By Andrew Stinchfield
The Union Men’s Hockey team played a pair of close games last weekend.
On Friday, the team hosted rival no. 17 Cornell in front of a loud, energetic and packed Messa Rink. The game started with a lot of intensity and both teams flying around the ice. Cornell was able to get on the board first, when they scored on their very first shot of the night. Cornell’s Cole Bardreau found John Esposito skating hard into the offensive zone, where Esposito then capitalized on an open net to give the Big Red a 1-0 lead.
However, Union responded quickly with a goal of their own. Junior forward Matt Hatch ended an 11-game scoring drought after receiving a pass from junior line mate Josh Jooris. Hatch fired the shot past Cornell goalie Andy Iles to tie up the contest at one apiece.
The Dutchmen would add to that lead after capitalizing on a power-play opportunity after Cornell’s Madison Dias was called for tripping. Senior forward Wayne Simpson fired a puck through traffic on net, leaving a juicy rebound for senior forward Kyle Bodie. Bodie fought through all the chaos and beat Iles to put Union up one going into the first intermission.
Both Cornell and Union had chances during the second period, however neither team was able to capitalize.
Union was going into the third period with a lead, a scenario that Union has grown accustomed to. The only thing the team has really struggled with all season, and what is separating them from being one of the elite powers in the NCAA, is that killer instinct to close out games.
Cornell came out fast and hungry, and was able to tie the contest early on in the period. Cornell’s John McCarron set up Bardreau with the opportunity. Union goalie Troy Grosenick ‘14 made the initial stop, but Bardreau flicked the rebound over Grosenick’s right pad to tie the game.
Cornell kept the pressure on Union for the remainder of the period. With 10:27 left in the game, the Big Red had an odd-man rush and an opportunity to take the lead. Cornell’s Joel Lowry skated down the left wing with a two-on-one man advantage with teammate Brian Ferlin. Lowry fed Ferlin with a cross-ice pass and Ferlin scored to break the tie and give Cornell the lead.
Union had a few opportunities of their own to tie the score, however came up short. The game would end in a 3-2 loss with Grosenick making 33 saves.
“It’s just the mental awareness and being better physically,” said Captain Mat Bodie ‘14 about Union’s struggle to protect the lead. “I thought they outworked us in the third and they played smarter than us as well. Both those things caught up to us in the end.”
However, Mat Bodie is not worried and is confident that the team has the ability to grow and learn from these mistakes. “This is something we can learn from. We just need to bear down a little bit harder.”
The Dutchmen entered their contest the following night against No. 20 Colgate with a bad taste in their mouths. The team wanted to prove that they are better than what they displayed the night before. And they definitely did.
Simpson put Union up early with an unbelievable display of athleticism. He stole a cross-ice pass while defending their zone and raced down the rink on a breakaway. After a slick move, Simpson beautifully backhanded a shot over Colgate goaltender Spencer Finney’s shoulder to put the team up 1-0.
The Red Raiders tied the contest midway through the second period when Colgate’s Robbie Bourdon fed teammate Jeremy Price in the slot. Price fired a shot on net, beating a screened Grosenick to tie the game.
Minutes later, Union would respond when freshman forward Nick Cruice scored his second goal of the season after roofing a hard shot to give the Dutchmen a 2-1 lead. Again, the Dutchmen entered the third period with the task of defending the lead. This time, they stood strong.
The Dutchmen protected their lead and beat Colgate 2-1. Grosenick and head Coach Rick Bennett spoke to the media after the game and commented on how glad they were to see the team put Friday night’s disappointing loss behind them.
“We corrected our mistakes. We battled through some penalties,” Grosenick said. “Overall, I thought all night we did a good job of working hard and working smart. And that is the difference. That is what it takes to win. And I think we learned our lesson.”
“They are jumping up and down in there,” said Bennett. “That was a great team win. And I emphasize the word team. We faced a lot of adversity here. It is just nice to see them come back and get a win.”
The Dutchmen may have just gotten the monkey off their back. They have had two heart wrenching losses, where they failed to protect a third period lead against Cornell and Quinnipiac. But the team showed they have the mentality to lead with the way they performed Saturday night. Union is a dangerous team. Look for them to start gaining momentum and get on a roll in the upcoming weeks. In order to make the ECAC tournament, Union must be in the top four. Currently, Quinnipiac is in first with 23 points, Yale is in second with 15, and Dartmouth, Union and Princeton are all tied for third with 13 points.
The team will host Harvard (5-10-1 overall, 3-8-0 conference) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday night at Messa Rink.
On Saturday, Union will battle rival RPI for the first ever Capital Region Mayor’s Cup at the Times Union Center.