockey has been their prolific scoring offense, led by a first line that has been widely viewed as the best first line in the NCAA this year.
Throughout the month of December this top offense was on full display, as Union proved their goal-scoring firepower, with the team averaging five goals per game in ECAC play for the month.
All four conference games in the month were on the road, as the rest of campus was away on winter break. Regardless, the team traveled with great poise and significant crowd that made the road trips successful. Their travels were highlighted by wins over Quinnipiac, ranked fifth in the nation, and Yale.
Last season, when Union traveled to Quinnipiac, the Bobcats dominated the Dutchmen with a 5-0 victory that saw goalie Alex Sakellaropoulos ’17 give up four goals in 42 minutes. This year he came full circle, gaining national attention for making 52 saves en route to a 5-2 Union win.
Furthermore, this performance was the cornerstone of Sakellaropoulos’ résumé for December, a month in which he was selected as the ECAC Hockey Goalie of the Month. The team’s undefeated conference record for December kept the Dutchmen perched at the top of the ECAC, a position they look to hold in hopes of earning a national tournament berth for the first time since winning it all in 2014.
After the in-conference stretch, the Dutchmen moved on to what will most likely have been their toughest four-game stretch of the year, with all four games coming against top ten teams.
The first two games of stretch came against tenth-ranked Vermont with back-to-back games in the Catamount’s Burlington. Union won the first game in the series, with a 7-3 rout over Vermont, and then went on to secure a comeback win less than 24 hours later that saw standout Spencer Foo ’18 extend his impressive points streak to 17 games.
The series capped off a six-game winning streak, all of which were on the road.
However, the hype train for the Dutchmen slowed slightly last week, with two close losses against the defending national champions North Dakota, currently ranked seventh in the nation, and BU ranked fifth.
After falling down 2-0 against North Dakota, Foo started a late comeback attempt with a goal deep into the third period to give the Dutchmen a chance. Yet, an empty net goal from the Fighting Hawks closed the game out with North Dakota earning a 3-1 victory at Union’s Messa Rink.
Finally, last Thursday, Union traveled to face a depleted BU roster in Boston. The Terriers were missing several key players to the World Junior Championship gold medal match, giving Union a real opportunity to steal a game against a top-ranked opponent on the road.
The game was back and forth, with Union eventually being able to muster a 4-3 lead in the third period. However, the Terriers were able to even the game on a late, third period power play and later secured a win in overtime that ended Union’s six game road winning streak.
Union (14-5-2, 8-1-1) now heads into a crucial weekend with home games against ECAC rivals Dartmouth (5-7-3, 2-4-2) and fourth-ranked Harvard (11-2-1, 7-1-1) that will have major conference implications.
The matchup against Harvard on Saturday night will feature a marquee matchup between one of the nation’s best scoring offenses in Harvard, and two of the nation’s top scorers in the two Dutchmen standouts, Mike Vecchione ’17 and Foo.
Both games will take place this weekend in Union’s Messa Rink as the Dutchmen look to continue their climb of the national rankings.