By Evan Slavit
This past weekend was the first real test for the 2011-2012 Union Dutchmen. While the week before the team played Army and beat them 8-1, Army is a team that finished near the bottom of the worst conference in college hockey, the Atlantic conference. Last year the Atlantic conference sent one team to the national tournament, Air Force, and they only made it because the winner of each conference’s postseason tournament gets an automatic bid into the tournament. To put that another way: when the season ended, there were no teams from the Atlantic conference listed in the top 20. The tournament has a total of 16 teams.
This weekend the Dutchmen welcomed Western Michigan to Messa Rink. Western Michigan came in ranked 12th to Union’s 11th. The matchups were as close as their rankings were, as the first night ended in a 2-2 tie, and the second a 3-3 tie.
The ties show that Union belongs up there with the other top teams, but also illustrates how much they have to improve if they want to make the Frozen Four this season.
“We’re not big on ties, especially in our home arena,” said coach Rick Bennett. “I don’t want our guys to be satisfied with that tie. We don’t ever want to play on our heels, but when you play a team like that… That’s an excellent hockey team. Very well coached, and that’s a good lesson for us. So we’re just going to have to build on that.”
Probably the most disappointing thing about the ties is Union held a late lead in both games. In both games Western Michigan scored close to halfway through the third period, and both goals were given up in disappointing ways.
The goal in the first game was given up after a poor defensive play, and the goal in the second game was given up on the power play, in a game where Union was whistled five times.
Overall, Union had eight penalties on the weekend, and converted two of their 10 power play opportunities. Both of those stats are deflating, as Union was the top power play unit last season, and one of the least penalized teams.
“We are not last year’s team,” Bennett said. “We can’t keep carrying around that plaque anymore. It’s all done. Those guys know it.”
There were plenty of positives though. For starters, Troy Grosenick–the starting goalie for both games–looked good. He made some great saves, and definitely saved Union from an embarrassing loss.
“Troy definitely kept us in the game,” said Bennett. “For a guy who came into the season with a whopping 85 minutes, he certainly has shown he is a quality goaltender in these two starts.”
Jeremy Welsh ‘13 added another positive for the Dutchmen, as he netted a hat trick a week after Wayne Simpson ‘13 accomplished the same feat.
Some of the new guys also had a good weekend, as Sam Coatta ‘15 scored his first goal as a Dutchman, and Cole Ikkala ‘14, while he didn’t show up on the score sheet, had two great games.
Unfortunately for the Dutchmen, the voters decided that Western Michigan’s two ties were slightly more impressive than Union’s and so they have now flipped in the rankings. Union is now 12th and Western Michigan is 11th. It is way too early to put much stock in that though.
Next week the Dutchmen travel to play Niagra and RIT.