SCHENECTADY — Josh Hauge struggled to fall asleep Tuesday night, which is quite understandable.
For the first-year Union College men’s hockey coach, it probably felt like Christmas Eve and dreaming of what presents were placed under the tree.
Wednesday afternoon at Messa Rink, Hauge got to unwrap his present in the form of conducting his first practice as a head coach. The Dutchmen started preparation for the 2022-23 college hockey season with a brisk workout.
Hauge, named the Dutchmen’s head coach in April after serving as an assistant coach at Clarkson, was thrilled to get things going, even if he was doing it on little sleep.
“[Tuesday] night was the first night in a while where I’ve had trouble sleeping,” Hauge said. “I was just so excited to get going here, and I think the guys have that feeling, too. I think it’s only going to ramp up as we get more and more ready.”
The players are ready.
“This is the best time of year,” Dutchmen senior forward Owen Farris said. “You look forward to coming back and seeing everyone, [and] have the opportunity to build something again this year and build under a new head coach. Hopefully, [it] marks the beginning of his legacy. I’m really excited for everything we have here.”
“Obviously everybody’s super excited,” said senior goalie and Hudson Falls native Connor Murphy. “We have a lot of new guys in the program, so I can tell just by being in the locker room that they’re pumped to get going. We’ve been skating as a team without the coaches for a week now. Everybody seems to be pretty dialed in already, which is a good sign. But as for the returners, everybody’s excited to get back to it and get back to doing what we normally do here.”
Union opens the season Oct. 1 against RIT at Messa. With the season starting in just over three weeks, time is of the essence in terms of getting work done during practices. The Dutchmen are limited in how many hours they can practice before their first game, so it will be important to concentrate on getting their systems perfected.
“We have four hours a week where we can be on the ice with them, so some days, we’ll go 45 minutes so we can get five days in and have that fifth day be an hour,” Hauge said. “Some weeks. we’ll go an hour and just have four days, so it just kind of depends on each week. There’s a lot to go over. But early on here, we’re just going to hit on habits and details, and just make sure our compete [is there].”
The players have been working on some of the systems Hauge wants to use during their player-run workouts.
“It’s good to see,” said Murphy, who went 14-18-3 with a 2.66 goals-against average, a .919 save percentage and three shutouts last season. “I think it’s really important to see guys that are dialed in for those skates because the coaches aren’t watching, so it could be easy to get off topic a little bit and be a little bit lazy sometimes. But I think everybody did a really good job of dialing it in for the skates that we had, even though there were no coaches out there. So it was promising.”
Competition for playing time will be fierce. With 33 players on the roster, Hauge has plenty of depth.
“I hope everybody’s battling right away here because nobody’s going to be given a free pass,” the head coach said. “Everyone’s going to have to come in and earn it. Obviously, some guys have a track record and history and might get thrown into a spot, but they’re going to have to hold on to that position right away. We want guys fighting for everything they get.”
Hauge will lean on assistant coach John Ronan’s knowledge of the returning players. Ronan took over the team on an interim basis last season after former head coach Rick Bennett’s resignation on Jan. 28.
“We’ll definitely rely on John,” Hauge said. “He’s going to work with the forwards, and he’s going to have a big say in the [line] combinations. But I think early on here, we’re going to shuffle the deck quite a bit and see if there’s any chemistry and, yeah, I think every day here this first week, lines will change.”