Last season’s national title defense started out with little warning of what was to come for Union. The Dutchmen began the year 5-0 but ended it in 10th place in ECAC Hockey, the school’s worst finish since the 2008-09 season.
Union struggled on defense at times but also had problems scoring goals — the Dutchmen were shut out by their opponents for three consecutive games in February.
That inconsistency plagued Union for most of the year following its undefeated start, but the Dutchmen swept the final regular season weekend and then had a strong showing in the league playoffs, sweeping Cornell before taking top-seeded Quinnipiac to three games in the quarterfinals.
“It’s going to be a different type of squad this year than in previous years,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “I think we have a lot of youth but that has created a lot of energy based on what we’ve seen so far.”
Bennett’s assessment is validated when looking at the breakdown of the Dutchmen’s roster. Union has nine freshmen and seven sophomores. Along with the returning upperclassman, they’ll be tasked with replacing several important players, including starting goalie Colin Stevens, leading scorer Daniel Ciampini and captain and defenseman Charlie Vasaturo. All three graduated in the spring.
The biggest question might be in goal, as Union returns 50-point scorer Mike Vecchione and a number of other players that should be solid contributors, including defenseman Jeff Taylor and forwards Matt Wilkins, Ryan Scarfo and Michael Pontarelli.
Bennett wasn’t tipping his hand as to who had the inside track for the starting goaltending job. Junior Alex Sakellaropoulos pushed Stevens for playing time last season, while freshmen Jake Kupsky and Joe Young should compete for minutes as well.
“It’s a three-way battle,” Bennett said of his goaltending competition. “It’s a good thing but at the same time it’s the old theory of the ‘if you have three quarterbacks you have none’ trick. We’re just going to have to wait and see who develops.”
19-18-2, 8-13-1 (10th) in ECAC Hockey. Lost to Quinnipiac in the quarterfinals of the ECAC playoffs.
Names to know
Vecchione was one of the league’s top forwards last season, while classmates Pontarelli and Eli Lichtenwald are looking to bounce back after disappointing sophomore seasons. Scarfo and Spencer Foo each had double-digit goals as freshmen, while Taylor can move the puck from the blue line. Bennett said incoming freshman forwards Cole Maier, Brett Supinski, Sebastian Vidmar and Ryan Walker have looked impressive so far.
1. Can the defense be better? The Dutchmen missed Mat Bodie and Shayne Gostisbehere last season.
2. Who replaces Colin Stevens in net?
3. How will the offense replace Ciampini, who finished tied for second in the nation in goals?
Union doesn’t crack the upper echelon of the standings in what should be a talented top half of the league but gets home ice in the first round of the playoffs.