By Evan Slavit
With two weekends remaining in the regular season, Union finds itself atop the ECAC by a slim margin, as they currently lead Cornell by a single point.
While the lead is tenuous, if the Dutchmen manage to hold on through the next four games, they will secure a second straight Cleary Cup title, and, most likely, their second straight NCAA tournament berth.
There has been a lot of discussion about how important last season’s accolades were, but this season might be better.
While the Dutchmen did win the Cleary Cup last season, they weren’t the highest ranked team in the conference. Yale was. Yale was the top ranked team in the nation for most of the season, and was awarded the top seed come tournament time.
As for Union, they were upset in their first series in the ECAC playoffs, and lost in their first game in the NCAA tournament.
So, even though the Dutchmen took home the hardware last season, it never really felt like they were the best that the ECAC had to offer.
This season, while Yale has fallen to the lower half of the conference, Union has kept up its torrid pace from last season. The Dutchmen have been the highest ranked team in the ECAC almost all season, and, at this point, are the only team projected to make the NCAA tournament from the ECAC.
More importantly a second title shows sustained success. It shows that last season was more than an aberration. It shows that Union is here to stay as an ECAC powerhouse.
Union’s next test on their quest for a second title is a pair of home games, as they host Princeton and Quinnipiac. The Dutchmen will be looking for better results this time around. Last time they tied both teams.
The good news for Union is that both teams are far better at home than they are away. Princeton is 4-3-3 at home but 2-8-0 away, and Quinnipiac is an impressive 10-3-2 at home, but a mediocre 5-7-3 away.
Princeton gets the first crack at the Dutchmen.
Princeton is not an overly impressive team. They currently sit near the bottom of the conference, tying RPI with 13 points for second to last. And last weekend Princeton failed to register a point, losing to both Clarkson and St. Lawrence.
Their power play isn’t bad, currently ranked 20th in the nation, but their penalty kill has been poor (79.6%), something Union should be able to take advantage of.
To top that all off, their goalie situation leaves a lot to be desired. They currently have a platoon of Sean Bonar and Mike Condon, but neither has been overly impressive. Both have losing records and let up an average of about three goals a game. Condon has been the more impressive of the two, posting a .913 save percentage compared to Bonar’s .898, but was the starter for both losses last weekend.
Quinnipiac should be the real test for the Dutchmen. They are currently sixth in the conference, but only two points separate them and fourth-place Harvard; an important point to note as the top four teams in the conference receive first-round byes in the ECAC playoffs.
More importantly, Quinnipiac has the nation’s second best penalty kill, killing off 110 of a potential 123 penalties.
They have some talented players in Connor Jones (7g 24a), Jeremy Langlois (16g 9a), Kellen Jones (10g 15a), and freshman Matthew Peca (7g 16a) and solid goaltending in Eric Hartzell and Dan Clarke.
The story of the night, however, will be about the seniors. It will be the last home game of the regular season for the Dutchmen, and, as such, will be Senior Night. Make sure to make your way over to Messa Rink to send these guys out in style.