It was a tough inaugural season for Union coach Nate Leaman in 2003-04. He saw his team jump out to one of the best records in the country only to go on an extended losing streak that sucked the life out of its early momentum.
And while the Dutchmen did win seven of their last 11 regular-season games, their campaign was done in by that two-month 0-10-2 skid.
“We could beat anybody,” Leaman says about his club’s fortunes, “but we could also get beat by anybody.
“I thought our [physical] strength was really poor. We saw it in the third periods and in one-on-one battles. It was also obvious in stick battles. When you are fighting for the puck, a lot of it has to do with stick strength. Getting a new weight room for the team this summer was important for us.”
The ongoing personnel issues didn’t help the Dutchmen’s cause last season, either.
“We’re closer to being on the same page now,” Leaman explains about his staff and his players, “but we’re not completely there yet. The difference is guys know what to expect coming in this year; certainly more than last year.
“I want a team committed to a championship both on and off the ice.”
With such lofty goals, Leaman is clearly setting the bar high for his club. The Dutchmen will need to improve at both ends of the ice in order to make such success a reality, but the bench boss is confident that the program is moving in the right direction.
“We added a lot of depth and mobility,” says Leaman. “Down the stretch we had only one line scoring. Now we have more speed, skill and depth up front. It should take the focus off guys on the first line to score.
“We need to get more balance. Championship teams have third-liners who score seven goals. That’s what makes good teams.”
To that end, Union needs more consistent results from its go-to guys, including Joel Beal (8-19-27), Scott Seney (13-8-21), Jordan Webb (13-17-30), Jonathan Poirier (9-18-27) and Jason Visser (11-5-16).
Leaman will also be looking for contributions — over time — from rookie forwards Josh Coyle, Torren Delforte, Casey Ftorek, Sam Bowles and Jake Schwan, as well as three defensemen that he has high hopes for: Phil McDavitt, Michael Beynon and Skyler Berman.
“Our leadership is good,” says the coach with a confidence that is more evident in his second season behind the bench. “I think we’re a more complete team. I feel much more comfortable now.”
With his team picked near the bottom again in the preseason coaches poll, the former Harvard assistant is a believer that in the ECACHL nothing is ever set in stone.
“It’s a battle in our league every day,” he said. “It’s what separates our league from all the others. The preseason polls don’t mean anything because the margin of error is often a post, a bounce or a penalty.”
Union will be put to the test right away as it opens its season at No. 14 Colorado College.
“We’re very excited to get started,” Leaman says. “We have a tough challenge with CC, especially to go out on the big sheet [of ice]. We’ll go after it right away.”