Union Rides Its Blueprint to Victory
by Joshua Seguin/CHN Writer
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. Union preaches strong defense and timely scoring. The blueprint could not have been on better display than it was Friday as the Dutchmen defeated Michigan State 3-1.
It was their first NCAA Tournament win in Division I, and continued upon a year of firsts this season has become, following last weekend's ECAC tournament title.
“It seemed like a whirlwind,” said Union Coach Rick Bennett. “It seemed as though we just left Atlantic City and the next thing we know we are here in Bridgeport, Connecticut. I thought we did some things tonight that weren’t our style of hockey, but just happy for the win.”
Defense is exactly what Union has done this year. It is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation in that department, allowing a stingy 1.79 goals per game. This number may be staggering mainly because it is — it's 0.21 goals allowed per game less than the next best number.
“Our team defense has been awesome in front of me all year,” said Union goalie Troy Grosenick. “Our team did a great job of clearing out rebounds in front of me. If I am seeing only 20 or so shots a game it makes my job easier.”
On Friday, Union stymied the offensive charge of Michigan State, holding the Spartans to just 21 shots. Despite giving Michigan State chances in the third period the Dutchmen had the knack of getting their sticks on the puck.
“We bend but don’t break,” said Bennett. “We preach stick on puck and we try to deflect pucks away from Troy. We try to create pockets for Grosenick to see the puck. I felt that our defense did a great job.”
Making Grosenick's job easier is something Union prides itself on, but when he was needed, as he was on multiple occasions, he was certainly up to the task.
Late in the third period, with 2:30 to go in the game, Michigan State forward Lee Reimer came barreling down the right wing on a 2-on-1. It was at this moment that Grosenick, who is only a sophomore, made his largest save, holding a 2-1 lead that Union sealed with a power-play goal nearly a minute later.
“I just saw the puck around the top of the circle,” Grosenick said about the save. “I just got out on top of the crease as fast as I could. Our 'D' kept him to the outside as best as they could and I got a piece of it.”
As timely as the goaltending was, as it has been all season, the defense was just as timely. In the second period, Nolan Julseth-White came up with a spectacular breakup of a player that was poised to go in all alone on his goalie. Julseth-White lifted the Michigan State player’s stick and batted the puck away from him. This play preserved an early two-goal lead and thus kept any momentum in the period on the side of Union.
As the tournament continues, strong defensive play will continue to help Union’s cause and further their goals. There are some areas that need to be shored up, however, as Bennett alluded to — defensemen jumping in the play, and farther up the play, more often than usual; forwards looking offense first a couple of times. It nearly cost Union on a few occasions.
To be successful Saturday night, and send an ECAC team to the Frozen Four for the first time in nine years, they will need to play 100 percent Union hockey.
Part of Union's trademark is also its demeanor, and on that score, Union passed with flying colors. Julseth-White missed a wide open net on a 3-on-0 breakaway, shorthanded, near the end of the second period. It would've given Union a 3-0 lead. Instead, Michigan State converted and the teams went into the locker room 2-1. But Union was at its best in the third period.
“There is never any panic on the bench,” said assistant captain Jeremy Welsh. “We didn’t come here to win just one game.”