The bull’s-eye is on the backs of the Union men’s hockey team, and coach Rick Bennett likes it that way.
For the first time in its 22-year Division I history, Union has been picked as the favorite to win the ECAC Hockey regular-season title.
The Dutchmen, the two-time defending ECACH Cleary Cup champions, were picked first in both the coaches’ and media polls. The Dutchmen received eight of 12 first-place votes and earned 118 points in the coaches’ poll. In the media poll, the Dutchmen got 18 of 30 first-place votes and received 343 points.
Union, which went 14-4-4 in the league last season and finished 26-8-7 overall, is looking to become the first team to win three straight ECACH regular-season titles since Harvard in 1992-94. The Dutchmen won their first ECACH tournament title last season and captured the NCAA tournament East Regional to reach their first Frozen Four.
Bennett wasn’t aware of the history of Union in the coaches’ and media polls, nor the fact that no one has won three straight ECACH regular-season titles since the 1990s.
“But we’d rather have the pressure than not have the pressure,” Bennett said during Wednesday’s ECACH media day conference call. “That’s how we look at it.”
Union, ranked fifth in the first USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine top-15 poll of the season, has certainly come a long way from the years when it was consistently picked near the bottom of the league.
“Respect is, basically, earned, and that’s how it’s always been,” Bennett said. “The players that have come through this program, and I’m not just talking about the guys who have come through the last few years, but the guys who set the foundation, everybody’s contributed to today’s success. But we are a long ways away from complacent. That’s our motto.”
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute finished eighth in the coaches’ poll with 46 points and ninth in the media poll with 144 points. The Engineers finished 10th in the league last season with a 7-12-3 record. They knocked off seventh-seeded Clarkson in the ECACH tournament first round before falling to the Dutchmen in the quarterfinals.
RPI finished 12-14-3 overall.
“We’re anxious and eager to get the season going,” said Seth Appert, who begins his seventh season as RPI’s head coach. “Our offseason has been too long. Last season, especially the first half, was miserable. [There were] a lot of things that I didn’t do a good enough job with in terms of in getting our team to understand how we want to play and what our program’s about. Maybe I let my guard down from the previous two years, thinking our culture was established. I wasn’t vigilant enough with that.”
The coaches and media were in agreement on the top six spots. Cornell is second, Harvard came in third, Quinnipiac placed fourth, Yale is fifth and St. Lawrence finished sixth. They also agreed on Princeton (11th) and Brown (12th).
The rest of the results have Dartmouth seventh in the coaches’ poll and 10th in the media poll, Colgate ninth in the coaches’ poll and eighth in the media poll and Clarkson 10th in the coaches’ poll and seventh in the media poll.
Union dominated the preseason all-conference team for the coaches and media. Leading the way is junior goalie Troy Grosenick. He won the Ken Dryden Award as the league’s top goalie with a 1.60 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage and made the All-ECACH first team. Overall, Grosenick was 22-6-3 with a 1.65 GAA, a .936 save percentage and five shutouts. He was a first-team All-American and Union’s first Hobey Baker top-10 finalist.
The other Dutchmen on the team are junior forward Daniel Carr and junior defenseman Mat Bodie. Carr had 20 goals and 20 assists last season. He became the first Union player to have two 20-goal seasons. Bodie was the second-leading scorer among ECACH defensemen with six goals and 16 assists and was a first-team All-ECACH. He finished with eight goals and 21 assists, and was a first-team All-American.
The coaches and media both picked Harvard defenseman Danny Biega and Quinnipiac forward Connor Jones on their respective teams. The only difference was the coaches picked St. Lawrence forward Kyle Flanagan, while the media selected Flanagan’s teammate, Greg Carey.