Union freshman Pontarelli makes a big impact as a late addition

PHILADELPHIA — Entering this season, Union forward Michael Pontarelli was anticipating the chance to get back to another championship game.

He’s in a good position to do so this weekend — only it might not be the one he was expecting.

Pontarelli joined the Dutchmen a year early after junior Josh Jooris signed a professional contract with Calgary on July 30, 2013.

“It was an absolute surprise,” Pontarelli said. “I was committed to going back to playing another year of juniors. I was trying to decide between the USHL or going back to the [Cornwall Colts]. I had just won a championship and I wanted to go back.”

But there wasn’t much hesitation when Union asked him to come to school ahead of schedule.

“It was a pretty quick process,” said Pontarelli, who had 52 goals with Cornwall and was named the Central Canada Hockey League’s most valuable player, in addition to being recognized as the top player in all of Canadian Junior A hockey.

“[There was] no hesitation. I said yes right away. … Within a week or two, I was on campus.”

The offense has always been there, but Pontarelli said he’s worked on improving his defense as well as adapting to the speed of college hockey.

“Everybody is really good,” Pontarelli said. “It’s not like juniors were you’ll be able to pick out a defenseman that you can beat.”

While Union coach Rick Bennett said Jooris and Pontarelli are two different players, there wasn’t much of a dropoff in production. Pontarelli has 23 points this season, compared to 28 for Jooris last season.

“I’m not going to sit here and say that was an easy choice,” Bennett said. “We talked about [it with] the staff. But when you’re a [top] player of all of Canada, I think it makes it a little easier. [Assistant coaches] Jason Tapp and Joe Dumais did a phenomenal job in that recruiting process. Michael was willing to come. He wanted to come, and just made it easy.”