College hockey: Union's Sebastian Vidmar has become the nation's Mr. Third Period
Sebastian Vidmar is a very good hockey player.
A junior from Sweden, Vidmar notched 10 points his freshman year, finished third on Union in points last season with 41, and now in his junior year has been an instrumental part of the Dutchmen’s No. 19 ranking in the country.
But he’s never finished in the Top 25 in the country in scoring, which is why his knack for scoring points in the third period is so curious.
In fact, it’s more than a knack: since the start of the 2016-17 season, Vidmar has notched more third-period assists (26) than anyone else.
Last year, the sophomore finished in the Top 10 in third period points (with 20 points) despite being tied for 28th overall in points. This season, he’s back in the Top 10 in third period scoring (with 10 points) while tied for just 87th overall in points.
And, until he was told about his outsized production late in games, he had no idea he’d become the country’s Mr. Third Period.
“Honestly, until you said it, no, I’ve never thought about it,” Vidmar said.
His head coach, Rick Bennett, had a similar response.
“To be quite honest with you, no, I hadn’t noticed,” Bennett said, laughing.
It’s not for a lack of attention to detail. Vidmar said the Union coaching staff often brings up production numbers when talking about areas where the team needs to improve, like last season, when the Dutchmen weren’t scoring enough in the second period.
“They brought it to our attention, and we tried to stay more focused in the second period and come out stronger,” Vidmar said.
This year, just like last year, Vidmar’s line (along with Brett Supinski, who has 12 third-period points, and Anthony Rinaldi, who has six third-period goals) is spearheading a Union offense which does the bulk of its damage in the final frame.
Union has 59 total goals this year, good for 13th in the nation; 25 of those goals, or 42 percent, have come in the third period, good for 7th in the nation. The Dutchmen are also a +7 in the third period this season, far and away their best goal differential for any individual period.
To Vidmar, there's nothing better than playing well late.
“I love having the puck in those scenarios. I always want the puck,” Vidmar said. “And then you score, and it just reinforces that feeling. I don’t know, maybe that’s why I have so many third-period points. It’s that feeling, you just always want it.”
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Teams that thrive in the third period, just as in any other sport's late game, are normally the ones in the best shape. Bennett that’s exactly how he coaches his team.
“We feel, as a coaching staff, having the legs with the way we want to play the game, they have to be in that kind of shape,” Bennett said. “It’s a mindset. These guys aren’t coming to the rink saying, ‘Geez, I can’t wait to go sprint today,’ but it’s our job to make sure they’re excited about being in shape to win hockey games late.”
Vidmar laughed, and said he knew exactly what his coach was talking about.
Oh, man. That was so much easier than passing the puck around. We should just try to do that every time. pic.twitter.com/FbhXoMLjiG— Union Hockey (@Unionmhockey) December 3, 2017
“Getting through those Monday-Tuesday practices, it’s tough,” he said. “But we all know in the later parts of the game, we have the legs under us. We know that’s one way we can break teams down, by having the legs and working hard all week.”
Vidmar also said he knows the team still needs to work on its 60-minute game. The slow starts, he said, need to become a thing of the past in the second half of the season.
But if those slow starts mean dramatic finishes will be Union’s calling card, so be it. Vidmar certainly knows when to flip the switch.