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April 1, 2014 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

CHN Coach of the Year: Rick Bennett

CHN Staff Report

Rick Bennett, who led Union to its second Frozen Four in three years, was named CHN Coach of the Year.

Union has a 30-6-4 record heading into next week's Frozen Four, coming off a 3-1 win in the East Regional final against Providence. Since starting the season 3-3-2, the Dutchmen are 27-3-2.

Union won the ECAC regular-season championship, then won the ECAC tournament for the third straight year, something that hasn't been done since 1977. Those three years coincide with Bennett's three years as head coach.

Bennett was suspended four games mid-season for a post-game on-ice incident against Rensselaer, when he took a swing at opposing coach Seth Appert. The Dutchmen lost the next game too, with Bennett and two players suspended, but haven't lost since, a span of 15 games.

Commentary

by Adam Wodon

Perhaps you can't forget, perhaps you can't even forgive. But it's possible to move past Rick Bennett's mid-season post-game meltdown and suspension, and recognize him for the job he's done at Union.

Even without the suspension, there's plenty of room for debate. There are so many good coaches and players in college hockey, that it's splitting hairs on who to give awards to. But we do it because it's fun and gives everyone something to talk about.

Our staff was split on who should win. Don Lucia at Minnesota and Jerry York at Boston College, just to name two, have done oustanding jobs with their teams this year. So has Dave Hakstol at North Dakota. All of them are going to the Frozen Four. All have cajoled their teams to get there in various ways. None of them has been suspended. ... And none has won a regular-season and conference tournament championship on the way to getting there.

As the Managing Editor and Publisher, I broke the tie, deciding that, just as with my Hobey votes in recent years, Bennett's season should just be judged on how he did his job.

If people believe "The Incident" disqualifies him, then I understand. I'm not here to change anyone's mind. I'm just telling you my reasons.

We all make mistakes. It's easy to stand at a distance and judge Rick Bennett, but it's another thing to see Union play a dozen times and speak to Bennett face to face, as I have, and to see what he's all about. And to hear from his players, his bosses, the ECAC administration and fellow coaches, is to get a better picture too. What happened that January day was an anomoly. A bad one, but just one. There are many stories of the "old days" of coaches, ones we revere today, before the Internet age.

I also know he went through a lengthy press conference the next day, standing up to it, and answering every question with humilty — something not many other coaches in the same position have ever done.

So I judged him on his season. Bennett stepped away from Nate Leaman's shadow three years ago, and went even farther from there. The list of former assistants who have done that is very small. He also has a great staff, with Joe Dumais as the tactical mastermind of the offense, and Jason Tapp bringing along three consecutive standout goalies without missing a beat — Keith Kinkaid, Troy Grosenick and now Colin Stevens.

Union's rags to riches story has been hashed over a million times, and doesn't need to be addressed again. But the fact remains, Minnesota has 14 NHL Draft picks, North Dakota has 15, Boston College 10 — and Union has one. Sustaining excellence is harder for Union, but it's not just a Cinderella, it is a legitimate Top 3 team. Bennett and his staff took the Dutchmen through a series of ups and downs — an early-season sweep at the hands of Lake Superior State, a terrible loss to Colgate that left the coach fuming at his players, and the suspension — and guided them to the Frozen Four.

In the end, it's just an award. We never promised to be the morality police too.

What I know is, he did an outstanding job coaching his team this season.

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