Team of the Week: Union
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
Following Saturday night's loss to Union, Rensselaer coach Seth Appert made it pretty clear what — or who — he felt the difference in the game was. Appert pointed to Union defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere as the best player on the ice and in the country.
While others certainly have a case to be made, it's hard to argue with Gostisbehere's after his performance. Saturday night, the junior defenseman scored twice in the third period to give Union a 4-1 lead. The Dutchmen held on to their lead to complete a sweep of rival RPI, earning College Hockey News' Team of the Week.
Union coach Rick Bennett is hesitant to make the same claim as Appert. He's pretty happy, though, to have Gostisbehere at his disposal.
"I haven't seen the rest of the country play, but I know I wouldn't trade Shayne Gostisbehere for anyone," Bennett said. "He's a great player, and we rely on him to do a lot for us."
As a unit, the Dutchmen are among the deepest in the nation on the blue line. Aside from Gostisbehere, senior Mat Bodie and sophomore Sebastien Gringas are two more of the Dutchmen's gifted defensive group. Like last weekend, Bennett knows he needs all of them for his club to reach its goals for the season. With several teams in the ECAC off to strong starts, relying too heavily on one player this early could lead to problems late in the year.
"We have two guys who we think are on that level," Bennett said. "Mat Bodie is another one who does a lot for us. But we like Sebastien Gingras and Matt Krug back there as well. We have eight defensemen that we like and can play whenever we need to."
Last weekend offered a good look at the reality of ECAC hockey in the 2013-14 season. A pair of games between rivals that come down to a few instances of individual brilliance, capped by an eruption of the pride and passion these programs play with. At the end of Saturday's game, a series of shoving matches escalated, resulting in a number of misconducts.
"There's no fighting college hockey, and you never want to see it happen," Bennett said. "I will say that we want our players to play with pride and passion. You never want to see guys lose their heads, but it happens, especially at the end of a weekend like that against your big rival."
The clubs meet again on Jan. 25 at the Times Union Center in Albany for the annual Mayor's Cup showdown between the programs in New York's Capital District. While the game does not factor into the league standings, it's among the most important games on each team's schedule."
"Those were two tough games against RPI," Bennett said. "It was great to get two more wins. We've got another with them in January when we play for the Mayor's Cup, and we know it'll be a tough matchup."
Off this weekend while the players prepare for exams, the Dutchmen head to Penn State next weekend for a pair of games with the Nittany Lions. Following that, Union plays three crucial league games before ending the first half with a trip to St. Cloud State. ECAC titles and national tournament appearances are expected in Schenectady, N.Y., now. The series with St. Cloud State in mid-December is as important as the conference games with Dartmouth, Princeton and Quinnipiac before it.
Based on last weekend's results and its current 5-1-1 run, it's clear Union is a true contender for trophies. Bennett said the wins each revealed certain characteristics of his team that encouraged him as the season progresses past its early stages. Additionally, Gostisbehere's ability to take games over at times is just another positive for the Dutchmen.
"We thought Friday was a growth game for us," Bennett said. "It was a tough test, and we know we need to be better late in games, learning how to hold a lead. Saturday, we got another lead, and Shayne Gostisbehere, he's a great player, made big plays to help us put the game away with two goals."