December 6, 2011

ECAC Hockey Journal: Harvard, Union will get Fenway stage

By Dan Guttenplan

The Union College coaching staff certainly has its recruiting hurdles. 

Harvard defenseman Danny Biega (9) and his teammates will play league rival Union at Fenway Park on Jan. 13. (photo: Dave Arnold Photography)

Harvard defenseman Danny Biega (9) and his teammates will play league rival Union at Fenway Park on Jan. 13. (photo: Dave Arnold Photography)

Regardless of how many games the defending regular-season ECAC Hockey champion Dutchmen have won in the last few years, Rick Bennett and his staff are still met with the challenge of luring top hockey talent to a school of just over 2,000 students in Schenectady, N.Y.

Union received news last week that should make recruiting a little easier.

An ECAC rivalry game between Union and Harvard that was originally scheduled to be played Jan. 13 at Harvard's Bright Center was moved outdoors to Fenway Park. It will be the first ECAC game ever held at an outdoor venue and only the 10th Division 1 hockey game ever played outdoors.

The game, which will be the second part of a doubleheader that leads off with Norwich and Babson College, should provide Union an opportunity to showcase its athletes to prospective recruits in the Boston area.

Many New England hockey players grow up thinking there is no college hockey beyond the Boston College-Boston University rivalry, with a possible extension to the Hockey East schools outside Route 128.

Union, despite its recent status as a top-15 program nationally, falls under the radar of many recruits. It does not have the academic status of an Ivy League school, like some its ECAC counterparts -- Yale, Brown, Cornell, Princeton, Dartmouth and Harvard.

ECAC commissioner Steve Hagwell believes the league's Fenway matchup, which comes six days after Fenway games between UMass and Vermont, and New Hampshire and Maine, will provide both Union and Harvard an opportunity to put the conference's competitiveness on display.

"For Union and Harvard, I'm thrilled for the experience," Hagwell said. "From a league standpoint, it's an opportunity to showcase our players' talent."

Hagwell said he "is not privy" to the financial implications of the game being moved from Bright Center Arena to Fenway. However, he believes the gains for each program will far outweigh any loss in gate receipts or concessions. 

"I don't know about recruiting, but it will certainly have its benefits," Hagwell said. "If an elite player is considering an institution for hockey, he may not know about Union or other teams in our league. This is an opportunity for those kids to learn and see talented student-athletes perform on a great stage. They'll come to realize, while Union may be outside of the immediate Boston area, it's a great program with great players."

One would bet that Bennett and Harvard coach Ted Donato (Dedham, Mass.) were eager to inform their pool of respective recruits of the location change for their ECAC matchup soon after they heard the news last week.

Game of the Week

Merrimack at Colgate, Saturday

The Raiders will play their final game before the Christmas holiday Saturday against a Merrimack team that went into last weekend as the nation's No. 1 team.

However, Merrimack was swept by Providence College last weekend, making this game less of a measuring stick for the Raiders.

ECAC Hockey power ratings

1. Colgate (11-4-1, 6-2-0 ECAC): The Raiders scored 10 goals in two games last weekend, including three against Clarkson goaltender Paul Karpowich, who has been a wall.

2. Cornell (7-3-1, 6-1-1): The Big Red have posted five shutouts in their last six games.

3. Yale (6-4-1, 4-2-0): At the end of a home-and-home split with Brown last weekend, the Elis had scored nine goals to their opponent's nine.

4. Union (7-3-5, 3-2-2): Not a great weekend for the Dutchmen, who tied Quinnipiac and Princeton.

5. Quinnipiac (9-6-3, 2-4-2): The streaky Bobcats have collected five points in their last three games, including a tie against Union. That comes on the heels of a six-game winless streak.

6. St. Lawrence (5-9, 4-4): No shame in losing at Cornell and at Colgate last weekend.

7. Brown (4-6-1, 3-3-0): Brown's three ECAC wins were against Cornell, Union and Yale. Two of the losses came against Dartmouth and RPI. You try to rank this team.

8. Clarkson (8-6-4, 2-4-2): The question remains whether Clarkson can score enough goals in front of Karpowich against quality competition. It won't take many.

9. Harvard (3-3-3, 2-3-2): In a 4-4 tie against UMass last weekend, the Crimson overcame a one-goal deficit four times and outshot the Minutemen 44-35.

10. Dartmouth (4-5-1, 3-3-1): The Big Green need a win against Sacred Heart after a disappointing start.

11. Princeton (4-7-2, 3-5-1): The Tigers could be ranked anywhere from 5 to 11 at the end of the year; it's still too early to draw any real conclusions.

12. RPI (3-12-0, 1-6-0): One year after reaching the NCAAs, I'm pretty sure RPI will be ranked 12th at season's end.

Dan Guttenplan can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.