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Union Taking Advantage of Home Ice

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, January 13, 2006

SCHENECTADY - It's been more than 10 months since the Union College hockey team has tasted defeat in the friendly confines of Messa Rink. Tonight the Dutchmen face the team that inflicted that last painful setback.

Clarkson beat Union 4-3 in overtime on March 6, 2005, a game few of the Dutchmen upperclassmen will forget. It was the third consecutive overtime game in the first round of their ECAC Hockey League playoff series and ended Union's season.

Union is 6-0-4 on its home ice this season, including ties last weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth.

"Obviously we want to get even for that one," said junior captain Sean Streich, whose personal 93-game playing streak ended last weekend because of a recurrence of a shoulder injury. "The points are critical right now, and I think we're thinking more about that than last year right now."

This is Union's strongest home start in its Division I history, and it's somewhat surprising considering the Dutchmen were 8-10-1 at Messa last season. The Dutchmen have outscored opponents 36-14 at Messa.

"I think we're pretty confident here," said Streich, who expects to play this weekend. "We like our environment; we like our rink, and we're really comfortable there. The crowd's been great. We're going on the road after this weekend, so we've got to find a way to keep playing the same way."

The Dutchmen (2-0-2 at home in the ECACHL) have only seven more games at home, and would like nothing more than to get another playoff series in their own building. It would be their fourth in a row. They dropped the first three.

Croxton questionable: RPI's leading scorer, senior Kevin Croxton, is "day-to-day" and questionable for this weekend, according to coach Dan Fridgen.

Croxton took a puck to his ankle in the second period of last Saturday's 3-2 win over Harvard, and although X-rays were negative, he suffered a painful bone bruise.

"We do have a Plan B," said Fridgen, who also is without defenseman Alexander Valentin. "Would we like (to have him)? Yes. Is it essential? No. I think what's going to dictate our success in these times is how well we handle adversity."

Fridgen broke up his top line of Croxton, Oren Eizenman and Jonathan Ornelas last weekend in an attempt to ignite the offense, something the Engineers will need against Clarkson and St. Lawrence.

"This weekend is huge," said Fridgen, who admits the win over Harvard was crucial.

"What's giving us the confidence now is knowing that what we're doing - if we stick to it - will be successful," Fridgen said. "That goes from establishing a forecheck early to making sure we're coming back hard through the neutral zone and protecting our end of the ice and, of course, getting some key saves from Mathias (Lange) as well."

Ice chips: The RPI program suffered another setback this week with the passing of longtime hockey office secretary Nancy McGrath. She touched the lives of hundreds of players and their families in nearly three decades of service to the college. ... Lynah Rink at Cornell is getting a face lift. Seating capacity will increase to 4,300 and locker rooms will be renovated and expanded. Work should be done by next winter.