March 18, 2012 PRINT Bookmark and Share

A Star is Born

Welsh Named Tournament MVP, Lifts Union to First Title

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — One of the reasons Rick Bennett could not bring himself to leave Union last summer were the recruits he treasured and mentored. And few have had a bigger impact than junior center Jeremy Welsh.

Yet as integral to Union's success Welsh has been — all season and this weekend — he almost didn't come.

When Bennett was recruiting Jeremy Welsh, former head coach Nate Leaman was skeptical. But Bennett pushed for him and Leaman allowed his assistants the leeway.

"I give Nate a lot of credit — when it actually went down, for listening," Bennett said. "It's not easy for a head coach to give 100 percent full faith in a guy."

Welsh proved Bennett's faith to be well-placed. His attributes were apparent right away, but not just in his skill. Bennett recalled Welsh standing up on the bench, down 2-0 to Cornell in the 2010 ECAC championship game, imploring his teammates to step it up.

"As a freshman, it went through the whole group, and we realized how badly he wanted it, and he carried it through the whole team," Bennett said.

Those kinds of things carried over to the next two years, to the point where now, Welsh can lift his team to even bigger heights.

"That was raw passion coming out, but I've reached a level where I can let my play do the talking, and my play be the leadership."

All Welsh has done this season is break Mario-Valery Trebucco's single-season program goal record of 23. His two goals this weekend give him 25, and none were bigger than Saturday night's.

After controlling the game for two periods, Union found itself in a 1-0 hole early in the third. But just seconds after falling behind, Welsh and his line hopped off the bench for the next shift.

Welsh started a rush out of his own zone, and never stopped. Like a bull in a china shop, he marched into the Harvard end, hesitated, used the defender as a screen, and ripped a patented wrister through the legs of both the defender and goaltender Raphael Girard.

Tie game.

"A lot of it wasn't thinking, but we came out and I knew we had to get something going," Welsh said. "I got the puck and didn't look, just got my feet cranking up ice. I was fortunate it went in."

That play, however, was no fluke.

"My freshman year, that was my bread and butter. I worked on it a lot in practice," Welsh said. "I wait on my release wait for a line to open up for a shot. I have a quick release. You try to hide it from the goalies, that beats speed and accuracy all the time. So I held it for an extra second and put it through the d-man. I worked on it so much it was just instinct. I kind of blacked out — people were complimenting me on the goal, and I was asking what happened."

From there Union had everything going in its favor, and wouldn't be denied. Daniel Carr's rebound goal was the game winner, Josh Jooris added an empty netter, and Union had its first ECAC Tournament championship.

Welsh was named Tournament MVP.

"The guys saw tonight, and in this tournament, how special he is," Bennett said.

"Stick with the process, stay with our game, and that's what these guys did. That was a great individual effort and it really lifted our bench. ... Just keep sticking to our systems and it's going to come through."

Last season, Union won the regular season title for the first time, then lost a playoff series to last-place Colgate and its first-round NCAA game. The year before, was the championship game loss to Cornell.

"You need to lose to know how to win," Bennett said.

"It's great to win it for all the guys who laid the foundation for us to get here," Welsh said.

And the team rallied around each other when everyone was doubting them.

"We just found ways to get it done all year," Carr said. "I'm not going to say we coasted (last year), but ... this year we faced a little adversity, and learning how to finish games off the hard way, that really helped us down the stretch. Troy, the new coaching staff, and our leaders as well — they do a great job of making sure we're ready."

And so it's back to the NCAAs, probably to Bridgeport again, site of last year's loss to Minnesota-Duluth in the first round, and a chance to exorcise one more demon.

"As our trainer says, we're not going there to get a haircut," Bennett said. "It's something we're pretty fired up about. We have two trophies, we're going for three — that's our goal."

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