NCAA Frozen Four: Union's top line in slump (with video)
SCHENECTADY The line of senior center Kelly Zajac, junior right winger Wayne Simpson and sophomore left winger Matt Hatch was one of Union hockey’s top offensive threats for most of the season. They were very consistent, and tough to defend.
But the goals and points haven’t been coming as much in the postseason. The trio knows they must do better, especially with a chance of winning an NCAA title on the line.
Zajac, Simpson and Hatch hope to be big contributors when the Dutchmen (26-7-7) take on Ferris State (25-11-5) in the NCAA Frozen Four semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Fla.
The trio has combined for 33 goals and 57 assists this season. Zajac was the team’s leading scorer for most of the season. He had a 14-game point-scoring streak between Jan. 31
and Feb. 18, collecting four goals and 17 assists. Zajac seemed like he would easily past Adam Presizniuk as the Dutchmen’s all-time leading scorer at the Division I level.
But in six postseason games, Zajac has just three assists. Zajac, who has 128 career points and is four away from passing Presizniuk, has picked up points in just two games.
“We have to get back to just playing hard, getting pucks in and playing simple,” Zajac, who has eight goals and 34 assists this season, said Monday prior to the Dutchmen’s next-to-last practice at Messa Rink. “We’ve got to keep it low. A lot of times, we take it up the wall and turn it over. That’s really costing us.
“I think we got away from our game. I think we’re thinking too much.”
Asked if he is concerned about breaking Presizniuk’s record,
Zajac said, “Not at all. You hear a lot about it, but you can’t think too much about it. Right now, I’m looking for two wins, and that’s all that I’m looking for.”
Simpson, the Dutchmen’s fourth-leading scorer with 18 goals and 13 assists, has two goals and an assist in the postseason. Both goals came on the power play against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Game 1 of the ECAC Hockey tournament quarterfinals March 9, and versus Michigan State in the NCAA East Regional semifinal March 23 in Bridgeport, Conn.
“We have to get back to the basics,” Simpson said. “We’re going to focus on getting some offensive-zone play. We’re need to get our bodies over the pucks more so that we’re not getting it poked off our sticks and having to backcheck all the time.”
Hatch, who has seven goals and 10 assists, is confident that the line will be producing again.
“We’ve got to get back to the little things, getting pucks in and working teams,” said Hatch, who has two assists in the postseason. “That’s what we really do best. ‘Zaj’ and Wayne, they’re great in the corners, and they can really score goals. If we keep it simple and get pucks in, our scoring chances are going to come from that.”
The trio has been fortunate in that the line of junior center Jeremy Welsh, sophomore left winger Daniel Carr and right winger Josh Jooris has been on a roll in the postseason. They have combined for 11 goals and 12 assists.
Union coach Rick Bennett isn’t very worried about the slump that Zajac, Simpson and Hatch have been in.
“I thought they had a couple of tougher weekends before that,” Bennett said. “I thought they did their jobs in Bridgeport. Sometimes, you’re always not going to score. I thought Wayne Simpson had a nice goal out there. They had a few chances than they did the previous week. The key to it is having Kelly Zajac shoot the puck, and Matt Hatch has to get in there on the forecheck.”
Pep rally planned
After a short practice, Union will hold a pep rally at 10:15 a.m. today in the parking lot behind Messa off Nott Street.
Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R,C,I-Schenectady/Saratoga), a 1972 Union College graduate, will present an official Assembly citation to the team recognizing them for their historic accomplishments to date and wishing the Dutchmen continued success.
The team is expected to leave Albany International Airport early in the afternoon and arrive in Tampa late in the day.