By MIKE MacADAM
SCHENECTADY — Union hockey head coach Rick Bennett remembers the kid who took his young son under his wing at a hockey camp way back when.
Bennett was an assistant coach at Providence College, not even associated with the Union program yet. And neither was the player, at least not officially.
But Union was the only school that got to recruit Jeff Taylor of Clifton Park, because Union was the only school he allowed to recruit him, committing when he was a junior in high school.
For a brief but profound moment on Saturday, the senior defenseman Taylor took his entire team under his wing, delivering some inspiring words during a timeout midway through the second period that got the Dutchmen cranking like the Dutchmen tend to do, and the result was an important 4-2 Senior Night win over Princeton at Messa Rink.
There was a lot that went into building what became a delicious sundae for Union fans, and the “cherry on top,” as Taylor described it, was his game-winning goal with 7:43 left in the game.
Because, of course.
Not only is Taylor one of only two players from the Capital Region on the roster, but he was the first recruit landed by a coaching staff that would go on to assemble a national championship team in 2014.
It was only fitting that he should also deliver on that promise by cranking the game-winner in the final regular-season home game of his career.
“I’ve got a little soft spot for Jeff from the fact that I knew Jeff back when I worked at Providence College and he went to a camp there, and the way he treated my son and watched over him,” Bennett said. “So there’s a little bit of a soft spot. I knew his family before, just super people.
“Tonight’s play was indicative of his career. We needed him, and he came up big.”
“To be honest, I was just trying to focus on the game, because I knew it was going to be an emotional night,” Taylor said. “The fans, everything about playing at Union has been fantastic over my four years. It was just really nice to get a win for everybody.”
With the win, Union (14-4-1 ECAC Hockey, 21-8-2 overall) stayed a point ahead of Harvard for first place in the conference with two regular-season games left.
Like they did on Friday night in a 4-1 win over Quinnipiac, the Dutchmen rode a quick scoring burst to victory against Princeton.
Union didn’t have a power play all night until the 10:00 mark of the third period, but once they did, the offense dutifully followed.
With the score tied 1-1, Union scored twice in a span of 58 seconds on back-to-back power plays.
Brett Supinski one-timed a nice feed from Sebastian Vidmar at 11:19, then Taylor made it 3-1 at 12:17 as Vidmar won a draw from the left circle back to Spencer Foo, who shoved it across to Taylor.
He had plenty of net staring at him as goalie Colton Phinney tried to shift from his right to left, but too late as Taylor buried it in the top right corner with his left-handed shot.
“Unbelievable pass from Foozie; we’ve been working on that this week,” Taylor said.
Taylor also had an assist on Greg Campbell’s empty-net goal with 26.7 seconds left.
But his biggest assist came in the second period after the Dutchmen, who have not given up a power-play goal in five straight games, killed a penalty with the score tied 1-1.
The effect was noticeable, as the Dutchmen, who had been outskated by the Tigers (6-11-3, 11-13-3) and were suffering from a bad case of the overpass, suddenly had more jump in their legs and were penetrating the defense more effectively.
“He really spoke up and said a few things that got us going during that timeout,” Bennett said. “It’s like it flipped the switch. And the rest of the way, we were fine. It really meant something.”
“He told us to calm down,” Supinski said. “We were kind of running around out there.”
“I don’t think it was a speech,” Taylor said, laughing at that characterization. “I was just saying that we could play our hockey. I thought we got away from Union hockey for a while there.”
The teams were tied 0-0 after the first period despite 13 shots on goal for Princeton, and three great scoring chances for Union.
A giveaway by Nick DeSimone led to Princeton’s first goal, but he balanced the ledger by tying the score with a sharp wrist shot off a feed from Foo at 14:06 of the second, and the game was tied 1-1 until Supinski snapped one in on the Dutchmen’s first power play of the night at 11:19 of the third, on a Princeton penalty that draw a loud, sarcastic cheer from the fans.
Then Princeton was whistled again at 12:13, and it took Union only four seconds to score on Taylor’s blast.
After the game, he was greeted by a large group of family and friends on the ice as he, Mike Vecchione, Alex Sakellaropoulos, Eli Lichtenwald, Matt Krug and Michael Pontarelli were honored as seniors, the last holdovers from the national championship team.
“This is probably where Jeff wanted to go since he was shooting pucks in his backyard,” Bennett said. “We kept watching him at Albany Academy. He was the first one. Because we knew. We knew the character and everything. The hockey-playing was easy, as far as judging him.
“Gonna really miss that guy.”
Princeton 0 1 1 — 2
Union 0 1 3 — 4
First period — None. Penalties — Brassard, Union (interference), 11:04; Vecchione, Union (high sticking), 16:38.
Second period — 1, Princeton, Davis 2 (ua), 1:10. 2, Union, DeSimone 8 (Foo, Kolias), 14:06. Penalties — Brassard, Union (hooking), 6:55; Vidmar, Union (tripping), 16:42.
Third period — 3, Union, Supinski (Vdmar, Vecchione), 11:19 (pp). 4, Union, J. Taylor 9 (Foo, Vidmar), 12:17 (pp). 5, Princeton, Davis 3 (Cressey, Foster), 14:11. 6, Union, Campbell 1 (J. Taylor), 19:34. Penalties — Berlin, Princeton (tripping), 10:00; Robinson, Princeton (boarding), 12:13.
Shots on goal — Princeton 13-8-15 — 36; Union 7-12-13 — 32.
Power-play opportunities — Princeton 0 of 4; Union 2 of 2.
Goaltenders — Princeton, Phinney 10-13-3 (32 shots — 28 saves); Union, Sakellaropoulos 19-4-1 (35-34).
Time — 2:05. Attendance — 2,189.
Referees — Peter Feola, Joe Carusone. Linesmen — Matt Brady, Michael Emanatian.