Former Union College men’s hockey coach Rick Bennett will be back behind the bench in the fall.
The expansion Savannah Ghost Pirates, who will begin play in the ECHL in October, named Bennett their head coach on Thursday.
In a phone interview Thursday evening from Savannah, Georgia, Bennett said Wil Nichol, director of scouting for the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, who will have an affiliation with the Ghost Pirates, reached out to him to see what he was doing,”
“‘I’m a free agent,'” Bennett said he told Nichol. “Before you knew it, I was out in Vegas. I met with everybody. I was offered the job here in Savannah, and I accepted. It was a pretty seamless transition. Everything just played its course.”
Bennett was the head coach of the Dutchmen for 11 seasons and led them to a national championship in 2014. He guided them to a 192-133-45 record and two NCAA hockey tournament Frozen Four appearances.
Bennett resigned as head coach Jan. 28 after a school investigation into his coaching practices. He had been placed on paid administrative leave eight days before that.
Bennett is familiar with the ECHL. He played in the league from 1996-99. He was with the Jacksonville Lizard Kings from 1996-98, serving as a player-assistant coach in 1997-98. He moved to the Pee Dee Pride for his final two seasons and served as a player-assistant coach there, too.
Being head coach in the minor pros will be different than being a college head coach.
“You’re dealing with a lot more agents than we ever did when I was at Union,” Bennett said. “That’s going to be interesting. Watching about 10 games, the game is just like it is at the NHL and AHL [levels]. It’s just faster than college. It’s gotten faster. The players are so good. You have to find the right mix.”
Bennett declined to discuss if there was a specific incident that led to his resignation. He did say he is feeling good.
“Honestly, it was a breath of fresh air,” Bennett said. “I can’t even begin to say how many great people I have met in my time at Union. I have no regrets whatsoever. I had a blast. It was a great time. It was time for me to move on, and that’s exactly what I did.
“I want to leave on a good note. That’s how I’m leaving it. I’m sure some day it will come out. Quite honestly, I don’t care if it does. It’s not going to come from me. It was time. It was probably a couple of years late, to be honest, with the COVID stuff and not playing [in 2020-21]. It was a good break for everybody.”
The Ghost Pirates aren’t scheduled to face the Adirondack Thunder next season.