Defying the Odds
Grosenick, Union Put Together Another ECAC Regular-Season Title
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
After Union's magical run to the NCAA tournament last season, the first in a Division I history that dates back to 1991, the program seemed set up for an extended run that would etch it into the national consciousness for longer than just a one-year period.
Then everything changed. The team lost its All-American sophomore goaltender to the pros when Long Island native Keith Kinkaid signed with the New Jersey Devils.
Then the program lost the coach, Nate Leaman, who oversaw the transformation of the program into a national contender, when he left to take the same job at Providence.
Then a funny thing happened. Things didn't change all that much.
Credit can be handed out to a lot of areas. For one, the team had a sizable amount of talent returning. But beyond that, the replacements for the two aforementioned big losses — new coach Rick Bennett and goaltender Troy Grosenick — have excelled.
Bennett was actually the assistant under Leaman and he recruited most of the team, so that certainly helped the transition. Meanwhile, Grosenick, who sat on the bench most of last season, came back as a sophomore unsure of what would happen. Union was set to have a big-time recruit come in, but he became ineligible after it was discovered he played in some major junior games.
So the job was Grosenick's.
"The game is a business," Grosenick said. "When you're getting paid like the coaches in college hockey ... it was (Leaman’s) decision. He had to move on. We felt really confident that Coach Bennett would do a great job. Pretty much every one one of us has been recruited by him. We felt confident in him. I didn't see it as a great loss; we saw it as an opportunity.
"This team isn't last year's team. We've done a good job separating ourselves from that. But last year set the standards high for our program."
Good thing Bennett recruits character, because Grosenick fits right in.
Already a 22-year-old when the season started, the Wisconsin native boasts good size, at 6-foot-1, and is a strong student from a good background, on an off the ice.
"Staple No. 1 in recruiting is character," Bennett said. "I'm not going to say we passed on first- and second-round picks, but we passed on some guys because of character. And I feel like that locker room has to be sacred. ... I think he's learned a lot. And if you look at our sophomore class, he was going through some hardship last year when other guys had some instant success.
"It's his work ethic and his character. He carries it into the classroom. When you're doing that, you're playing hockey with a free mind, because you know you're taking care of school, and when you come through the door for hockey, you can just concentrate on that. It helps."
The season has some time to go. But the team, as a whole, the coach and Grosenick have already defied expectations. The Dutchmen recently clinched their second straight ECAC regular-season championship, and will likely go to the NCAA Tournament again.
"I didn't mind that. Being the underdog is good,” said Bennett. “It's good to prove people wrong. I use that as motivation. And the whole team has done a good job of doing that. With Nate Leaman and Keith leaving — with the great senior class leaving — everyone thought we might take a step back. But we went to work and we knew we were a good team."
Grosenick deflects credit to his teammates.
"The guys in front of me have done a great job. They're making the transition easy," he said. "They're real supportive of me, they're blocking shots — that's factored into making the transition.
"I was real confident that we had a great defense. I wasn't that surprised that we started out this season successful. ... Practicing with them every day, it wasn't much of a surprise."
The team seemed to especially come together during a road trip to vaunted Michigan on Thanksgiving weekend. Even better, the Dutchmen knocked off the Wolverines, 6-3. But even though he didn't play much last season, Grosenick believed he always fit in with everyone.
"It's one of those things that makes our team click," he said. "Everyone is part of the team. Everyone has a job. My job is to get as prepared as possible night in and night out. Some guys have jobs off the ice, too, like the captains, making sure everyone is going to class … and everyone has each other's back."
Grosenick, who owns a 1.64 goals-against average and .937 save percentage, said practicing together with Kinkaid made him better, and he hopes he pushed Kinkaid to higher success, too.
"I made it seem like his spot wasn't necessarily secure,” he said. “But even though we were competitors in practice, we were best friends off the ice."
Grosenick said he never really knew what would happen with Kinkaid, and he didn't ask him much about his plans. But clearly he had inklings, as everyone did.
"Troy saw the writing on the wall," Bennett said. "He had an excellent summer and came back in phenomenal shape.
"It's really tough to tell you what we expected when he played just one game last year. His makeup is hard work. Our goaltender coach, Jason Tapp, did a phenomenal job with Keith last year and he's carried it over."
Grosenick said his parents were the biggest influence in his mental outlook on the game, and, by turn, hockey itself.
"At this point, hockey is all mental. Being able to keep a flat line," Grosenick said. "You're never as good as people say you are and never as bad as people say you are. I just worry about the next thing you have to do. After a big win or tough loss, just move on. Think about what you have to do to be successful. It's a tough battle, because it's human nature to look back on mistakes.
"My parents definitely did a good job making sure I always stayed humble. And (junior) coach Mark Carlson did a good job explaining that to me as well."
His approach helps him thrive as a true student-athlete, studying managerial economics.
"It's challenging,” he said. “I do a good job managing course load. That's the thing about the culture at Union. Academics is No. 1 and hockey is 1-B. Playing college hockey has always been a dream of mine and I wanted to go to a good school. I wanted to set high standards for myself."
And now the expectations are being set to another, even higher, level.
If this season is any indication, Grosenick can count on fulfilling those one day as well.