Union finding change in structure, players buying in, equals success

Union coach Rick Bennett (Union Athletics)
Union coach Rick Bennett has the Dutchmen off to a 6-2-1 start this season (photo: Union Athletics).

It’s been an interesting couple of years for Union.

Three years ago, the Dutchmen dominated opponents en route to the program’s first national championship.

In the two seasons since, Union has gone 32-32-11, and has been on the road for the first round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs each year. That’s a far cry from the four straight NCAA appearances the Dutchmen made prior to that stretch, including the 2014 national title year.

But Union is off to a 6-2-1 start this season, despite a loss to Holy Cross Tuesday night. The Dutchmen swept a home-and-home series with rival Rensselaer last weekend. The Engineers entered the weekend on a 6-1 run against Union.

“We’ve switched it up a little bit, the structure some of the things we’ve done the first five years as a coaching staff we’ve changed,” Union coach Rick Bennett said following Saturday’s win.

“We kind of went back our first year together and just worried about ourselves. To me, especially at this level, you can make some small adjustments when playing other teams, but we’re really focused on getting better ourselves. I think the past few years we kind of lost fact of that and I think these guys have bought right in from the get-go.”

Union’s record could be even better if not for a late meltdown on the road against Sacred Heart last month. The Dutchmen led 4-2 in the third, but gave up to quick goals and settled for a 4-4 tie.

An early hot start is no guarantee of success, and the Dutchmen know that firsthand. Union started 5-0 the season after its national title, but then endured a six-game winless drought.

This year’s Union team looks to have the scoring depth necessary to compete. Senior Mike Vecchione leads the country with ten goals after scoring nine last season, while linemates Spencer Foo and Sebastian Vidmar are each averaging over a point per-game.

The line of Ryan Scarfo, Eli Licthenwald and Michael Pontarelli skated together for the first time this season against RPI last weekend, something Bennett said was done to provide balance to the lineup. The trio accounted for three goals in the two games against the Engineers.

In goal, senior Alex Alex Sakellaropoulos had a .948 save percentage in two games against the Engineers, but he and sophomore Jake Kupsky had combined for a .896 save percentage entering Tuesday’s game against Holy Cross.

The weekend sweep of RPI not only marked a turn in fortune against Union’s rival, but came at a time when the school honored an important contributor to the hockey program.

Saturday’s game was Bill Fox Night at Messa Rink, in honor of Union alumnus Bill Fox, who was a former executive for the Garnet Blades, a club founded to support Union hockey.

“He was a great friend. One of the nicest things about Bill Fox was the fact that he did a lot for a lot of people and never asked for anything,” Bennett said. “Very rarely in life do you see that and Bill kind of taught me a very good lesson with that.”

Wolverines no match for Buffalo

Dartmouth goalie Devin Buffalo has only started five games in his collegiate career.

But he’s been able to do something not many NCAA goalies have succeeded at the last several years: shutting down Michigan.

The Big Green junior made 22 saves in Dartmouth’s 3-2 season-opening win over Michigan Saturday. The Wolverines led the country in scoring last season, and entered last weekend averaging over three goals per game.

Dartmouth won the game on Troy Crema’s goal with 49 seconds remaining in regulation, giving the Big Green its first win over the Wolverines since 1971.

It’s not the first time Buffalo has had success against Michigan in his brief career. He made his first NCAA start last Nov. 28 in a 1-1 tie at Yost Arena. Prior to the start of the season, Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet recalled the confidence Buffalo showed prior to the game.

“I told him at about two or three o’clock in the afternoon that he was playing,” Gaudet said. “I asked him if he was ready and he said, ‘I’ve been ready for this my whole life.'”

Spano getting his chance for Yale

Yale is one of many ECAC Hockey teams that entered the season with questions in goal, thanks to the early departure of Alex Lyon last offseason.

Patrick Spano started and made 23 saves in the Bulldogs’ 4-1 season-opening win over Sacred Heart Saturday. The senior was impressive in limited spurts playing behind Lyon over the last three years and entered the season as the only goalie on Yale’s roster with any collegiate experience.

Bulldogs coach Keith Allain, who played goalie for the school during his collegiate career, told the New Haven Register he wasn’t sure if he could sit for three years like Spano did.

Freshman Corbin Kaczperski and sophomore Sam Tucker are also on the roster should Spano falter. Regardless of who is in goal, the Bulldogs will be played with a revamped defense this season following the graduation of three starters and an injury to junior Nate Repensky, which is career-ending, according to the Register.

Around the league

• Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold won his 450th career game Friday against the University of Massachusetts. Pecknold has coached the Bobcats since 1994.

• It’s been a rough start for a young Colgate team, but the Raiders picked up their first win of the year Saturday against Maine. The win was also the first in the history of the Class of 1965 Arena. Goalie Charlie Finn’s glove save in the second period against the Black Bears was named the top play of the week in NCAA Hockey.

• Clarkson’s Jordan Boucher was named the league’s player of the week, while Colgate’s Bobby McCann (rookie) and Union’s Alex Sakellaropoulos (goalie) were honored with the other weekly awards. Boucher had a hat trick in a loss to Wisconsin Saturday. It was the first hat trick by a Golden Knights player in over three years.


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