SCHENECTADY — Defenseman Vas Kolias’ time at the interview table was done Wednesday afternoon, so he stood up and said to his teammate waiting in the wings, “Get in there, Hanny.”
And stay in there.
Union College men’s hockey coach Rick Bennett and his staff have wrestled with a difficult choice of goalies all season, until now, when it finally is a no-brainer.
How long it remains such rests almost entirely on the shoulders of sophomore Darion Hanson, who is the hottest player in the Union lineup and has the hardware to show for it, having won the ECAC Hockey goalie of the month for November, during which he won two goalie of the week awards.
These honors were based on Hanson having posted the best save percentage (.972) and goals-against average (0.97) in the NCAA for November. His 2-0-1 record over that stretch shows a tie, but even that ultimately turned into a Union victory, and Hanson had a big part in it, slamming the door on Yale’s Joe Snively in the third and final round of a shootout at the Friendship Four tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He made two of what Bennett called “Grant Fuhr saves” in the closing minutes of the Dutchmen’s 2-1 win over Boston University the next night.
The Dutchmen still have another solid, accomplished goalie in senior Jake Kupsky, but until Hanson throws in a clunker, Hanson and Kupsky are “1A and 1B,” respectively, as the coach said. For the first time this season, Bennett hasn’t had to hedge when asked about the goalie choice heading into Friday night’s game at Brown.
“If Darion Hanson is goalie of the month in our league, I think that’s a pretty good indication that he’ll be starting there on Friday night,” Bennett said with a chuckle.
Having two good goalies each playing well is a strong position for the Dutchmen (3-3-0 ECACH, 8-3-2 overall) to be in; having one goalie playing spectacularly is a stronger one.
And that’s what Hanson has been, while having given up just one goal in each of the last three games.
That includes a 5-1 win at Quinnipiac, which now is in first place in the conference and is ranked three spots above Union in both national polls. In Belfast, Hanson made a total of 70 saves in two games, with 39 in the 2-1 win over BU for the Belpot championship.
Among those was a toe save on the right post with under five minutes to play and Union nursing a 2-1 victory. The Terriers’ Bobo Carpenter skated around traffic for a low sweeping backhander at an open net and raised his stick in celebration, but Hanson, who had lost his own stick, extended his right leg pad to block the puck before it could slip inside the post.
“He was lights out,” Kolias said. “It was awesome to watch. I haven’t met a guy more deserving. He works hard all the time. He’s always putting in those extra reps. Everyone sees it in Ireland and says, ‘Wow, what a game.’ Well, we’ve seen it in practice. We know what he’s capable of, and it was really cool to see it all come together.”
“He’s been consistent throughout his game,” Bennett said. “I like the rebound control. I like how he let’s say kills plays, and what I mean by that is if we’re scrambling in our defensive zone or our PK [penalty kill], he’s able to get a stop on the puck. That allows us to change, and, to me, that’s another lost art in hockey, is being able to have some composure and your goalie identifies when your team needs that puck stopped.”
“Confidence goes a long way for goalies,” Hanson said of the tournament. “In the first game, I was able to get eight to 10 shots under me before any of the goals went in, and then Yale didn’t get one until the third. You get a couple saves under your belt, you feel confident and then you get all the jitters out of the way.
“I got lucky a couple times with pucks going off the post and some big blocks by some of our forwards that I feel would’ve been goals had they not. And our ‘D’ made some big plays that allowed the results to be what they were. But I’m not complaining, you know?”
No one in the Union locker room expects Kupsky, who is 4-2-1 this season, to complain.
But if Hanson continues his sharp play, it will be difficult for Kupsky, a senior who is just one of three NHL draft picks on the roster, to get in the net.
For the season, in an almost equal number of games, Kupsky’s save percentage (.891) and GAA (2.69) don’t stack up against Hanson’s .943 and 1.81, numbers that came way down after the last three games.
Bennett has said all along he would prefer that one or the other takes command of the position and, for the time being, Hanson has done that. In the meantime, Kupsky has gone about his job with professionalism and a positive attitude, as evidenced by his support of Hanson and the rest of the Dutchmen while not getting any ice time in Northern Ireland.
“I mean, how long does that keep up? Who knows?” Bennett said with a rueful chuckle. “He is a senior, and last time I checked, you only get one senior year, so, yeah, I’m sure he’ll want to get as many looks as he can, and I’m sure he wants to experience the afterlife of professional hockey after. But, again, he’s had a good attitude this week, he’s worked really hard and he’s looked really good in practice, which has only helped our practices.
“This is not an ‘I’m sorry’ business. I like Jake Kupsky. I like [third-stringer] Joe Young. They bring a lot to our program. But Darion Hanson is in the driver’s seat today. Now, if he has a great game on Friday, it makes it an easy decision. If he doesn’t, he’s smart enough to know. He’s smart enough to know what could happen.”
“They’re both great options,” Kolias said. “Hanny’s hot right now. He’s making great saves, he’s giving us a chance every night. But I have complete and total faith in both of them. We have a great situation.”
“You kind of take it as it comes, right?” Hanson said. “Whether you’re in the net or not or playing well or not. For me, it’s been a good stretch, but you also have to remember there’s still four months left in the year, so it’s about maintaining that focus.”
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.
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