Thursday, February 16, 2017

Scouting the Enemy: Union Dutchmen

Quinnipiac heads to the New York capital district this weekend for the last road trip of the regular season to take on Union and RPI. First up is the Dutchmen of Union College. The current leaders of the ECAC with 27 points, Union controls its own destiny for the Cleary Cup but the race is tight with four teams separated by just two points so its the regular season title is still far from being determined. Rick Bennett's team comes into this game having lost three of their last five games to Saint Lawrence, Cornell and Harvard respectively who are the three teams directly below them in the standings.  At 11th in the current pairwise rankings, the Dutchmen are not a lock for the NCAA tournament just yet. They have big wins over Harvard and twice against Vermont but do not have any other resume building wins of note. They don't have any bad losses either. Their worst loss was probably to Michigan in the second game of the season but the Wolverines were ranked 11th at that time. Union can ill afford to slip up this weekend against either Quinnipiac or Princeton as that would hurt them in the pairwise standings. For Quinnipiac they have a slim chance at the Clearly Cup but could easily be eliminated from contention for that this weekend. At this point at 22nd in the pairwise rankings the only door to the NCAA tournament is through Lake Placid and winning the ECAC tournament and they would likely have to do that without a first round bye as they are currently in fifth place in the ECAC standings with 21 points. Quinnipiac dropped their first meeting of the season to Union 5-2 in Hamden and all-time against the Dutchmen are 15-12-4.
Mike Vecchione (photo by Peter R. Darby/Daily Gazette)
Union has one of the most impressive top lines in the country in senior Mike Vecchione with 51 points (23 goals and 28 assists), junior Spencer Foo with 50 points (20 goals and 30 assists) and sophomore Sebastian Vidmar with 33 points (13 goals and 20 assists). Vecchione and Foo are both in the top four nationally in scoring and Vecchione is likely to be a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award. Coming into the season the big question was if Union could find any secondary scoring. They answered that question as multiple underclassmen have stepped up and provided much needed offense for the Dutchmen. That includes sophomore Cole Maier with 20 points (12 goals and 8 assists), sophomore Ryan Walker with 14 points (4 goals and 10 assists) and freshman Luc Brown with 12 points (5 goals and 7 assists). Sophomore Brett Supinksi has increased his freshman year 21 point campaign with 27 points (5 goals and 22 assists) this season while junior Ryan Scarfo's production is a big down with 13 points (5 goals and 8 assists) after having back to back double digit goal seasons. The Dutchmen are fifth in the country in offense at 3.87 goals per game and they have a power play ranked 25th at 18.79% (31-of-165). This shows how good of a five on five team they are as they don't have an elite power play. However its the top Union line of Vecchione, Foo and Vidmar that is the main threat on the power play with 17 of their 31 goals on the power play. Quinnipiac will need to play fast, aggressive and disciplined defense against this impressive offense if it wants to be able to minimize Union's scoring chances in order to have a better chance at winning this game.
Spencer Foo (photo by John Carl D'Annibale/Times Union)
While Union is only a middle of pack team in defensive scoring at 2.87 goals per game they have some solid experienced players back there doing a good job of keeping the puck out of the net along with limiting opposing team's scoring chances. The Dutchmen are very solid at blocking shots averaging 13.7 blocks per game led by veteran blue liner Nick DeSimone with 46 and freshman Vas Kolias with 45. They are also getting some very solid production offensively out of some of the defensemen. Senior Jeff Taylor is fifth on the team in scoring with 25 points (8 goals and 17 assists). Junior Nick DeSimone has 15 points (7 goal and 8 assists) while freshman Vas Kolias has 9 points (1 goal and 8 assists). Union doesn't have one the best penalty kills as well as they are only 38th in the country at 81.4% (105-of-129) but they hide this deficiency by being one of the least penalized teams in the county taking on 10.80 penalty minutes per game. Quinnipiac has struggled to score goals at times this year with it's top two scorers both being defensmen (Chase Priskie and Brogan Rafferty).

In goal Union senior Alex Sakellaropoulos has missed the last four games due to a left knee injury suffered against Saint Lawrence. Just yesterday it was reported he started practicing and could be available this weekend. He has played well for the Dutchmen this season providing stability in between the pipes. In 22 games played he is 17-4-1 with a 2.44 goals against average and a .921 save percentage and had a 52 save performance against the Bobcats back in December. With Sakellaropoulos status not yet determined, Union would likely turn to sophomore Jake Kupsky, a 2015 7th round pick by the San Jose Sharks. He has started the last four games and gone 2-2 in that stretch. In 8 games played this year he is 3-4-1 with a 3.70 goals against average and an .887 save percentage. The hope is the Bobcats will be able to get some goals through Kupsky who has not looked great at times this season.

If Quinnipiac wants to get into the top four they need to have a four point weekend on the road and it starts on Friday. Union is the better team at this point in the season but with Sakellaropoulos likely out again it may give the Bobcats the break they need considering how good he was back in December.

Jonathan Singer is a 2004 Quinnipiac alum. You can follow him on Twitter @QHockeyBlog.

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