ECAC Hockey: Quinnipiac and Union battle for first place

Quinnipiac sophomore goaltender Michael Garteig makes a stop against Maine. - Matt Dewkett (mrd-photos.com)

Even with all the outdoor contests and a game at the world's most famous arena, Union and Quinnipiac is without a doubt the marquee game of the weekend in college hockey.

Hamden, Conn. -- First place in the ECAC is on the line Friday night at the Highpoint Solutions Arena as host Quinnipiac takes on Union. The Dutchmen enjoy a one-point lead in the ECAC standings entering the weekend, but also have two games in hand on the Bobcats.

Union rallied from a 4-3 third period deficit in the first meeting between these two teams for a 6-4 win in December at Messa Rink in Schenectady. A trio of Union freshmen were the engine that pushed the offense that night. Eli Lichtenwald and Michael Pontarelli each had two goals and an assist while fellow rookie Mike Vecchione had a goal and an assist.

Union and Quinnipiac have clearly set themselves apart as the class of the ECAC this season, and this should be a heck of a hockey game. The Bobcats, looking to avenge December's setback, are 8-1-2 on home ice while the Dutchmen are an impressive 6-0-2 away from Schenectady.

Union has been off since its trip to St. Cloud where Rick Bennett's team surprised everyone by picking up a win and a tie against the highly ranked Huskies.

Quinnipiac enters Friday night's game following two close contests that were decided in the game's final minutes. Jordan Samuels-Thomas' goal with 1:03 remaining last Friday night propelled QU past Maine, 2-1. On Tuesday in a rare midweek league game the Bobcats skated to a 2-2 tie with Harvard thanks to a Crimson goal with 49 seconds left in regulation.

This game also features some individual matchups inside the actual game that are intriguing. Quinnipiac freshman defenseman Connor Clifton, arguably one of the nation's top rookie blue liners, goes up against Union junior Shayne Gostisbehere, one of the top players in the country, regardless of position.

The goaltending battle features two backstops who entered the season looking to replace a departed star. Colin Stevens has stepped in to replace Troy Grosenick who forewent his senior season while Michael Garteig has admirably filled in for Hobey Baker Award finalist Eric Hartzell who graduated.

Union doesn't have a freshman forward as good as the Bobcats' Sam Anas, but the three aforementioned rookies, Vecchione, Pontarelli and Lichtenwald, are all impressive youngsters.

Each team has its share of skilled, finesse players, but look out for two power forwards: Samuels-Thomas of QU and Lichtenwald of Union.

Keys to the Game

  • Union needs to stay disciplined and stay out of the box. The Bobcats power play is clicking at a 25.4 percent clip, tops in the league, while the Dutchmen penalty kill unit is worst in the league statistically. Especially with the game at Quinnipiac, Union can ill-afford to give the home crowd reason to get boisterous.
  • Colin Stevens needs to play his absolute best to give Union a chance in this game. The Bobcats have notoriously outshot opponents by a wide margin this season. The Dutchmen need their goaltender to do his part.
  • Quinnipiac needs to guard against the low to high passes that make Union so successful. Perhaps no defense in the country gets as involved in the offense as Union's. Between Mat Bodie and Shayne Gostisbehere, Union has some of the best offensive defensemen in NCAA hockey this season.

Stats Breakdown

Union Quinnipiac
Record 12-3-3, 8-1-0 ECAC 15-3-5, 6-2-3 ECAC
Home/Away Record 6-0-2 (Away) 8-1-2 (Home)
Goals Per Game 3.89 (1st) 3.39 (3rd)
Goals Against Per Game 2.56 (6th) 1.83 (1st)
Power Play Percentage 25.8 (3rd) 20.5 (T-6th)
Penalty Kill Percentage 75.4 (12th) 92.2 (1st)
Leading Goal Scorer Daniel Carr/Daniel Ciampini (9) Sam Anas (13)
Assists Leader Mat Bodie (17) Connor Jones (16)
Projected Starting Goalie Colin Stevens (.905) Michael Garteig (.912)
NHL Draft Picks 1 3

Complete ECAC Weekend Schedule

Friday
Union at Quinnipiac 7 p.m.
RPI at Princeton 7 p.m.
Merrimack at Clarkson 7 p.m.
Massachusetts at Cornell 7 p.m.
Saturday
Union at Princeton 4 p.m.
RPI at Quinnipiac 7p.m.
Merrimack at Clarkson 7 p.m.
Dartmouth vs. New Hampshire 5 p.m. *
Boston College at Brown 5 p.m.
Yale vs. Harvard 8 p.m. #
Vermont at Colgate 7 p.m.

* at Verizon Wireless Arena, Manchester, NH

# at Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting, NHL Draft prospects and the AHL for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation.

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