Union men’s hockey assistant coach John Ronan was thrown into a difficult situation in January when the college placed head coach Rick Bennett on a paid leave of absence Jan. 20 as it investigated a complaint about his coaching style.
Eight days after being named the acting head coach, Ronan became the interim head coach when Bennett resigned. Ronan had to try and stabilize a team that was trying to find its identity after sitting out the 2020-21 season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
A late-season four-game winless streak nearly cost the Dutchmen home ice for the first round of the ECAC Hockey tournament. But the Dutchmen won their final two games of the regular season to secure home ice. They swept Princeton in two games in the first round before giving Clarkson all it could handle in the quarterfinals in Potsdam before losing twice in overtime. Union went 8-8-1 under Ronan.
Ronan deserved a shot at becoming the permanent head coach. But the school hired Clarkson assistant coach Josh Hauge to take over the program.
No one would have blamed Ronan if he decided to leave. And no one would have blamed Hauge if he decided to look for new assistant coaches.
Hauge is looking for one assistant coach after TJ Manastersky was recently named head coach of Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. But Hauge won’t be replacing Ronan.
Hauge confirmed Monday that Ronan will remain with the Dutchmen as an assistant coach.
“Right away, we got along with each other,” Hauge said in a telephone interview. “He knew I respected what he did last year. I spoke with the players, and they really valued their relationship with him. I thought it was important that we work together if he wanted to be here. Just after spending some time together, I think there was a level of comfort. We just felt that we could make it work.”
Hauge will lean on Ronan for his expertise on the returning players.
“We want to give everybody a fresh start,” Hauge said. “But you have a history. You have some guys who have performed in certain situations, and some guys like to maybe play on their off wing. I think he’ll provide really valuable insight on the guys. He knows them better than me right now. But at the same point, I think we’re going to be a coaching staff that [will] bounce ideas off each other. I’m looking forward to what he can bring for us.”
Ronan first joined Union as a volunteer assistant coach in the 2013-14 season and was part of the Dutchmen’s national championship. After working as an assistant coach at the junior and college levels, Ronan returned to Union as a full-time assistant coach in 2016 following the departure of Joe Dumais to Quinnipiac.
Ronan declined an interview request from The Daily Gazette, but did issue a statement through the sports information department, saying, “I am grateful and excited to continue coaching at Union. We have a great group of guys in the locker room, and I’m looking forward to getting back on the ice with them in the fall.”
Hauge said he hopes to have Manastersky’s replacement on board by July 1.
“I’m not in a huge hurry in the sense that, me and John can kind of handle recruiting right now,” Hauge said. “Having somebody in by July [is key] so we can get on the same page as a staff and be ready to go for September.”
Hauge is pretty much done recruiting for players for the 2022-23 season. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t looking for that diamond in the rough.
“We’re always looking to add if we can,” Hauge said. “But at this point, our focus has sort of shifted to the 23[-24] class. If the right player were to pop up, we’ll always look at it. But I’m really pleased with where we’re at, and the guys that we have verbally committed and excited to get them.”
So which game on the Union 2022-23 schedule is Hauge excited about? Is it the season opener against RIT on Oct. 1 at Messa Rink at Achilles Center, which marks his debut as the Dutchmen head coach? Or is it when the Dutchmen visit his old stomping grounds, Clarkson, on Nov. 4?
It was an easy answer — the season opener.
“I just think it’ll be exciting to play at home for that first one and get things, hopefully, on the right track,” Hauge said. “Obviously, it’ll be special to go back to Clarkson. But at the end of the day, it’s just another league game.”
Oct. 1, which falls on a Saturday this year, is the first official day that college teams can have formal practices, but teams can have individual skill sessions in September. Most teams usually schedule an exhibition game on the first Saturday before beginning the regular season.
Hauge decided not only to open the regular season on Oct. 1, the Dutchmen will visit Army West Point the next day.
“You’re given a little bit of a framework of a schedule, and you’ve got to sort of make do with what you have,” Hauge said. “But I do like the fact that we can get right into it. I think there’s going to be a lot of energy and excitement with the guys with a kind of a fresh start and a fresh change, so let’s just try to hit the ground running right away.”
