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College Hockey:
Goaltending experience has Union looking to continue rise

Last year

Union had one of its best seasons ever last year, setting a team Division I record for wins (21) and advancing to the ECAC Hockey semifinals for the first time. The win total was the most in program history since 1984-85, when the Dutchmen finished third in the nation in the D-III playoffs. The successes came thanks to eight winning streaks of varying lengths and only three losing skids, none longer than three games.

Senior Mario Valery-Trabucco led the team in goals (23) and points (45), but four other players chipped in with double-digit goals as well, three of whom (Adam Presizniuk, Kelly Zajac and Jeremy Welsh) are back for more.

Coach Nate Leaman, who Union opportunistically signed to a contract extension this offseason, also had two solid goalies in the stable in now-senior Corey Milan (2.06 goals-against average, .917 save percentage) and sophomore Keith Kinkaid (2.48/.912).

The assets

Without question, this year’s Dutchmen look strongest where it matters most: between the pipes.

“I would probably have to say goaltending,” Leaman said of his team’s biggest strength. “I feel that we’re very solid in net, returning two goaltenders who have played a great deal.”

Up front, Union faces a challenge to replace Valery-Trabucco, Jason Walters (16-24–40) and the offensive production of blueliner Mike Schreiber (8-21–29).

“I think our depth at the forward position will be similar to last season,” Leaman said. “I don’t know if we have one guy that’s going to completely carry us, like we did with Mario last year; certainly Adam Presizniuk has that capability and has shown throughout his career as he consistently puts up 30 points a year, but I think our depth and our lines … are going to be one of our strengths.

“We have a lot of leadership on this team. We have six senior forwards and a senior defenseman, so I really like the leadership and the character that we have within our team. I think the only difference is that Mario was really a go-to guy last year; he scored 19 goals in 22 ECAC games, and we won’t have that one kind of gun.”

The weak links

The more tangible issues have already been addressed, in how Union will have to replace the talented offensive abilities that left campus with a sheepskin last spring. But beyond that, Leaman is greatly concerned with the mental and emotional demands of his squad.

“The greatest concern is, I think, getting back to the form that we’ve been in the past two years, and playing with a lot of detail in our game,” he said, and not letting the lingering enjoyment of last year’s success potentially spoil this year’s opportunity.

Prediction

There are questions, to be sure, but I am confident that Union is indeed a program on the rise. If Presizniuk & Co. can pot the biscuit with some consistency, the wins should pile up the same as last year. The Dutchmen no longer bear the weight of postseason failures … the time to capitalize is now.


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