Union didn’t get a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs, but it did get a matchup with a familiar foe. The Dutchmen’s 2-1 loss to Dartmouth in the ECAC regular-season finale Saturday at Achilles Rink kept them in sixth place. They will face Capital Region rival Rensselaer in the best-of-three series starting Friday.
It is the third time the two teams have met in the postseason. Unlike 1994 and 1997, when the games were played at Houston Field House, this series will be at Achilles. RPI eliminated Union both times.
Despite finishing 11 points ahead of the 11th-place Engineers, the Dutchmen (10-10-2 ECAC, 14-16-4 overall) lost the season series to RPI this year. RPI won, 4-2 Dec. 7 at Houston. The teams played to a 3-3 tie Jan. 10 at Achilles.
“Just from playing the two games this season, I saw the excitement,” said freshman forward Jason Visser, who scored Union’s only goal against Dartmouth. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever played before. I can’t wait. I’m already pumped. We’re ready to take care of business.”
It doesn’t matter to Union coach Kevin Sneddon who the Dutchmen play. He was pleased with the team’s effort over the weekend. Union scored four third-period goals to rally from a 3-1 deficit and beat Vermont, 5-3, Friday.
“I love the way we’re playing right now,” Sneddon said. “We certainly have a lot of respect for RPI. It’s a new season. We know they’ve had a tough [season]. But the nice things about the playoffs is that’s all erased right now. We’re both 0-0.”
Neither Union nor Dartmouth (13-9, 17-11-1) scored in the first period, but the Dutchmen did have some excellent opportunities. They pressured goalie Nick Boucher in the opening 36 seconds, but couldn’t get one by him. He finished the game with 33 saves.
“Bouch was real solid,” Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said. “He’s put together quite a stretch of games. He’s been on top of his game.”
Marc Neron had two excellent opportunities. He had a stuffer stopped midway through the period, and a slapshot that Boucher got a piece of later in the period. The puck was in the crease before it was cleared away.
“Marc played the best game I’ve seen that young man play in his college career,” Sneddon said. “He had so many scoring opportunities.”
Jarrett Sampson snapped the scoreless tie with 1:54 left in the second period. He was skating alone down the slot when he one-timed a Kent Gillings pass from the left of the net past goalie Kris Mayotte.
Visser put in the rebound of a Brian Kominar shot past Boucher at 3:24.
“We had a good breakout, like exactly what we’ve been doing in practice so well,” Visser said. “Kominar took a hard shot, and I went for the rebound. It ended up popping right on my stick, and I just put it in.”
But 50 seconds later, Lee Stempniak beat Mayotte with a shot over the shoulder to regain the lead for the Big Green, who finished third and earned a first-round bye.
“What was more frustrating was tying it up, 1-1, and then having them score the next shift after working so hard to get back in it,” Union forward Joel Beal said. “Maybe it has a little to do with [Friday] night against UVM, when we scored one and figured they’re dead now. But [Dartmouth] came back and fought hard.”
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.