Union will be tested early. Nine of the first 12 games are on the road. Included in that stretch are four games against Hockey East opponents. Union visits UConn Oct. 7-8. The Huskies reached the Hockey East tournament championship game for the first time in program history, losing in overtime to UMass. The Minutemen, who won the 2021 NCAA title, will host the Dutchmen Oct. 21-22.
“I think it’ll be challenging,” Hauge said. “We’re going to some tough, tough places to play, but again, it’ll be exciting. There’s nothing better than trying to build a team [and] get on the road and just spend some time together and play some hockey.”
Other schedule highlights:
— Union and RPI will meet in the traditional ECACH home-and-home series to start conference play Oct. 28 at Houston Field House and Oct. 29 at Messa Rink.
— The Capital District Mayor’s Cup game will take place Jan. 28 at MVP Arena.
— Hauge’s return to Clarkson won’t be the only reunion game on the schedule.
The Dutchmen host Northeastern on Dec. 3. Dutchmen goalie Connor Murphy will face his former team. The Hudson Falls native spent two years at Northeastern before transferring to Union following the 2020-21 season.
“I think that’s one he’ll have like a little star by for him,” Hauge said. “But … it’s not Connor Murphy versus Northeastern. It’s Union versus Northeastern, and we’ll be ready to go for him. I think that the group’s pretty excited that Murph is going to be back. They’ll compete really hard for him, and it’ll be a fun game.”
That game will end a three-week break for Union. The Dutchmen will play Nov. 12 against Harvard and then prepare for final exams for the first trimester.
“I think it’ll be nice to have that [break] and get recharged after finals and you know, have a little stretch run before we get into the second half,” Hauge said.
— There will be other reunion matchups with former Dutchmen who transferred to ECAC-rival schools. Union will face Collin Graf and Quinnipiac Dec. 10 in Hamden, Connecticut and Feb. 24 at Messa. The Dutchmen will see Gabriel Seger and Cornell Jan. 6 in Ithaca and Feb. 4 at Messa.
— The Dutchmen will attempt to play New Year’s Eve when they host New Hampshire as part of a two-game series against the Wildcats. The teams will also play on Dec. 30 at Messa. Union was scheduled to host UMass on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day this past season, but the games were canceled because of COVID-19 protocols.
— Union will not make any trips outside of the Northeast. The farthest West it goes will be to Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena to face RIT on Oct. 15.
Home games in CAPS
e-denotes ECAC Hockey game
1 — RIT; 2 — at Army West Point; 7 — at Connecticut; 8 — at Connecticut; 13 — BENTLEY; 15 — vs. RIT at Blue Cross Arena, Rochester; 21 — at UMass, 22 — at UMass; e-28 — at RPI; e-29 — RPI.
e-4 — at Clarkson; e-5 — at St. Lawrence; e-11 — DARTMOUTH; e-12 — HARVARD.
3 — NORTHEASTERN; e-9 — at Princeton; e-10 — at Quinnipiac; 30 — NEW HAMPSHIRE; 31 — NEW HAMPSHIRE
e-6 — CORNELL; e-7 — COLGATE; e-13 — at Brown; e-14 at Yale; e-20 — ST. LAWRENCE; e-21 — CLARKSON; 28 — vs. RPI in Capital District Mayor’s Cup at MVP Arena.
e-3 — at Colgate; e-4 at Cornell; e-10 — YALE; e-11 — BROWN; e-17 — at Harvard; e-18 — at Dartmouth; e-24 — QUINNIPIAC; e-25 — PRINCETON.
NIETO TO WILKES
Another Union player who entered the transfer portal has found a home.
Goalie Garrett Nieto has committed to Division III Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The team is coached by former Union player and Guilderland native Tyler Hynes.
Nieto played in three games this past season, going 0-1-1 with a 4.18 goals-against average. The final game he played in was in relief of Murphy in the 8-2 loss at Clarkson on Jan. 15 in Potsdam.
That leaves forward Gleb Murtizan as the only former Union player left in the transfer portal.