After the most successful season in Union College men’s hockey history, athletic director Jim McLaughlin wanted to reward Rick Bennett for the job he did in his first year as head coach.
So on Tuesday, Bennett received a contract extension through the 2018-19 season. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
Bennett, who had been with Union as an assistant/associate head coach since the 2005-06 season, was promoted to head coach on April 22, 2011, after Nate Leaman resigned to become head coach at Providence College.
“I’m extremely grateful,” said Bennett, who had signed a four-year deal when he was promoted. “Just as I had mentioned to our school, it’s a tremendous honor. I couldn’t be any happier or luckier to be offered it after one year. To president [Stephen] Ainlay, [vice president of academic affairs and dean of faculty] Therese McCarty and Jim McLaughlin, I just can’t thank them enough for the opportunity.”
In his first year as the head coach, Bennett guided the Dutchmen to their second straight ECAC Hockey Cleary Cup regular-season title, their first ECACH tournament championship and their first NCAA tournament East Regional title. The Dutchmen also made the NCAA Frozen Four for the first time in their 21 years at the Division I level. They dropped a 3-1 decision to Ferris State in the semifinals.
The Dutchmen finished with a 26-8-7 record and were ranked third in the final USCHO.com/NCAA hockey top-20 and USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine top-15 polls.
Bennett won the Tim Taylor Award as ECACH coach of the year. He was a finalist for the Spencer Penrose Award as national coach of the year.
“He’s exceeded every expectation that we had for him, both on and off the ice,” McLaughlin said. “We knew we were getting somebody great when we hired him, based on his body of work in his previous five years as an assistant and associate head coach. We couldn’t be more pleased.”
Looking back on the year, Bennett described it as a whirlwind season for him, but a great ride.
“You’re just trying to get your feet wet,” Bennett said. “Getting acclimated to being an assistant coach is one thing. It’s totally different to be a head coach. That was something that I learned throughout the year, and I will continue to learn until the day I’m done coaching. ”
The transition from Leaman, who coached the Dutchmen to their first Cleary Cup title in 2010-11, to Bennett took less than a half-hour. The contract extension didn’t happen as quickly as that, but it was just a matter of time before a deal got done.
“Part of it was that it was something that I knew we wanted to explore, even as early as the mid-point of the season with the job he was doing,” McLaughlin said. “We wanted to make sure that the focus was on the team and the run that they were on. We sat down as quickly as we could at the conclusion of the season, and got this done fairly quickly.”
“My family’s happy,” Bennett said. “My wife really likes it. My kids really like it. It’s the longest we’ve stayed in any spot in my playing or coaching tenure. I don’t want to say that we’re really comfortable because when you say comfortable, and I [associate] that with complacent, and I don’t want to do that.
“The best thing I can say about Union College is that the fact that I never get up and say that I’m going to work. I always say that I’m going to the rink. Basically, you’re going to have fun. I don’t consider it work.”