FF Capsule Preview: Union
by Jashvina Shah/Staff Writer
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Resume: 30-6-4, ECAC Regular-Season champion, ECAC Tournament champion, East Regional champion
While Union still carries the “underdog” title to some, as a small school in New York, the Dutchmen are far from underdogs. This is the fourth NCAA tournament appearance in a row for the Dutchmen, and their second Frozen Four. Last season, Union defeated Boston College before falling to Quinnipiac in the East Regional.
The Dutchmen are on a 15-game unbeaten streak, and have won 14 of those games. Union is known for an explosive defensive corps, but don’t let the nation’s second-best offense fool you. The Dutchmen own a stellar defense and allow 2.05 goals per game. Union may be the only team in the Frozen Four that hasn’t won, but it’s one of the top ones left.
Spotlight On ...
This spotlight could be on just Shayne Gostisbehere, but he’s one of a few very talented Union defensemen. Gostisbehere’s speed and skill catches attention and the hype is deserved, but Union captain Mat Bodie is arguably the team’s top blueliner. Even though Gostisbehere and Bodie are two stellar defensemen, their defensive partners, Sebastien Gingras and Jeff Taylor, pull their weight.
Union’s defensive corps has an extreme amount of speed and is known for jumping in the play and contributing offensively. Bodie and Gostisbehere are Union’s highest-scoring defensemen with 35 and 29 points, respectively.
Nationally, Bodie’s 35 points ranks third among defensemen. Union is one of two teams in the nation that has two defensemen in the top-10 in scoring.
Thanks to the skill, speed and offensive numbers, it’s easy to look at Union’s defense as only an offensive unit. But they’re very good defensively too, and the Dutchmen have the nation’s fourth-best defense and allows 2.05 goals per game. Union is also trained to excel at shot blocking.
“[We’re] just trying to get into that shooting lane,” Mat Bodie said. “We work on that in practice, any time you can help Steve (goalie Colin Stevens) out it’s huge. Just a team effort and the boys really rallied around it.”
1. Three Straight
Union lost four of its top five leading scorers after last season, and they also lost their starting goalkeeper Troy Grosenick. Not many believed Union could repeat last year’s ECAC championship and NCAA tournament success.
Even with the departures, coach Rick Bennett fielded a Union team that topped last season’s. The team turned in eight more wins than last year and have a solid offensive and goalkeeping foundation.
After posting a 24-6-4 regular season record, the Dutchmen swept Dartmouth, defeated Cornell and beat a strong Colgate team to claim its third straight ECAC championship. Union is the third team to win three ECAC championships in a row, and the first to do so since 1977.
A bunch of players have stepped up, including Daniel Ciampini, Kevin Sullivan, Mike Vecchione and Max Novak. The Dutchmen have five players who’ve notched at least 30 points this season.
2. Shayne Gostisbehere playing goalkeeper
In Union’s win over Providence at the East Regional final, Gostisbehere made a few stops when Colin Stevens was out of position. The Dutchmen blocked a few shots in the game, and it shows what Union will do to win.
Before the East Regional Final, Bennett told his team, “It’s all about [heart].”
That’s how the team responded. It’s why Kevin Sullivan celebrated when he blocked a shot in the closing minutes of East Regional final.
“I think it’s very important,” senior Kevin Sullivan said. “That’s kind of an identity of our team. I think a lot of teams after games have come up to us and say you guys blocked a lot of shots, that’s really hard. It’s something we pride ourselves on.”
Union’s offense generally gets the most attention — especially since its defense has a few offensive-minded players — but those blocks show how good Union’s defense can be. And the Dutchmen are willing to do what it takes to win.
3. RPI-Union Brawl
This was a rough time of the season for the Dutchmen. They lost the Mayor’s Cup to RPI 2-1, and once the final whistle blew both teams entangled for a bench-clearing brawl. The coaches were involved too.
Several players — including head coach Rick Bennett — were suspended. Mat Bodie, Daniel Ciampini and Eli Lichtenwald also missed playing time because of the incident. The Dutchmen lost their next game, a 2-1 contest to St. Lawrence.
The brawl has been looked at as a blemish, and possibly one of the reasons Bennett didn’t earn the ECAC’s Coach of the Year award. It was a bad incident for both teams, but it’s important because of how Union responded to it.
The team acknowledged, the players who were suspended and Bennett, that they did something wrong. But they supported each other and their coach, left the brawl in the past and, after dropping the next game to St. Lawrence, the Dutchmen are on a 15-game unbeaten streak.
Players to Watch
1. Shayne Gostisbehere
There are too many talented, skilled players on Union’s roster to pick just three. But even though there’s a tremendous amount of hype around Gostisbehere, it’s well deserved.
Providence coach Nate Leaman joked before the East Regional Final that Gostisbehere, a defenseman, was one of Union’s best forwards. He looks like he’s a forward at times, as he’s very skilled and fast and can jump up in the play.
Last season, Gostisbehere was good offensively — he had 26 points and ranked sixth on the team in scoring. While he’s pitched in slightly more offensively this season, his defense has improved.
2. Daniel Carr
Last season, Daniel Carr was Union’s third leading scorer. He was the only in the team’s top five in scoring among those who returned this season. He’s taken over the scoring lead, posting 48 points this season. He’s notched a point in each of his last 10 games, and has 18 points (9g, 9a) over that span. He’s also the program's all-time Division I leading scorer.
His point production has been stellar for the Dutchmen but he’s also one of the team’s leaders. He’s an assistant captain and one of the first players asked to speak to the media.
Bennett said Carr is one of the players who works on his skills, even when it’s difficult. Last season Carr went to Boston to work on his skating, and Bennett said it’s one of the things that has improved this year.
3. Colin Stevens
When Colin Stevens was a freshman at Union, Troy Grosenick was the team’s starting netminder. Stevens saw 23 games in his first two seasons. This year, Stevens suffered an injury in the first game of the season against Bowling Green. He missed the next four games, and over that span Union struggled — going 1-2-1.
Since then, Stevens has played in all but three games. He’s turned into one of the better goalkeepers in the country and holds a .932 save percentage and has turned in six shutouts, including one in the ECAC championship game.
Defenseman Charlie Vasaturo said Stevens has spent extra time working with Union’s assistant coach Jason Tapp.
“Colin’s the anchor of everything. When he’s going, we’re going,” Gostisbehere said. “If he has a down night, which isn’t a lot, we’re there to pick him up. Right now when you have a hot goalie it’s a good thing in these tournaments like this.”