By Evan Slavit
In the final weekend of the regular season, Union traveled to Ithaca to face Cornell, the team they were competing with for the Cleary Cup. A win or tie would clinch a second consecutive Cleary Cup title for the Dutchmen.
In the first moments of the game Jeremy Welsh ‘13 got Union on the board. Union would keep that lead until midway through the second.
Welsh got the lead back for Union in the third, but Cornell answered back 11 seconds later. Cornell would score the game-winning goal six minutes later.
The loss seemed to ensure Union would have to, at least, share the cup with Cornell. To make matters worse, Cornell owned the tiebreaker over the Dutchmen, and would be awarded the top seed come time for the ECAC tournament.
While none of that is terrible, it is still a fall from the lofty expectations that were brought into the weekend.
The next night Union faced Austin Smith and the Colgate Raiders. Smith leads all of college hockey with 34 goals this season, eight more goals than the next highest total. Despite his impressive numbers, Union managed to keep Smith off the board the last time the two teams played. They were the only team to do so this season.
At the end of the night, there was some good news and bad news for Union. The bad news: this time Smith was able to score on Union. The good news: that was the only bad news the Dutchmen would have all night.
Union scored first for the second straight night, as Daniel Carr ‘14 scored a shorthanded goal. After that, the two teams took turns scoring until Union emerged with a 3-2 lead after two.
A little over a minute into the third, Carr scored his third goal to complete the hat trick. The goal wound up being the game-winner as Union pulled out the 5-3 win.
Against both teams on the weekend, Union struggled on special teams. Their powerplay was a combined one for 13 (7.6 percent) which was about 16 percent lower than their average on the season. The penalty kill also struggled to keep the opponents off the board with the man advantage going five for nine (56 percent) which is about 25 percent lower than their season average. Colgate, in fact, added all three goals while on the power play.
With that said, Union waited on the results of the Cornell game with at least a share of the Clearly Cup. The game went into overtime as RPI and Cornell ended regulation with a 1-1 tie. In overtime, RPI completed the upset and defeated Cornell 2-1.
The results gave Union their second Cleary Cup in as many years, and the top seed in the ECAC tournament.
The top seed gives Union a bye this coming week. The following week they will host the lowest ranked team remaining in a best-of-three series. That means they will play one of the following four: St. Lawrence, Dartmouth, RPI, Princeton, and Brown.
A series win would send Union to Atlantic City for the ECAC semifinals, the second time in the last three years they will have made the ECAC final four.
While the ECAC playoffs might not hold the same importance as the NCAA tournament, it still holds significance. Despite their recent success, Union has still never won the ECAC tournament. They were close two years ago, but ultimately lost 3-0 in the finals to Cornell in a game that was closer than the score indicates. Also, an ECAC tournament win will give Union an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
With or without the automatic bid, Union should find itself with a spot in the NCAA tournament. Still, winning the ECAC tournament will result in a higher seed in the tournament and will give Union a better chance to advance.
Last season, Union lost in the first round to the eventual tournament champs, Minnesota-Duluth. This season the Dutchmen will look to make it farther, and with wins against top teams like Michigan and Merrimack on their resume, that doesn’t seem too far-fetched.
For anyone interested in following the Dutchmen over break, there are a few important dates.
March 16-17 are the dates of the ECAC semifinals and finals in Atlantic City.
March 18 is the selection show on ESPN2 around noon. On the show they will announce if Union made the tournament and what regional they are in.
March 23-25 are the dates for the regional. And, while this is definitely getting ahead of ourselves, with two wins in the regionals, Union will advance to its first ever Frozen Four.
The semifinals will be April 5 and the finals will be on April 7. The games will be played in Tampa Bay, Florida.