Union’s Stevens playing well again

Union goalie Colin Stevens has turned his season around
Union goalie Colin Stevens thanks fans after helping the Dutchmen beat Minnesota to win the NCAA Frozen Four title in Philadelphia April 12. Stevens has been inconsistent this season, but is playing better at the right time.
Union goalie Colin Stevens thanks fans after helping the Dutchmen beat Minnesota to win the NCAA Frozen Four title in Philadelphia April 12. Stevens has been inconsistent this season, but is playing better at the right time.

Everything seemed to go right for Union goalie Colin Stevens last season.

After backing up Troy Grosenick in his first two years, all Stevens did in his first season as the Dutchmen’s No. 1 goalie was backstop the Dutchmen to a third ECAC Hockey regular-season title in four years, a third straight ECACH tournament championship, capture the Ken Dryden Award as ECACH’s top goalie, get named a first-team All-America and, the biggest prize, winning an NCAA title.

After that, it seemed like Stevens’ senior year would be a breeze. However, it has been far from that.

It has been an up-and-down campaign for the Niskayuna native, one that has seen him pulled from several games and rotate starts with sophomore Alex Sakellaropoulos. But Stevens has turned his game around at the right time for the Dutchmen. After sweeping seventh-seeded Cornell in the first round of the ECACH tournament, the 10th-seeded Dutchmen (18-16-2) take on top-seeded Quinnipiac (21-9-4) in the best-of-three quarterfinals starting Friday in Hamden, Conn.

“I think every year is frustrating,” Stevens said. “Sometimes, things aren’t going your way. I think it says more about you [on] how you react when things are going that way.”

The season started just fine for Stevens. He opened 5-0, allowing just five goals. He had a shutout against Maine on Oct. 17. Stevens appeared ready for the start of league play.

But in the Dutchmen’s 6-1 loss at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Halloween night, Stevens allowed four goals before getting pulled. He would play in the next two games, but lost in overtime to RPI and Dartmouth.

Stevens found himself on the bench the next two contests as Sakellaropoulos got the starts. That would start a confounding pattern for Stevens — start some games, get pulled if he gave up several goals and then not get starts.

Stevens was pulled from games six times this season, just twice because of his or the team’s performance. He was replaced by Sakellaropoulos in the Oct. 18 game at Maine because the Dutchmen were in full control of their 5-2 win. Stevens left after the second period of a Dec. 6 game at Brown because he suffered a lower-body injury.

Last season, Stevens left two games, for injury in the season opener against Bowling Green and against Penn State when he allowed three goals.

The last time Stevens got pulled was Feb. 7 against St. Lawrence after the Dutchmen fell behind, 3-0, early in the second period. Union would lose, 7-1. Stevens’ goals-against average was 2.71, and his save percentage was .909. His record was 11-9.

The loss to the Saints was an example of the Dutchmen not playing well in front of him. The Saints had too many odd-man rushes in that game.

“Obviously, no one likes letting in goals as a goalie,” Union sophomore defenseman Jeff Taylor said. “But he kept working hard. He has an unbelievable work ethic. We knew he was going to come around. We had no doubt in him at all.”

Stevens knew he needed to get better. He also realized that he couldn’t let the frustration get to him.

“It starts in practice, and off the ice, stuff like that,” Stevens said. “You make sure you’re tracking every puck in practice. Just doing the little things. Eventually, it’ll come back and everything clicks.”

Since that St. Lawrence game, everything is clicking for Stevens.

He has started eight straight contests and has stopped 197 of 209 shots for a .943 save percentage. On Tuesday, he was named ECACH goalie of the week after stopping 57 shots in the sweep of Cornell. That included a 29-save shutout in Saturday’s 7-0 win.

Stevens has lowered his GAA to 2.33, and his save percentage is up to .919.

“He’s calm in the net,” said Union assistant coach Jason Tapp, who was a goalie for Boston University. “He’s making things look easy. It comes with the confidence. I think he lost his confidence for a little bit. He’s in a good groove now, and he’s feeling confident about his game.

“It’s a tough position to play when you’re a little unsure about yourself. Right now, he’s feeling great about himself, and you can see it in the net.”

Stevens’ senior season can be compared to what Grosenick went through in his junior season in 2012-13. The previous year was Grosenick’s first as a starter. Like Stevens, Grosenick won the Dryden Award and was an All-America as the Dutchmen won the ECACH regular-season and tournament titles on their way to making the Frozen Four for the first time.

Grosenick had his struggles for most of the 2012-13, when Stevens was a sophomore and the No. 2 goalie. But when it was time for the postseason, Grosenick was on his game. Union won its second straight ECACH tournament title and came within a game of making a second straight trip to the Frozen Four. Grosenick gave up his senior season to sign with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.

“It’s just a little more sense of awareness,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “He’s putting in more time with coach Tapp. I think we’re just trying to get through a hurdle. He’s more focused on playing his game than outside sources. It’s just something you have to go through.

“What happened to Troy Grosenick that year? I don’t have any explanations. I think you just have to go through it. There’s a lot that goes on, especially from that position. That’s the hardest position to play. You’re going to have to go through the ups and downs of people’s expectations. I’m just happy with just the way he’s rebounded and the way he’s playing right now.”

Stevens is happy he has rediscovered his game. He’s hoping that it will last into April again.

“Playing more helps you get into a rhythm,” Stevens said. “It’s, obviously, better to do that than switch off. That’s definitely something that’s helped me get into a rhythm.”

Categories: College Sports

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