SCHENECTADY, NY -- Union has that killer instinct that all good teams with championship aspirations seem to have. St. Cloud found that out the hard way on Friday night as the Dutchmen scored three goals in the first 8:54 of the game en route to a 5-1 win in front of a packed house at Messa Rink.
Once again, Union senior goaltender Colin Stevens was a game changer for the Dutchmen. The Niskayuna, NY native made 35 saves including two breakaway stops.
"I thought he was unbelievable. Any night that your goalies makes two or three breakaway saves, you can't ask for anything more," said senior Mark Bennett. "He was outstanding. He made big saves when we needed him to."
"Every championship team needs a good goalie. A goalie that is confident, a goalie that knows what he's doing, a goalie that gives confident to the whole team," added defenseman Sebastien Gingras. "I think [Stevens] is just so poised out there. We just have so much confidence in him. Tonight he was excellent."
Stevens stopped Jonny Brodzinski on a first period breakaway and Kalle Kossila in the third on a shorthanded opportunity.
"I just tried to come out and challenge. I tried to match their speed coming back in. I was fortunate enough to be in good position," said Stevens of his two big breakaway stops.
With St. Cloud down a man for an early too many men on the ice penalty, Union's power play went to work. After whipping the puck around the perimeter, Jeff Taylor fed the puck down below the right circle to Daniel Ciampini who drove the net. Ciampini's initial shot was saved, but the puck squirted to Michael Pontarelli who banged it home for a 1-0 Dutchmen lead just 1:51 into the game.
Just 2:16 later Union extended its lead to 2-0 on a goal created by nice cycling down low from Ryan Scarfo and Pontarelli. Max Novak got credit for the assist as he found a pinching Sebastien Gingras who quickly one-timed the puck past St. Cloud starting goaltender Charlie Lindgren.
Union went up 3-0 just 8:54 into the game on a transition play. Bennett was forced wide, but he flung what appeared to be a harmless backhander on net. The puck somehow squeezed between Lindgren and the near post, a result that chased the sophomore goaltender from the game in favor of classmate Rasmus Reijola. Sam Coatta and Roman Ammirato picked up the assists.
Coatta continued his hot start to the season by scoring his third goal of the campaign to push the Dutchmen lead to 4-0. The senior was the beneficiary of a juicy rebound that popped right out to him following a wraparound attempt by Bennett. Roman Ammirato picked up the secondary assist on the lone tally of the second period at the 6:52 mark.
"I'm happy for Sam Coatta and Mark Bennett. They're seniors," said Bennett of the pair who each had a goal and an assist. "That was the one positive tonight. That line was excellent with Roman Ammirato. I'm happy to talk about them tonight because they were flying around out there and doing what they're supposed to do."
Union added a two-man advantage score with 3:05 to play in the game to go up 5-0. Jeff Taylor's slap shot was blocked by a SCSU penalty killer, but he recovered the puck and fed it down to a wide open Max Novak who easily deposited it into the back of the net. Mike Vecchione was credited with the secondary assist to keep his point streak alive at five games.
St. Cloud ruined Stevens' shutout bid with 4.5 seconds to play in the game. With the Dutchmen scrambling around their defensive zone the puck came out to SCSU defenseman Ben Storm at the point who slapped one below Stevens' glove for the score.
"I'm not going to say it's not frustrating at all. At the end of the day, all that matters is we got the win," explained Stevens. "It would be pretty selfish of me if I sat here complaining I didn't get the shutout."
"Did we think of our goalie there the last shift? Our goaltender has a chance to do something special, but we weren't baring down in the areas that we need to bare down in," said Bennett.
Despite the lopsided victory that sent his team to a 5-0 record, Bennett wasn't exactly pleased with the Dutchmen's performance.
"It's a big concern. After our five games this year, I'm not afraid to tell you, it's been the same theme. We better wake up," said Bennett, channeling his inner Bill Belichick. "This is not going to cut it. We have to be a lot better than this," added the fourth year head coach who seemed particularly perturbed by the amount of turnovers.
The two teams will meet again on Saturday night in the series finale. "If we play that way tomorrow, that team is going to hammer us," said Bennett.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.