Either Union defenseman Shawn Stuart is a lucky player, or he is very good at avoiding taking trips to the penalty box.
Bet on the latter.
Stuart is having a career year staying away from penalties. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound junior from Calgary, Alberta, has been penalized once in the Dutchmen’s 36 games this season. And that penalty wasn’t even a stick or holding foul. His only penalty this season was for hitting after the whistle against Clarkson Jan. 27 at Messa Rink. Stuart didn’t leave his team short-handed because the Golden Knights’ Jake Morley was also called for the same penalty at 9:38 of the second period.
“I just try to keep my stick on the ice and keep my feet moving,” Stuart said Tuesday at Messa Rink as the top-seeded and sixth-ranked Dutchmen (22-7-7) prepared to face off against fourth-seeded and 20th-ranked Colgate (19-15-3) in the ECAC Hockey tournament semifinals. That game is set for 4:30 p.m. Friday at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J.
“Every time you put your stick parallel to the ice now, it’s usually a penalty. So, I’m just keeping one hand on the stick, keep it down and stick on [the] puck.”
It’s usually the norm to see a defenseman have double digits in penalties and penalty minutes over the course of a season. Stuart can’t believe that he has made just one visit the penalty box this season.
“There’s a couple missed calls, I’m sure, out there,” said Stuart, who had 35 career penalty minutes coming into this season. “Yeah, I’m pretty surprised that I took only one coincidental [penalty], even. I’m happy with it, but there’s improvement for next year.”
Union coach Rick Bennett nearly didn’t want to talk about Stuart’s ability to stay out of the penalty box for fear it would jinx him. But he is very happy with Stuart’s consistency this season. Stuart has a defensive rating of plus-12, fourth-best among the Dutchmen defensemen.
He also has eight assists. One of those assists came late in the second period of Saturday’s 4-2 quarterfinal series-clinching win over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Just 61 seconds after the Engineers tied the score, 2-2, Kyle Bodie won a faceoff in the RPI left circle, and he drew the puck back to Stuart at the left point. Stuart sent the puck to the net, and goalie Bryce Merriam stopped it. Kevin Sullivan got the rebound and backhanded it past Merriam to give the Dutchmen a 3-2 lead.
“He’s a very cerebral player,” Bennett said. “He puts himself in the right spots on the ice, and that’s the sign of a very smart defenseman. I think it’s a gift to be able to do that. He learned a lot from Brock Matheson and positioning. Sometimes, you don’t have to be the overall fastest guy in the world, or the most offensive. But you know what? Shawn Stuart has picked up a lot of points this year just by being in the right spot. But even more importantly, he’s playing good, sound defensive hockey.
“Shawn Stuart’s been a blessing for us ever since he set foot on this campus.”
Stuart’s teammates are amazed at his play.
“He’s an outstanding defenseman,” Dutchmen center Kelly Zajac said. “If you watch him, he’s always got a great stick. He doesn’t get beat very often. He uses body and uses his size, but he keeps his hands down. He doesn’t get the penalties that a lot of defensemen do get. That’s just the way he is. He’s a good player. He’s smart, and he never gets beat.”
“When you get caught, you take penalties,” Union center Jeremy Welsh said. “He never gets caught out of position too often. He has tremendous body position, and he has a good stick. He’s patient enough, and he gets his body over the puck, rather than letting the other guy get it first. That just shows how smart he is.”