SCHENECTADY — Darion Hanson would rather be gloving hockey pucks for Union College.
Instead, there’s a chance he’ll be “slinging tacos while seeing all my friends who are playing college hockey,” for the next five weeks. Specifically, back at his place of employment at Rusty Taco in Maple Grove, just outside Minneapolis.
“I highly recommend it to anyone who comes to the great state of Minnesota,” Union’s starting goalie said with a laugh by phone on Monday afternoon.
Hanson and teammate Drew Blackmun left campus for the 18-hour drive home at 5 a.m. The next time Hanson gloves a puck in a real game, it’ll be in a different uniform, after he put his name in the NCAA transfer portal this weekend.
Because he wants to finish his undergraduate degree at Union in the spring, he eschewed one available option that would’ve put him back in a Dutchman jersey in 2021-22, choosing not to defer his last two trimesters to the next academic year.
Union announced last Tuesday that it was canceling the 2020-21 hockey season because of COVID-19 pandemic concerns, and since then at least three seniors have entered the portal, Hanson, Jack Adams and Josh Kosack.
Adams, a Detroit Red Wings draft pick projected to be the Dutchmen’s top goal scorer this season after missing all of his junior season with a knee injury, went in the portal with the idea of transferring to a school that is playing right now. He said he’ll announce on Tuesday where he’s going.
Hanson and Kosack will stay at Union to graduate, then explore transfer options with the extra year of eligibility they were granted because of the pandemic. Hanson, a political science major and regular member of the ECAC Hockey All-Academic team with pro hockey aspirations, will be looking for the best of both worlds when he makes his transfer decision next year.
“I considered all the options, really,” he said. “Just for me, though, my education’s really important. Transferring will let me work towards my master’s degree or whatever it may be and maybe get some athletic aid out of that, too. It just makes much more sense, and it’s intriguing, as well, just to test the waters and shake it up a little next year.”
“I want to be in a place where I can play. I don’t want to come in and feel like a fifth-year guy, I want to be in a spot where I’m playing games again. The other important thing is the specific master’s program, how the school is. The education piece is very important to this decision, and could probably end up being a deal-breaker. And I’d like to get scholarship money, too.”
As a sophomore, Hanson engaged in stiff competition with senior Jake Kupsky for the starter’s job early in the season before becoming the regular starter by the end of the year.
Last year, he started 36 of 37 games for a freshman-heavy team that averaged well under two goals a game, and became the first goalie in Union’s Division I history to total 1,000 saves in a season.
The Dutchmen won just eight games, but were looking forward to a 2020-21 season with a promising sophomore class and the return of Adams from his knee injury.
A quarterfinal series-deciding 2-1 loss at Yale, in which Hanson made 50 saves and the Dutchmen had a game-winning goal waved off in the second OT, will go down as his last game in a Union uniform.
“To look back and think that that was my last game at Union and I didn’t really know it, it’s just weird to think about,” he said. “In the theoretical world, it sucks that we would’ve won that game, and that always has stung.
“But I’m just trying to take it a day at a time now and figure out next steps. I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about that and get emotional about it. This week has been an absolute whirlwind. With COVID and everything, that’s how things work now, and if that was the last game, so be it.”
Besides the season being canceled, Union has been going through finals week.
Head coach Rick Bennett said Hanson never expressed any frustration last year while logging so many minutes in net and rarely getting any offensive support.
“Never said a peep,” Bennett said. “To me, he’s the ultimate team guy, and at the end of the year, we really appreciated that. It could’ve been very easy to sound off. He just buckled down and did more, did more work with [assistant coach] Jason Tapp. He got better, as evidenced by the playoffs and even before that.
“He brought a steady presence in the net. He was an excellent goaltender, and we’re going to miss him. When Darion spoke in the locker room, it meant something. Not only was he good hockey player, but he’s an excellent student, too. He had a voice in the locker room. If you want to be a leader on this team, you’ve got to bring it in both arenas. That’s in the classroom and on the ice.”
As gut-wrenching as the decision to cancel the season was for the seniors, Hanson said he agrees with it.
The Division III New England Hockey Conference, in which Skidmore is a member, announced Monday that it was canceling its season and championship tournament.
St. Lawrence, one of four ECACH teams trying to play in 2020-21, canceled games against Niagara last Friday and Sunday because of an outbreak on campus, and now is on pause for athletic activities.
The men’s hockey team has postponed four games against Clarkson that were scheduled in December and doesn’t have another game scheduled until Jan. 1, against Colgate.
“I agree with the school’s decision and don’t believe it’s the safest thing to try and force a season out of it,” Hanson said. “In my own personal perspective, it’s something I kind of expected.
“I’m sure it’s upsetting for a lot of people, and don’t get me wrong, it sucks that we’re not playing. It really does. Given the circumstances, I’m just kind of indifferent about it. The way the case numbers are going, I’ll be interested to see how the rest of the year pans out.”
Bennett, who has had one-on-one interviews with every player on the roster since the Tuesday announcement, said he’s confident that most of the players from the three underclasses will choose to stay.
Sophomore forward Liam Robertson is young enough that he was able to go back and sign with the Cobourg Cougars of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, which won’t preclude him from returning to play for Union next season. The OJHL is scheduled to begin in early January.
“They’re coming back,” Bennett said. “We were pretty excited about this [incoming] freshman class, too. Yikes. What we talk about now, I hope we talk about next September. From most of the conversations, the meetings were really positive. We got feedback from the guys, and the guys who come back in the winter, we’ll be ready to go for them and get after it on the ice.”
Union had been holding no-contact practices when the season was canceled, and will resume that.
During the winter and spring trimesters, Hanson said he’ll work out with strength and conditioning coach Dan Gabelman and take advantage of frequent ice time with goalie coach Bryan McDonald. He’s welcome at the team practices, of course, but expects the other goalies on the roster to get the reps in service to next season.
He can’t help but think about what the team would’ve looked like this season, with an already seasoned sophomore class that got plenty of ice time last year and Adams back.
“We battled through a lot of adversity last year, and towards the end we were starting to put it together a little more,” he said. “And we have guys coming in who can play. So, yeah, I was excited to see it. Especially our class, I think we wanted to prove something. It’s a shame we’ll never get to see that.
“It was an amazing experience at Union. I feel like the teams and groups of guys we had were great. We experienced it all, right? We had lots of success at certain points and, like, no success at others. It was a good learning experience, and I made a lot of lifelong friends. I love what Rick and coach [John] Ronan and Jason Tapp have done for me. It sucks that this is our senior year and our classmates aren’t going to finish it all together. But that’s how life works.
“At the end of the day, it’s not life or death. We’ll be alright.”