Rick Bennett doesn’t have to look too far back to remember when the Union Dutchmen were not among the ECAC Hockey elite.
“I came in [before the 2005-06 season]. We went .500 that year and it felt like we won the Stanley Cup,” said Bennett, the head coach in his first season at Union after two years as assistant coach and five years as associate head coach for the Dutchmen. “You can definitely see there’s a lot more talent here, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to win games.
“The point we’ve been trying to stress is that we have to work harder, whether we have more talent or less talent,” Bennett added.
Last season, Union enjoyed its best winning percentage in its Division I history (dating to 1991-92). After seasons of 19, 21 and 26 wins, there’s no reason not to expect the Dutchmen to contend for a league title and a national tournament bid once again, especially with seven of its top 10 scorers from 2010-11 back. The coaches liked them so much they gave them the second spot in the preseason poll.
“I’ll let the polls be the polls,” Bennett said. “The polls don’t play, and that’s not a bad thing.”
It’s never easy to lose an Adam Presizniuk, a program cornerstone from 2007 to 2011, nor the goaltender of the year in Keith Kinkaid (a late cut from New Jersey Devils training camp, he’ll start out in Albany this year).
However, with Kelly Zajac, Jeremy Welsh and Daniel Carr combining for 114 points last year, Bennett likes the potential of his group. And it is his group.
“I have to look in the mirror every day because I had a hand in every kid coming into that locker room through recruiting. I like that aspect,” he said. “You never know how your team will perform until you get into the heat of the battle. The transition in practice has been smooth. They’ve worked hard and done everything we’ve asked.”
A young but developing D corps (Nolan Julseth-White is the only senior with significant experience last year) could also be a strength for the Dutchmen in their quest for ECAC dominance.
About the Dutchmen
2010-11 overall record: 26-10-4
2010-11 ECAC record: 17-3-2 (first)
2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): Second
Key losses: G Keith Kinkaid, F Adam Presizniuk, D Brock Matheson, F John Simpson
Players to watch: Senior F Kelly Zajac, junior F Jeremy Welsh, sophomore F Daniel Carr, sophomore D Mat Bodie, junior D Greg Coburn
Impact rookie: F Daniel Ciampini
Why the Dutchmen will finish higher than the coaches poll: Every player will step up for new coach Rick Bennett and to make up for loss of goaltender of the year Kinkaid.
Why the Dutchmen will finish lower than the coaches poll: If green goaltenders don’t work out, that’ll put too much pressure on an only slightly more experienced defensive corps.