SCHENECTADY — When news broke Friday afternoon that Union men’s hockey coach Rick Bennett resigned after 11 years as head coach and 17 years with the program overall, it hit many of his former players hard.
Many of those players were recruited by Bennett. Several players talked to The Daily Gazette to express themselves by telephone and text messages about Bennett’s resignation and what he meant to them both on and off the ice, and after graduating.
Here are some of those thoughts.
Vecchione, a forward, is the program’s all-time leading scorer with 176 points from 2013-17. He was a Hobey Baker Award hat trick finalist in 2017. He helped the Dutchmen win the 2014 NCAA title.
“Yeah I’ve been hearing and reading about the allegations and it’s just sad to see a coach like Rick have to resign. First off, I’d like to say it was an honor to have played for Rick Bennett. He helped me grow as a person, student, player, and leader. Without him as my coach, I don’t think I would have been as successful at the collegiate or pro level. During my time there, I never had a problem with his coaching style or practices. He’s a fierce competitor who wants to get the best out of his players.
“He reminded guys, especially me, to never get complacent because that type of attitude is contagious and would bring down a team so he instilled a work ethic in us that we all certainly needed. We never had the most talented team, but we sure had that will to compete on a nightly basis and it worked. We outworked teams, we won and we had a lot of fun doing it. That type of mindset came from Rick and his leadership. Nothing in life comes easy, so we had to work for everything on and off the ice, and look what he managed to do during his time as our head coach; we won every college hockey trophy there was to offer. I lived out so many childhood dreams playing for Rick, and I can’t thank him enough for everything he did for me, the program, and the community.”
Julseth-White, a defenseman, played 100 games for the Dutchmen from 2008-12. He was the team captain for their first Frozen Four team.
“He molded young men, and I can go on the record saying I’d be half the man I am today had I not played under coach Bennett. I owe a lot to that man, and I feel for him.
“[He was] a very significant influence on my life. I entered Union College from the BC Hockey League, and I played two games my freshman year. That was not easy. But it was coach Bennett on the ice with me every morning, one-on-one, making me a better player, a better student and a better person, and that ultimately led to a successful senior season, I believe, our first Frozen Four appearance. And that momentum somewhat carried on to 2014.
And ever since I graduated, I talked to coach Bennett quite frequently. He’s always reaching out — Merry Christmas, hope you’re doing well, congrats on this, congrats on that — and he’s doing that with everybody. Hundreds of alumni, he reaches out to and keeps them engaged because he cares.
“At the end of the day, he cares about his players, and he wants the best for them. And he gives you the shirt off his back.”
Matheson was a defenseman who played 141 games for the Dutchmen from 2007-11. He was the team captain when they won their first ECAC Hockey regular season title.
“He meant everything. It’s been an emotional afternoon, to be honest. I just think back to me coming on to campus years ago as a freshman, and just the time and effort and care he put into me to develop me as an individual, I don’t think anybody cared more about that program and the individuals that came through that locker room than he did.”
“I think he was an incredible coach and an incredible human being. And, you know, I think whatever he decides to do next and wherever he lands, he’s going to be a tremendous addition. He built that program, brick by brick by brick, along with coach [Nate] Leaman as well, but he was really the individual that built that culture and ultimately won that national championship.”
Zajac was a forward for the Dutchmen from 2008-12. He’s the program’s fourth all-time leading scorer with 128 points. Zajac led the team in scoring in 2010-11 with 42 points.
“He’s a guy who recruited me to come to Union when I was 19 years old out of the BCHL. Just an awesome, awesome coach, a mentor, a great friend that you still keep in contact with. Just a coach that pushes you to strive to be better every day on and off the ice. He always relayed the message student-athlete, student being first and athlete coming second. He’s a guy who expected a lot. He’s fair, he’s honest, and just was one of those coaches that you would list as a player’s coach. Always had an open-door policy, just someone you could always rely on. And he’s a friend, that’s how I would put it. I still keep in contact with him all the time. And he’s one of those coaches that when you’re done playing your four years, he’s remaining in contact with you every other month. Just someone I care about a lot who helped me in my career.”
Cooke was a forward who played for Union from 2005-09. He served as a co-captain his final two seasons. Cook collected 77 points in 141 games.
“He was like a father figure for me when I was in school. He took me under his wing when I got there [and] was responsible for my development in a lot of ways on and off the ice. Today is a pretty sad day for a lot of us alums.”