Younger players will get a chance to help keep Union at the top

Daniel Ciampini scored 23 goals last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

In a busy offseason for Union, the only spot where coach Rick Bennett could get a break was on the golf course.

The only problem? Bennett’s not a good golfer.

“I’ll say the quietest spot has been on the golf course and I stink at golf,” he said. “It’s the one time that you can actually put your phone away for a few hours and just totally get away.”

Bennett won’t mind having to find an escape again this summer if it means the same result for the Dutchmen, who beat Minnesota 7-4 last April to win the program’s first national championship.

If Union becomes the first team to win a national title in back-to-back seasons since Denver did in 2004 and 2005, it’ll have to do so without several contributors from last year.

Gone are defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere and Mat Bodie, along with forwards Daniel Carr, Kevin Sullivan and Mat Hatch.

Each played a large role last season. Gostisbehere got the headlines for his electrifying play, but Bodie was an exceptional two-way player in his own right, while Carr was Union’s all-time Division I scoring leader and a solid penalty killer.

But the Dutchmen return plenty from last year’s team, including goalie Colin Stevens and 23-goal scorer Daniel Ciampini, ECAC Hockey’s top returning scorer. Still, several incoming freshmen and returning underclassmen will need to fill important roles if Union is going to make it to the NCAA tournament for a fifth straight season.

“We’re going to be a bit younger this season,” Bennett said, while adding that this season was a chance for many underclassmen to take the initiative and take over important roles.

Several players who could take that step include sophomore forwards Eli Lichtenwald, Mike Vecchione and Michael Pontarelli. Sophomore defenseman Jeff Taylor spent much of last season paired with Gostisbehere, and was drafted by Pittsburgh in seventh round of the NHL draft in June.

“The best example I can give is Dan Carr,” Bennett said, referencing the career year Carr had last season without forwards Josh Jooris and Jeremy Welsh, each of whom left early to sign a professional contract the previous two offseasons. “He took it upon himself to say, ‘You know what, those guys I played with were excellent hockey players, but now it’s my time.'”

About the Dutchmen

2013-14 overall record: 32-6-4

2013-14 ECAC Hockey record: 18-3-1 (first)

2014-15 predicted finish: Second in both the coaches and media polls

Key losses: F Dan Carr, F Kevin Sullivan, F Matt Hatch, D Mat Bodie, D Shayne Gostisbehere

Players to watch: F Daniel Ciampini, F Mike Vecchione, F Michael Pontarelli, F Max Novak, D Jeff Taylor, D Charlie Vasaturo, G Colin Stevens

Impact rookies: F Ryan Scarfo, F Kevin Shier, D Connor Light

Why the Dutchmen will finish higher than predicted: Bennett and his staff are able to seamlessly integrate freshmen into key spots in the lineup, while the returning underclassmen fill the void left by graduation and Gostisbehere’s early departure.

Why the Dutchmen will finish lower than predicted: Union’s inexperience shows. The forwards miss having playmakers Bodie and Gostisbehere in the Dutchmen’s transition game.