Men’s hockey upsets Union, falls to RPI

by Gayne Kalustian | 11/10/14 2:31pm

11.11.14.sports.mens-hockey_Kelsey-Kittelsen
An overtime goal by Tim O’Brien ’16 upset defending national champion Union Friday. Last season, the Big Green lost to Union 3-2 ion the road and 7-2 at home.
Source: Kelsey Kittelsen

When defending national champions Union College notched three unanswered goals against the Big Green on Friday, the team threw a challenge down on the ice. Union dared the green and white to show up, score a goal, defend itself.

What the team did not know was the then-No. 8 Dutchmen (5-4-1, 0-3-1 ECAC) set the stage for an incredible four-goal comeback victory by the Big Green (1-1-1, 1-1-1 ECAC).

With just under two minutes left in the second period, alternate captain Eric Robinson ’14 changed the contest’s momentum with a goal from the top of the right circle off assists from Brett Patterson ’16 and Tyler Sikura ’15.

“It was huge,” forward Tim O’Brien ’16 said. “We really needed a spark and it got us going a little bit, and it especially got us going in the locker room. There was definitely no doubt in our mind that it could be done.”

The momentum carried into the final frame, when a goal by Sikura 4:40 in cut the Dutchmen advantage to one.

Then, with a single minute left on the clock, Dartmouth snapped Union’s lead. Brad Schierhorn ’16 came off the bench and connected with Jesse Beamish ’15, who fielded a pass to Schierhorn at the 50-second mark, knotting the score at 3-3 and pushing the two teams into overtime.

The Big Green scored on its only shot of the extra frame. Beamish won a faceoff in Dartmouth’s offensive zone to feed O’Brien for the winning goal. O’Brien collected the puck and fired from the circle, seeing it ricochet off a defender and into the back of the net.

Union outshot Dartmouth 5-1 in overtime but could not get past the goaltender James Kruger ’16, who posted a staggering 32 saves in Schenectady, New York, for his second career victory.

Kruger has started and finished all three of Dartmouth’s conference games this season, already seeing more than half as many minutes between the posts as he saw in the entire 2013-14 season. Kruger was slated to play behind Charles Grant ’16, sidelined by a hamstring injury after the team’s opening exhibition match against the University of Alberta.

Kruger’s save percentage, though pulling from a sample size of just three games, has jumped from .876 to .918, tying him at seventh among ECAC goaltenders, .001 behind sixth. In this three-game opening stretch, Dartmouth has played only road games and has faced two of the four ECAC teams to average at least three goals per game, Harvard University and Union. In those two games, he posted his two highest save counts since suiting up for Dartmouth, 34 and 32, respectively.

“Kruger has really stepped up,” Sikura said. “He’s given us a chance to win every game, so we’re feeling confident with whoever we have in goal.”

The team then headed to Troy, New York, for a Saturday match against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, eventually falling 2-1. Beamish notched a first period goal to give the Big Green the lead, but the team could not hold on. The Big Green led until an RPI (4-6-0, 3-1-0 ECAC) score during the fifth minute of the third period, but the game was flawed from the start, Sikura said.

“I’d say it was [lost] kind of from the beginning,” he said. “We didn’t come out the way we wanted to. We scored first and then we were up, but we just let them hang around and didn’t capitalize when we needed to and which they ended up taking advantage of that.”

RPI drove the final nail in with just 19 seconds left in play, handing Dartmouth its first conference loss this year. The Big Green knew, Kruger said, that RPI would come out hard after Dartmouth knocked the team out of the postseason last year. This year, RPI has been up and down, with a streak of five-straight three or more goal losses and victories over then-ranked University of Notre Dame and back-to-back wins over Union. O’Brien said this reflects the long-known adage in hockey that any team can win on any given day.

Kruger said he is not fazed by the loss to RPI. The team, starting off with much more momentum than it had last year, feels like a different team to him, but he said this feeling is not accompanied by complacency or blind confidence.

Dartmouth will host its home opener against Yale University Friday at 7 p.m. in Thompson Arena before taking on Brown University at the same time and place on Saturday.