Union's Bennett Implores Team to Toughen Up After Loss to North Dakota
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. Union has been a big surprise this season. It entered its game against North Dakota on Saturday night with a 14-3-2 record and on a six-game winning streak, all on the road.
But Saturday against defending national champs North Dakota, Union was far from those standards it set for itself. A view shared, particularly, by the team's coach.
"Tonight there were no excuses for a lack of energy," Union coach Rick Bennett said. "I thought they would have the better legs, but that was not the case. We had nice break and a good practice week. Sometimes when you go home, with the record like we had, everyone will tell you how great you are. As a coaching staff that is our job to correct it and I guess I did a poor job in not correcting that."
Bennett thought Union playing against North Dakota would be an important test for his team, but that his team failed.
"That was the first team we saw that was really heavy and we didn't like it," Bennett said. "It was a good, teachable game for our guys going forward of what it takes and what it is going to take to reach that top of the mountain these guys say and our staff wants to get to. We are light years away from that, right now.
"I would say all aspects of our game was poor. We have to get better because that was a poor performance, top line all the way down. I will continue scheduling these games and we will find players that want to play with teams like this or I will get rid of them."
Austin Poganski helped lead North Dakota, which is trying to crawl back from a six-game winless streak in October and November, which caused many to think maybe the losses of so many key players from last year's title team were too much to overcome.
But after a 4-2-1 stretch, North Dakota knew it could use the Union matchup as a nice test of where it really stood headed into the New Year.
"To win games against teams like this, your best players have to be your best players," North Dakota coach Brad Berry said. "I thought not only was it our best players, but I felt all of our whole team chipped in and played hard. We had a total team effort tonight."
Just 11 seconds in, Poganski put UND up, 1-0. Rhett Gardner set up the chance from behind the net with a pass and Poganski slapped it home. The early goal shunned a sellout crowd of 2,354 at Union's Messa Rink.
"We took the crowd out of it with the shift," said Union coach Rick Bennett.
"That goal was huge, it is always the game plan to get after teams right away," said Poganski. "That created a lot of momentum and got our guys going. We had a little play off the faceoff, Rhett made a great play there and got it to me."
Despite missing Tyson Jost (World Juniors) and Brock Boeser (injury) from the lineup, the Fighting Hawks didn't miss a beat. Led by a defense that stifled Union to few opportunities in front of its own net, the Fighting Hawks kept the fourth best offense in the nation relatively quiet.
The nation's leading scorer, Mike Vecchione was kept of the scoresheet for only the fourth time this year. He also was left without a shot attempt in the game. The Dutchmen top line, which includes Spencer Foo and Sebastian Vidmar was held raltively in check.
"We tried to get Austin's (Poganski) line up against that line, which was difficult on the road," Berry said. "We were able to do so most of the time. That line is tremendous line. We told our guys, that no matter who is on the ice be aware of them and no one gets behind them. We can contain them for so long, but that when we can't that is where Cam (Johnson) comes in."
Shane Gersich doubled the North Dakota lead to 2-0 at 2:57 of the third period, converting a pass from Poganski.
Union finally got on the board with 3:41 left to cut the deficit to 2-1, when Spencer Foo went to the net and tipped home a J.C. Brassard shot from the point.
"You have to get to the net in order to finish," Bennett said. "I think we went to the net once tonight and we got a goal. It takes six guys. That team (UND) was excellent and they are heavy.
"We saw some things against them we haven't seen before off of faceoffs, with the slash of the sticks. That was impressive and I thought off rushes they would slash the forward's sticks, which throws them off. That was excellent hockey. In front of the net they were men, it was like men against pee-wees."
With his goal, Spencer Foo extended his point streak to 18 games.
Union will take on another top ten pairwise team on the road on Thursday against Boston University. North Dakota returns to NCHC play with games against Nebraska-Omaha.
"There is no doubt this will help us going forward," Bennett said. "Teams will see this score and say, 'They just aren't that good.' They are right, right now. We are going to demand it (playing tougher), we will practice it and the guys that don't want to buy in will be sitting in section P, they can sit with their parents."