Union co-captains Matt Cook and Lane Caffaro got a sick feeling in their stomachs when they were watching the ECAC Hockey tournament championship round at the Times Union Center last March.
It wasn’t because of the teams that were there. Rather, it was the team that wasn’t playing — their team.
Cook and Caffaro believe the Dutchmen should have been playing in the league’s final four, but a quarterfinal-series loss to Cornell at Messa Rink prevented that.
“It was an awful spring for us,” Cook, a forward, said. “A lot of people around school were excited about our finish. But our team has a bad taste in our mouths.
“We felt we left the party a little early.”
The senior co-captains want to make sure that the Dutchmen make it to the TU Center this season.
Coming off their best-ever finish in the program’s Division I history, the Dutchmen hope to make their first-ever trip to the ECACH final four this season. Union opens its 18th Division I season Saturday at 7:30 p.m. when it hosts the U.S.
under-18 national team at Messa Rink. Its regular-season opener will be next Friday against ECACH rival
Quinnipiac in the first round of
Nebraska-Omaha’s Mutual of
After being predicted to finish last last year, the Dutchmen (10-7-5
ECACH, 15-14-6 overall) ended up fourth. They earned a tournament first-round bye, a first for the team. They hosted Cornell in the quarterfinals, but the Big Red ended the Dutchmen’s season with a pair of one-goal wins.
So, Cook and Caffaro bought tickets to watch, and it gave them time to think of what could have been.
“You see that tournament, and you want to be there,” Cook said. “You feel like you should be there, and you want to play in that tournament.”
Said Caffaro: “It’s definitely a tough pill to swallow when you’re watching teams you played throughout the year, and we felt we played well against and could have beaten them.”
Expectations will be higher this year. In the ECACH preseason polls, Union was picked to finish fifth by the coaches, and sixth by the
media. It’s the highest the Dutchmen have ever finished in the preseason polls.
“This year’s a new year,” Caffaro said. “We’re going to do everything we can to [get to the championship round].”
The Dutchmen return 21 players from last season’s team, including their top five scorers.
Sophomore forward Adam Presizniuk led the Dutchmen in scoring with seven goals and 18 assists. He was named to the ECACH
All-Rookie team, and was the first Union freshman to lead the team in scoring since Chris Ford in
Another sophomore forward,
Stephane Boileau, was second with six goals and 15 assists. Following him are junior forward Jason Walters (5-15-20), Cook (10-9-19) and Mario-Valery Trabucco (9-8-17).
The Dutchmen scored 50 goals in ECACH play, and 79 overall. Those numbers were the second fewest in the league in both categories. Cook was the only player to have double digits in goals.
Union has three incoming forwards who are expected to help out. Randy Hanagan had 34 goals and 33 assists for Salmon Arm of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League, Brian Yanovitch collected 18 goals and 33 assists for Bridgewater of the Eastern Junior Hockey League and Kelly Zajac had 24 goals and 49 assists for Salmon Arm.
And what feels like a new forward recruit, but who is actually a returnee, is sophomore Luke Cain. He had two goals and an assist in seven games before suffering a season-ending broken right tibia against Dartmouth Nov. 9. Cain received a medial redshirt from the NCAA, and will have four years of eligibility.
One addition who won’t play, but will be a huge factor, is new assistant coach and former Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute forward Ben Barr.
“He’s already been doing a tremendous job,” head coach Nate
Leaman said. “He’s brought a lot of great energy to the program. I can tell he’s going to do a great job with our forwards this year, which is an area that we need to improve upon. I know it’s an area we’re going to improve upon.”
Caffaro (3-13-16), a second-team All-ECACH selection last season and a preseason all-conference pick this year, anchors the defense. He is joined by junior Mike Schreiber (4-13-17) and seniors Brendan Milnamow (2-7-9) and Mike Harr
(1-5-6). Two freshmen will look to join them — Nolan Julseth-White (Langley of the BCJHL) and Taylor Reid (Fort McMurray of the Alberta Junior Hockey League).
The Dutchmen should be fine in goal. Corey Milan had an outstanding freshman season, posting a 6-8-6
record with a 2.53 goals-against
average, a .907 save percentage and one shutout. He was named to the ECACH All-Rookie team.
“I think Corey Milan gained a lot of experience last year,” Leaman said. “The game he won at Yale on the last regular-season weekend of the year showed us a lot. We were outplayed for stretches of that game, and he virtually won the game for us until we came around.”
Joining Milan is junior Brett Bothwell, a transfer from Wayne State. Bothwell was 8-13 with a 3.36 GAA, a .879 save percentage and two shutouts last season.
Junior Rich Sillery is Union’s third goalie.
“Brett has a lot of experience, and a lot of experience in ECAC buildings. So we look for [goaltending] to be a strength,” Leaman said. “That being said, we finished in the low .900s last year for save percentage. Ultimately, to be a team that competes for a top-four spot in the league, you need to be above .910.”