Dutchmen not afraid of pressure
A Seat In The Bleachers
You have to love any hockey media day at which Bobby Orr’s name is invoked.
Let us know when you’re ready, guys, and in the meantime, Union College took to the ice for the annual team photo wearing new uniforms on Monday afternoon.
Goalie Troy Grosenick said the material is a little lighter, but, based on last season, you’d think that the white shirts with the garnet and black trim would be weighing heavily on the Dutchmen.
As they head into their second season under head coach Rick Bennett, the Dutchmen have massive expectations on their shoulders, and they spent much of Monday’s media day shrugging off those expectations without much difficulty.
Yes, the small private school from Schenectady made it to the Frozen Four last year.
Yes, Union was picked No. 5 in the first USCHO.com poll, the highest rank the school has achieved in the preseason in 22 Division I seasons.
Yes, they’re supposed to win the ECAC Hockey League again.
No, all of this has not gone to their heads.
“I don’t take the pressure as a bad thing,” Bennett said. “There’s the pressure talking, and anytime you have that pressure, it means you have a chance to win. I’ll take that pressure.”
“It was addressed,” senior forward Kyle Bodie said. “We talked about it briefly and put it behind us. The added pressure usually comes from guys away from the rink who aren’t around us all the time.”
“I think our team does a great job of realizing that nothing is given to you,” Grosenick said. “Everyone in the room is mature enough to know that, just because it happened once, it’s not going to automatically happen again.”
Because nothing is given to you, you have to take it when it’s in front of you.
Union did that when it went to Bridgeport for the NCAA East Region last year, beating UMass-Lowell and Michigan State to reach the Frozen Four in very unfrozen Tampa, Fla.
The year before that, the Dutchmen, admittedly, went into the regional without the firmest belief that they would win.
Having been there, they truly believed they’d win it last season.
Transfer that scenario one step higher, to the Frozen Four, and you’re left with a 3-1 loss to Ferris State in the semifinals.
And a team that will perhaps have a different approach if it is fortunate enough to get back to the Frozen Four again.
“The whole experience was just a big learning curve for us,” junior forward Daniel Carr said. “Some guys went in there a little starstruck by the whole experience and all the media around, the big rink, the national coverage, where everyone’s there and everyone’s watching. I think we learned what that’s like and that you have to deal with it a different way than we did last year.”
“As far as being starstruck, that has something to do with it,” Bennett said. “Sometimes, you’ve got to lose to win. I think we proved that. A couple of years ago, we were in the ECAC final game versus Cornell and got beat. I think we were a little starstruck there.
“The first NCAA game we played a couple of years ago down at Bridgeport, a little starstruck, and we got beat. You go back a second time, and you get there. So you know what? Experience is a great teacher, and hopefully, our guys are going to learn from that.”
Bennett said the big question mark heading into last season was “the first-year coach and the goaltending.”
“At least Troy backed it up, so we’re all set there,” he said with a laugh.
Now, the question is compensating for the loss of Jeremy Welsh and Kelly Zajac, no small burden.
Welsh left after his junior season, in which he set a school record with 27 goals, for the Carolina Hurricanes, and Zajac, the Dutchmen’s best defensive forward and by far their leading assist man, graduated.
They’ll be relying on a good freshman class to help, and have a tremendous offensive defenseman in sophomore Shayne Gostisbehere, who will “keep it simple when he needs to, and when he needs to put on his Bobby Orr act at times, that’s his time,” Bennett said.
“We’re going to have to get to the hard areas and maybe not score as many pretty goals, but get a few more hard-working ones,” Carr said. “I think we’ll be fine, but it’s going to take work.”
Winning two more games may not seem like much, but the Dutchmen view the gap between reaching the Frozen Four and actually winning the thing as a vast chasm.
And they’re OK with that.
It comes with the territory, an area they have shouldered their way into and don’t appear to be leaving anytime soon.
“At the end of the day, the reason we’re all here is to win a national championship,” Bodie said. “That doesn’t change from year to year. We have Merrimack on Saturday, and that’s all that matters.”