By Dan Greene
Since returning for the winter term, the Union men’s hockey team has been one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Dutchmen are 13-1-0 in the 14 ECAC games that they have played since January, including victories over North Country foes Clarkson and St. Lawrence this past weekend 4-3 in overtime and 5-2, respectively. With these wins, Union extends their Division I program-record winning streak to nine games, and now has 23 victories this season, which is also a Union record.
On Friday night at Cheel Arena, the Dutchmen dominated the first two periods and jumped out to a 3-0 lead.
Union’s first tally was a power-play goal scored by sophomore Greg Coburn 7:14 into the first frame. Coburn’s goal came off of a nice pass from senior Adam Presizniuk, who fed Coburn while he was streaking from the point to the Clarkson crease.
Ten minutes later junior Kelly Zajac doubled the lead when he scored his tenth goal of the year on a backhanded shot.
Union’s dominating play through the first two periods culminated when senior John Simpson, last week’s ECAC Player of the Week, scored a shorthanded goal. Simpson’s goal was Union’s first shorthanded goal of the season.
The play began when Simpson picked off a Bryan Rufenach pass in the Union zone and skated down the ice on a two-on-one with fellow senior Justin Pallos. Simpson held on to the puck and ripped a shot past Clarkson goaltender Paul Karpowich. The goal was the elder Simpson’s 21st point of the season, which is a career high.
The Dutchmen outshot the Golden Knights 27-15 and had a 3-0 lead after two periods. They also had 1:40 of five-on-three power-play early in the third period, and looked to have the game in the bag.
Clarkson had other plans, however, and killed off both penalties before staging their comeback. Corey Tamblyn, Ben Sexton, and Scott Freeman scored three unanswered goals for Clarkson within a 1:45 span to tie the game with 13:30 left in regulation. Brandon DeFazio, Clarkson’s leading scorer, assisted on Sexton’s and Freeman’s goals before being kicked out of the game less than two minutes later for hitting from behind.
The Dutchmen were rattled, but were able to hold on for overtime.
In the extra frame, Union overcame the adversity and scored the game-winning goal with 1:12 left in overtime. The goal was scored by sophomore Wayne Simpson when freshman Kevin Sullivan caused a turnover at the Clarkson blueline while the Knights were trying to breakout the puck. Sullivan picked up the puck and held on to it before sliding the puck over to Simpson at the left circle, who received the pass and fired a shot into the back of the net.
The following evening in Canton, New York, Wayne Simpson ‘13 played another big role in Union’s victory. After the Saints took a 1-0 lead on Jacob Drewskie’s power-play tally with 4:18 left in the first period, Simpson tied the game 2:08 later off of an assist from his older brother John.
Simpson’s goal gave the Dutchmen the momentum heading into the middle frame. They capitalized on this swing in emotion as they outshot St. Lawrence 14-6 and reeled off three goals in the second period. The first goal was scored on a shot by sophomore Jeremy Welsh that went through the legs of Saints goaltender Matt Weninger, which was then followed by a goal by Zajac 1:05 later. Zajac tacked on another goal within 54 seconds to give the Dutchmen a three goal lead heading into the final period for the second night in a row.
Unlike the previous night, Union did not allow their opponent to climb back in the game as they went into defensive mode and shut down the Saints offense for the majority of the period. Kyle Bodie ‘13 put the game out of reach when he netted his seventh goal of the season with 1:58 left in the game. His younger brother Mat ‘14 picked up the secondary assist on the play, which was his 21st assist of the season. This mark ties Mike Schreiber’s ‘10 record for most assists in a season by a Union defenseman.
“I thought we did a much better job,” Union coach Nate Leaman said to Ken Schott of the Daily Gazette after the game. “We played smart hockey. We didn’t attack as much as I wanted to. But we were very smart with the puck. And that’s exactly what we talked about with the guys, where we were with our focus [Friday] night, compared to [Saturday] night with our focus.”
The Saints scored a power-play goal with 13 seconds left in the game, but it was way too late as the Dutchmen picked up their ninth straight win.
Union goaltender Keith Kinkaid ‘13 had a solid weekend in between the pipes making 50 saves on the weekend.
The Dutchmen now stand at fifth in the USCHO national rankings and are tied for eighth with Nebraska-Omaha in the PairWise Rankings.
This upcoming weekend concludes the regular season as the Dutchmen welcome Quinnipiac and Princeton. Heading into the final weekend, Union controls their own destiny as they sit on top of the ECAC standings just one point in front of Yale. If they win both of the games this weekend the Dutchmen will secure their first ECAC regular season title in program history. After Saturday’s season finale, the class of 2011 (Brock Matheson, Luke Cain, Justin Pallos, Andrew Buote, John Simpson, Stephane Boileau, Adam Presizniuk, and Corey Milan) will be honored. Both games begin at 7 p.m.