Vecchione Off to Hobey-Like Start
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
To say Union's Mike Vecchione had the biggest struggle of his collegiate career last year would be an understatment. His totals of nine goals and 19 points were the worst of his otherwise stellar three years at Union, a career that started with him being a member of the 2014 national championship team.
This year, however, he seems to be making up for lost time, leading the nation in both goals (14) and points (24).
"Last year I was a little banged up and not 100 percent," Vecchione said. "I was playing pretty timid. I felt like I was getting scoring chances but not burying them. This year, just being fully healthy, I have just kind of relaxed this year and realized I have a little more time than I think I did. I have just been making plays and fortunately they have been going in."
Bursting on the scene in 2013-14, he had a stellar rookie year (14-20—34) and was an integral part of Union's national title run. It put him on the map as one of the better players in the country. He followed that up with a 50-point season his sophomore year playing on a line with Daniel Carr.
"(Recovering from last season) was huge," Vecchione said. "I worked all summer on the little things that I felt would help my game."
For all his offensive talents, the other end was a struggle at times. With the way Union plays, it is highly important to play both ends.
"It (defensive end) is a very important part of my game," Vecchione said. "I am just trying to keep my game as balanced as possible. Like coach (Rick Bennett) says, it always starts in the defensive zone. A lot of our goals start off a great defensive zone stop. I certainly consider myself a two-way kind of guy and it is something I always try to work on."
The Dutchmen, as a team, struggled over the last two years to develop any rhythm in their own zone. They've been a decent offensive team all along, but inconsistencies at the other end brought about a struggle.
"I felt last season we spent a lot more time in the D-zone," Vecchione said. "It hurt my point production. We have really stressed that the defensive zone is the key to our game. If we can get the puck out of our own zone as quickly as possible we will be playing offense."
This season, although not great, both Vecchione and Union have improved in creating offense from its defense.
Union was picked for the middle of the pack this season, and it has not yet been able to get back to the lofty heights it achieved in a great run of years at the beginning of the decade. But Vecchione and Union look like the real deal right now, taking advantage of an ECAC that's up for grabs. Union is off to a 4-0-0 start in league play, with a sweep of rival RPI and wins over Yale and Brown.
Over the weekend, Vecchione had another stellar pair of games. He scored four times, including a hat trick on Friday against Yale, and he collected a total of seven points. In the hat trick, he had two shorthanded scores.
His 14 goals is five better than the next-best player. His 24 points also leads the nation by six over his linemate, Spencer Foo, and eight over Notre Dame's Anders Bjork.
Why might his goal-scoring pace fall off? Well a 31-percent shooting percentage is highly unlikely to continue over the entirety of the season. He has 14 goals on just 44 shots this season. But then again, he does have one of the better shots in the ECAC, if not the best. So it is possible.
"I feel like if we can continue to do what we are doing, the pace should continue," Vecchione said. "I just feel if we stay positive, keep working the puck down low and keep grinding out the defensemen, that we will keep getting these chances.
"That is a pretty high percentage, though. I honestly hope that continues but if it doesn't, hopefully my linemates and teammates are able to pick me up."
In college hockey, increases in production over four seasons is a normal occurrence. Unless there is a big drop in talent around the player, this is usually the case. But if this keeps up, there will be talk of Vecchione as a Hobey candidate.
The Dutchmen have also scored the most goals in college hockey, with 45. The line of Vecchione, Foo and Sebastian Vidmar have combined for 25 of those.
"Vidmar and foo have been phenomenal finding me in places, drawing attention to them and hitting me in the right spots," Vecchione said. "I think it has just been a real good collective effort with the line we have and the chemistry we have."
Said Bennett, "When they keep it simple, they have the skill, the speed and the strength to win one on one battles. To me that is the game of hockey. When they are on their game, they are keeping it simple. They are effective."
Vidmar, in particularly, has made a big jump this season. The sophomore from Sweden has already surpassed his point total from last season with 16 in 11 games. It seems as though all three of the top-line skaters for the Dutchmen have progressed this season.
"I have never played with a player as good as Mike," Vidmar said. "Both Veccs and Foo are really fast, so they kind of dictate the pace. They force you to play at that pace. It is tremendous to play with them, because wherever they are they kind find you and both are able to find the spots. They also create a lot of space.
"Playing on a line with Foo and Veccs has been great, but this season has been a big step for me from last year. I stayed and trained in Texas during the summer and it paid off for me."
The success of all three hinges on each other, and the success of Union hinges on the line, led by Vecchione.