Saturday, March 26, 2011

Union's Season Ends With 2-0 Loss To UMD In NCAA Tourney

Well, that's it. The best season in the history of Union College hockey is over. Last night in their first NCAA Tournament game they fell to The University of Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs 2-0. I guess the belief that western teams are better than eastern teams was proven once again last night.

While I thought Union skated with the Bulldogs and received the better of the chances while playing 5-on-5, UMD was excellent in the "small" parts of the game; the parts of the game that make the difference between winning and losing. The three most noticeable "small" areas of the game where Union got extremely outplayed were faceoffs, winning battles, and SPECIAL TEAMS! I had a bad feeling after the first period. Union failed to score on four PP's and UMD scored on their first opportunity. Their inability to score on early chances (Kelly Zajac's chance about 30 seconds into the game come to mind) and UMD scoring so quickly on their first PP, was the turning point of the game.

Isn't it a little ironic that all week everyone was talking about Union's power-play and UMD's FCC line, and the Dutchmen went 0-for-9 on the PP and the FCC line accumulated just one point (Fontaine's PPG, neither of the Connolly's had a point). Instead the story was UMD's special teams and goaltender Kenny Reiter.

Nobody talked about UMD's power-play all week and I think that gave them some motivation. They ran a very good PP and controlled the puck well. UMD scored both of their goals on the man advantage and scored them at very crucial times: their first chance in the first period and first chance of the third period.

The Bulldog penalty kill killed off all nine of Union's man advantages and did so with relative ease. From what I saw, UMD packed in their box very well and didn't allow Union's shooter in the slot (Wayne Simpson and Daniel Carr) to have any room. UMD also did a great job of causing havoc in the neutral zone, which made it difficult for Union to pick up speed and make crisp passes when breaking out of their zone and attacking the Bulldog zone. Another thing that made the Bulldogs so successful was their ability to block shots and keep their bodies and sticks in the passing and shooting lanes. Reiter played a very good game. He was very good controlling rebounds and made the big save when called upon.

On the other end, Keith Kinkaid played well. I though he kept Union in the game in the third period, making some tremendous saves in the final period.

Even though Union won the faceoff battle (36-33), I thought they didn't do a great job and for the most part couldn't win the faceoff when they really needed it. UMD's second goal came right off of a Union faceoff loss. I really thought Union missed Stephane Boileau in that aspect of the game. It was tough talking to him in between periods knowing that the team really needed him and he wasn't on the ice.

While the end of the season was an extremely disappointing one with three consecutive losses, I am still extremely proud of our guys. This year is just another step to becoming a national power. We've improved and reached a goal each of the past four years: first ECAC top four finish (2008), first ECAC playoff series victory (2009), first ECAC Final Four and Championship game appearance (2010), and first NCAA Tournament appearance (2011). So, the next step is to win our first NCAA Tournament game (and score a goal... ouch I know), and with all the guys we return next season, that is a realistic goal.

It's going to be a long and interesting off season. I'll have posts to sum up the season and preview the off season later in the week hopefully before I head to St. Paul for the Frozen Four.

Keep your heads up guys! We were all (in one way or another) a part of something special.

For more on the game check out:
USCHO (with videos from the post-game press conference)
Union Athletics
Ken Schott's Blog
Times Union
Duluth News Tribune
College Hockey News
INCH
Daily Gazette's Photo Gallery

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