Union's New Expectations
Bennett, Dutchmen Move on From Frozen Four Run
by Joshua Seguin/CHN Writer
Tiny Union College, in upstate Schenectady, N.Y., is coming off a banner year in which it won its ECAC tournament title and made the program’s first Frozen Four. With success comes unprecedented expectations’ coming into the new season.
Hard work is a key attribute to making it advancing in the NCAA tournament. Every Union shift, last season, was a clinic on outworking the opponent. One of the major effects that a successful season can have on a team is complacency.
"One of the easiest things to do when you are successful is to get complacent," said Union Coach Rick Bennett. "To regain that success the key for the coaching staff is to curve it."
Despite not fulfilling all of their goals last season, mainly winning the program’s first national title, the experience gained by the players is one that will be useful for the program going forward.
"It was incredible to be a part of that,” said Union defenseman Mat Bodie. "We learned how hard and how long it took us to get there and how much we need to work in order to get back."
Getting back and going further is exactly what Union has in mind. A strong nucleus of players will return for the Dutchmen, but, as with most successful college hockey programs, players come and go. Teams that replace these players and have players step into new roles remain successful for years to come.
"We have a bunch of players that will need to step up for us,” said Bennett. "We will work by committee and use depth to move us forward. We don’t replace these guys we lost; we just have to move on."
"We don’t replace these guys,” said Bodie. "Other guys on our team will have to step up and seize new roles."
Union has many players that can seize bigger roles. The Dutchmen will return six players on defense that have game experience including Bodie and sophomore Shayne Gostisbehere who were a combined +36 last season. Despite losing Nolan Julseth-White to graduation, the defense will again be the cornerstone of the team as the returning experience on the blue line will rival any team in college hockey coming into the season.
"The six defensemen and goaltender will be our strength again this year especially early," said Bennett. "Until we figure out line combos and our forwards these so called ‘sacred seven’ will need to be our most important guys on the ice."
A strong five-man defensive game is important to the success of the Dutchmen. Last season it became a strong point. It is something that is preached by the coaching staff and captains.
"We need to continue our work as a five-man unit,” said Bodie. "When we have a breakdown we know (goaltender Troy Grosenick) will be there to bail us out. Our forwards are really good defensively for us and help us defensemen out a lot."
Last season the Dutchmen sported the top defense in college hockey allowing a meager 1.83 goals per game. Defense was key to that but goaltender Troy Grosenick also molded himself into one of the best in the country. He allowed a slim 1.65 goals per game in 35 appearances for the Dutchmen.
"This is a big year for Troy, and it is definitely in him to do it again," said Bennett. "His work ethic is great and if he continues to work he can easily repeat last season."
Defense was the strong position for the Dutchmen last season, but the offense was also rated sixth in the nation. Despite losing their top two point getters, Jeremy Welsh and Kelly Zajac, Union will return their next 14 top scorers.
Returning players, such as Daniel Carr, Wayne Simpson, Kyle Bodie and Josh Jooris, will be asked to equal or eclipse their production of last season. All three of these players had 30 or more points last season and should lead the way offensively this season, but Union prides itself on the depth to roll four effective lines throughout a game.
With this combination of depth on offense and defense, Union should be in it for the long haul; just ask former coach Nate Leaman, who left before last season to take a job at Providence:
"I was really happy to see their success last year," said Leaman. "Rick Bennett is a really good coach and he did an exceptional job with those guys. It won’t be a one year thing for them. That program will be really good for a long time under Rick Bennett."
Expectations may be high coming into the season but expectations do not always lead to success in college hockey.
"People know who we are now," said Mat Bodie. "We are excited to get back at it, but the college game is such a short season. We need to strive for hard work to get us back to where we want to be."
If college hockey fans had never heard of Union before the spring it wouldn't be a surprise, but now they know them. The expectations after a Frozen Four year are high, but Union may be in the best position to repeat the performance, as long as the expectations don’t get to them.