Opening Faceoff: One year later, Bennett is looking ahead, not back

FILE - Union College men's hockey head coach Rick Bennett applauds during the trophy presentation at the 2014 NCAA hockey tournament championship game.
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FILE - Union College men's hockey head coach Rick Bennett applauds during the trophy presentation at the 2014 NCAA hockey tournament championship game.

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Rick Bennett sounded happy and content. He doesn’t think about what happened one year ago.

Saturday marks the one-year anniversary of Bennett’s resignation as Union College men’s hockey coach. He had been placed on administrative leave by the school eight days earlier after the athletic department received an anonymous email complaining of Bennett’s coaching style. The subsequent investigation substantiated those complaints. The resignation came a day before the Mayor’s Cup game between Union and RPI.

Bennett wasn’t out of a job for long. He was named head coach of the ECHL’s newest team, the Savannah Ghost Pirates. The team is 11-20-7-0 for 29 points. The Ghost Pirates are in last place in the seven-team South Division.

Ken Schott - Opening FaceoffBennett compiled a 192-133-45 record in 11 seasons as Union’s head coach. He won three ECAC Hockey regular-season titles, three consecutive ECACH tournament titles and took the Dutchmen to four NCAA tournament appearances. The Dutchmen reached the Frozen Four in 2012 and 2014, winning the national title in 2014.

Before that, Bennett was the team’s assistant/associate head coach for six seasons under head coach Nate Leaman.

I spoke with Bennett last week as the Ghost Pirates were returning from the ECHL All-Star break. After he resigned from Union, he said he was at peace with the decision. That hasn’t changed.

“I mentioned this before, I always wanted to try the pro game,” Bennett said. “And if not for what I went through, I probably still be there [at Union]. I’m grateful that it kind of happened the way it did, and just the fact that I was able to land on my feet and just get on a different journey.

“I haven’t looked back, and I won’t look back, ever. What was done at Union, I’ll always have a special place there. It was nice. It was a good time. I like to think that we did some nice things.

“But at the same token, you move on in life, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. And to have a different chapter in your life, especially [since] I’m a little older. I just feel grateful and lucky to be able to do this right now.”

There was never any anger or bitterness when I spoke to Bennett last January. I saw him two months later at the NCAA men’s hockey tournament Albany Regional at MVP Arena, and he was as happy as could be, talking with scouts, coaches and fans.

Becoming the coach of the Ghost Pirates has been fun, even though the record may not be what Bennett wants. He is enjoying the new challenge.

“I am fine with it, honestly,” Bennett said. “I got another chance to work. I’ve done college. To get the bus again, and go to the same venues all the time, it’s nice to just go somewhere, try something different in pro hockey. And you know what? There’s no ceiling. We obviously want to keep going, keep advancing in our careers. If I’m fortunate enough to ever move up well, this is a start.

“It’s nice to kind of be a rookie again. It really has been nice. It reminds me of my first year at Union, just how fresh you are going into the job.”

Going from coaching college hockey to the ECHL is dramatically different.

“What I found is how much you don’t practice,” Bennett said. “A lot of times, these guys are learning through their games. We’re lucky enough to have a video coach, and another on staff is Alex Loh, who was up in Adirondack. Having him has been tremendous, too. We’re all able to have three computers going to show guys video because of the limited practice time. The biggest learning curves were the [lack of] practice time that you have, and how many games you’ve played already.”

Bennett is enjoying his time in Savannah and getting to know the community.

“Life in Savannah is just fine,” Bennett said. “It’s working out. It’s a great spot just in general for hockey because it’s the first time. I saw that people are really excited, and it’s just a good place to play all around.”

I asked Bennett what his most lasting memory was at Union. He said the journey to the 2014 national championship stood out the most. In particular, the postgame Mayor’s Cup brawl with RPI that year was a turning point for the Dutchmen.

“Everything we had to go through wasn’t picture perfect,” Bennett said. “For the players, for the coaches and how it all went down throughout the year, it was kind of like success, it goes up and down. It’s like life, and it taught one guy a lot. But at the same token, I don’t regret it one bit, the Mayor’s [Cup] incident, any of that.

“I always joked around and said anytime you see sports, you see rivalries, there’s always those type of dustups. I think that bonded us. I think that those players, after that Mayor’s Cup, they were behind our coaching staff 100%. It was really impressive, and I never will forget that. Never.”

IDENTITY CRISIS

There was a lighthearted moment at Tuesday’s Capital District Mayor’s Cup press conference at MVP Arena.

Union women’s hockey head coach Josh Sciba was the last person to speak. But when it was time for him to come up, MVP Arena general manager Bob Belber called Sciba Bryan Vines. Vines is the RPI women’s hockey coach, and had already spoken.

“It’s probably a pretty cool name,” Sciba said. “Bryan Vines versus Bryan Vines is quite the story.”

Union defenseman Meredith Killian had some fun with it, too.

“I heard he changed his driver’s license, too,” Killian said with a laugh.

POWER RANKINGS

Time for my latest ECAC Hockey men’s power rankings.

1) Cornell — Big Red coach Mike Schafer always has a game plan to beat Quinnipiac. Cornell did that in a 4-0 win last Friday, and followed that with a 3-2 victory over Princeton.

2) Colgate Dismantled Princeton 5-0, and then downed Quinnipiac 3-2.

3) Quinnipiac — Good-bye undefeated ECACH regular season, and farewell top ranking in the USCHO.com and USA Hockey Magazine/USA Today polls.

4) Harvard — Needed overtime to beat Yale, but then lost to Brown.

5) Princeton — Big upset of 12th-ranked Providence on Tuesday.

6) RPI — Swept the North Country teams at home with a pair of overtime wins.

7) Clarkson — After losing to RPI in OT, the Golden Knights got a much-needed win against Union.

8) Brown — Strange loss to Dartmouth, but a nice win over Harvard.

9) Union — The Dutchmen got a weekend split against the North Country teams.

10) St. Lawrence — The Saints lost the Capital Region trip. The only consolation was they got a point for the OT loss to RPI.

11) Dartmouth — Impressive road sweep of Brown and Yale.

12) Yale — Lost twice at home.

Contact Ken Schott by email at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @slapschotts.

Categories: College Sports, Sports, Union College

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