Scarfo Helps Union Soldier On
Ryan Scarfo is the prototypical Union player under Rick Bennett. The senior has worked his way through the ranks, paid his dues and is now getting a shot to take a more prominent role.
"Ryan, has always been a top-6 forward for us," Bennett said. "This year, I think it has all come together for him. He is a tough matchup for a lot of teams because he has speed, an excellent shot and he is one the few kids in college hockey I have seen this year that for what he has offensively, he finishes hits with the best of them. I just think it is tough for teams to match that."
Although it always seemed like he would make the jump and be among the elite Dutchmen forwards, last year he struggled to gain a prominent role in an offense that was dominated by a top line that included Spencer Foo and Mike Vecchione. Last season, his five goals and 14 points were the lowest marks of his career.
"One of the big things, is that there is a little more opportunity this year," Scarfo said. "I had a good summer of work. In a sense, last year kind of motivated of me because I didn't have the year that I wanted to and I wanted to come back strong. It is my last year and I need to give it my all. Doesn't go without saying, however, I have great teammates around me."
Of course, losing Vecchione and Foo lowered expectations of Union. Those two combined for 55 goals and 125 points, while Vecchione was also a Hobey Hat Trick member. But with departure comes opportunity, and Scarfo has taken the ball and run with it. He has chipped in with 15 goals and 27 points, both of which are third in the ECAC.
"After the guys left last year, his role became more prominent," said Bennett. "I thought he went through a lot of ups and downs last year, but he battled through it and is getting rewarded for his hardwork over the summer."
Scarfo has also been a member of the leadership group for three seasons, which is a rarity in college hockey.
"It is my third year as the assistant captain, so I have a lot of experience with that," Scarfo said. "I like helping the younger guys and the other guys of the leadership group as much as I can."
Over the years, Bennett has replaced players well and rebuilt his program on multiple occasions. Although he preaches the defensive side, he often finds that player who emerges with big point totals right when the void seems biggest.
After Jeremy Welsh left in 2011-12 following a 27-goal season, Wayne Simpson and others shouldered the load. In 2013-14, after Simpson left, Daniel Carr and Daniel Ciampini scored a combined 45 goals in a year that culminated with Union winning the national Title. After Carr left, Ciampini and Vecchione had a combined 100 points and 45 goals the next season. Foo also stepped up in recent years to continue the trend.
It is never a given that a kid from just north of Boston would go to Union either, but it is a decision that Scarfo has loved every minute of.
"I really didn't know about Union until a friend of mine told me about it," said Scarfo. "The coaches staff really liked me and they sort of found me before anyone else found me. The atmosphere at Union is just awesome. Anyone that has come to a game would know how packed it is and the fans are awesome.
"I really enjoy the small school envionment. I went to a small high school and this is a bigger-scaled version. They found me and I have really like my time here."
Continuing the season in a rough ECAC is never easy, but the trends say it may just get better. In an important road weekend against Yale and Brown last week, Scarfo scored three times and added an assist. Union will need weekends like that if it looks to keep an up and down season going in the right direction Despite an 0-5 start to the season, Union has risen above .500 and sits a surprising third in the ECAC, behind Cornell and Clarkson.
"The schedule has kind of created up-and-down moments throughout the season," Bennett said. "It may sound like a bunch of excuses, but it is a fact that it often times creates an up-and-down nature to the season. We, as a staff, are not disappointed at all at where we stand today."
After the 0-5 start, Union went 9-1-1, with the only loss coming to Clarkson. There was an impressive win and tie at North Dakota in November, as well.
"(Going to North Dakota) was a good experience for the guys on our team," said Scarfo. "They play a different type of hockey out there and it was an exciting place to be."
The Dutchmen then lost five of six in a stretch that spanned the break, which culminated with another loss to Clarkson in which Bennett implored his team to bring a better effort. They have since won three straight.
It wasn't just the departures of Vecchione and Foo that had the possibility of hurting Union. Nick DeSimone's surprising departure also had the chance to make an even bigger hit.
"We have never really focussed on losses," said Bennett. "But the loss of Nick was our biggest loss because how important defense is. He was a great defenseman for us and losing him early kind of threw the plans a bit."
There was also the fact that Union needed to find a new starting goaltender. Jake Kupsky and freshman Darion Hanson have stepped into the position and have done well in it. Union's defense allows less than three a game (2.70) and is 19th in the country.
As a result, Union is right in the mix in the ECAC race.
"Our staff has really liked the development of the first year guys," Bennett said. "It has kind of led to us being where we are today. Are we a finished product? No, but it is coming day by day."