When Union center Josh Jooris gave up his final year of college eligibility to sign with the Calgary Flames two weeks ago, Dutchmen coach Rick Bennett didn’t panic.
Bennett knew there was an opportunity to bring in a recruit who had been planning to join the team next season.
It took some work, but the Dutchmen announced Monday that Cornwall Colts forward Michael Pontarelli will be joining the team this season instead of waiting for next year.
The 19-year-old Pontarelli, who is from Laval, Quebec, led the Central Canada Hockey League in scoring last season with 52 goals and 55 assists. He was a unanimous choice for CCHL MVP and the CCHL Sportsmanship and Ability Award. He was also named the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s MVP.
“I believe it gives us a little more depth in the fact that Josh Jooris was an offensive player, so we brought in someone that was offensive,” Bennett said. “You’re not going to replace Josh Jooris in August. We realized that. But in talking to the staff, I thought [assistant coaches] Jason Tapp and Joe Dumais had a good outlook. We didn’t wait for the storm to pass, we kind of danced in the rain. Basically, we didn’t cry about it. We just moved on.
“It’s amazing how you can go from one night [when] you get news that [Jooris] is signing and it’s not the best thing to happen to your program, to two weeks later that you’re extremely happy that you got a guy like [Pontarelli] in, and you’re ready to go again.”
Pontarelli is the ninth member of Union’s 2013-14 recruiting class, which was announced Aug. 1, and the fourth forward.
“I’m ecstatic,” Pontarelli said. “It completely took me by surprise. I’m really excited to jump in and see where I stack up against the great college hockey talent out there.”
Pontarelli’s mindset was preparing to help the Colts win another league title.
“All summer long, I was training for Cornwall,” Pontarelli said. “All of a sudden, I got the phone call [from Union]. Now, I’m going to play against men instead of 16- to-20-year-old kids. I trained really hard, but it’s a different game. I’m just going to stick to my game and play my game, and that’s what I’ve been training for. I don’t think there should be a difference, as long as I play my game. I think I’ll be fine.”
Bennett is pleased to have Pontarelli now.
“I really like to thank the people that got Michael Pontarelli here, [athletic director] Jim McLaughlin, [vice president for admissions, financial aid and enrollment] Matt Malatesta, [assistant director of financial aid] Stephanie Frantz and [senior assistant dean of admissions] Abbey Massoud-Tastor,” Bennett said. “It took a team effort, especially so late in the process, for that to happen. I can’t thank Union College enough for being understanding and allowing it to happen.”
Before playing at Cornwall, Pontarelli spent two seasons at St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Mass. In 53 games, he had 83 goals and 44 assists.
While Pontarelli has put up great offensive numbers, Bennett is doing his best to temper expectations.
“I don’t want to heap a whole lot of praise on the young man just quite yet,” Bennett said. “People have to be a little patient in the fact that he has to get used to the speed and the size. It’s going to be different than the Central Junior League, which is a good league. Michael is a tremendously skilled forward that has a knack for finding the back of the net when given the opportunity.”