The Union College hockey team lost four of its top five scorers, three to graduation and one to the pros. The Dutchmen’s top goalie also left early for the pros, and four defensemen are gone, three to graduation and one who decided to leave the program.
It sounds like the Dutchmen are a team in transition.
But as the two-time defending ECAC Hockey tournament champions prepare for the start of their 23rd NCAA Division I season, transition is a dirty word. The 16th-ranked Dutchmen host Bowling Green in a two-game series starting tonight at 7:30 at Messa Rink.
“You can consider it a transition year,” said Rick Bennett, who begins his third season as head coach. “But we feel we have enough personnel coming back to be competitive in this league.”
The Dutchmen finished with a 22-13-5 record last season, including a 10-8-4 ECACH mark. They lost forwards Wayne Simpson, the team’s leading scorer with 16 goals and 20 assists, and No. 2 scorer Kyle Bodie (9-24-33). Also lost was defenseman and fifth-leading scorer Greg Coburn (8-20-28). Those three players graduated.
But in late July, the Dutchmen unexpectedly lost their No. 4 scorer, Josh Jooris (12-16-28), who gave up his senior season to sign with the Calgary Flames.
That leaves senior forward Daniel Carr as the only top-five scorer returning.
“I think we have a lot of guys coming back who can score some big goals,” said Carr, who had 16 goals and 16 assists last season and needs 25 points to surpass Adam Presizniuk as Union’s all-time Division I career leading scorer. “Guys are pretty positive, but we know there’s a lot of work to be done still. We’re focusing on that right now, and taking it day to day.”
Other forwards returning are juniors Max Novak (9-14-23) and Daniel Ciampini (11-10-21), sophomore Matt Wilkins (3-13-16) and seniors Kevin Sullivan (5-10-15) and Matt Hatch (8-6-14).
The Dutchmen have two potential offensive forces in Michael Pontarelli and Mike Vecchione. Pontarelli, who played for the Cornwall Colts, was the Central Canada Hockey League’s top scorer last season with 52 goals and 55 assists. The most valuable player of not only the CCHL but the Canadian Junior Hockey League, Pontarelli was supposed to come to Union next season. But Jooris’ departure opened the door for Pontarelli to come in this season.
Vecchione, originally a University of New Hampshire recruit, had 26 goals and 34 assists for the U.S. Hockey League’s Tri-City Storm last season.
The Dutchmen will get scoring from its defense with two of the ECACH’s top offensive talents in junior Shayne Gostisbehere and senior Mat Bodie. Gostisbehere had eight goals and 18 assists last season, while Bodie collected six goals and 18 assists.
Joining them as returnees are junior Charlie Vasaturo and sophomore Sebastien Gingras. Besides losing Coburn, Ryan Forgaard and Shawn Stuart graduated, while Tim Boyle decided to leave before the start of the fall term. Boyle played in 15 games during his freshman season.
Joining the Dutchmen defensive corps this season is Albany Academy graduate and Clifton Park native Jeff Taylor, who had five goals and 22 assists in 57 games for the USHL-champion Dubuque Fighting Saints.
The others freshmen defensemen are Noah Henry, from the British Columbia Junior Hockey League’s Powell River Kings; Matt Krug, from the USHL’s Indiana Ice; and Griffyn Martin of Avon Old Farms.
“I guess you could say [it’s a transition year] fairly easily, but we don’t see it as that,” said Bodie, the team captain. “We did lose some tremendous players, but when your program continues to rise, that’s just how things are going to go. That senior class was the best in history, looking at their records and what they did for the program.
“The coaches did a great job of restocking the team. We’ve got some great freshmen coming in, and we’ve got a lot of players who made huge improvements over the summer.”
Shortly after Union was eliminated from the NCAA tournament, goalie Troy Grosenick announced he was giving up his senior season to sign with the San Jose Sharks. In his two seasons as the Dutchmen’s No. 1 goalie, Grosenick posted a 39-16-9 record with a 1.89 goals-against average.
Junior and Niskayuna native Colin Stevens is expected to take over as the No. 1 goalie. Stevens was 5-3 with a 1.62 GAA. Three of his wins were shutouts.
Stevens will battle freshman Alex Sakellaropoulos of the USHL’s Chicago Steel and junior Dillon Pieri.
“We lost a great goalie in Troy,” Dutchmen senior forward Cole Ikkala said. “But if you look at last year, Colin had great stats. He had a few shutouts. He’s looking great in preseason, so I think he’s willing to step into the big shoes and have a good year.”
The Dutchmen hope to be a more consistent team this season and not have a lull that, in effect, cost them a higher seed in the NCAA tournament. After starting 8-2-1, the Dutchmen went 7-10-4 over the next 21 games. They needed to win their final two games of the regular season to get the final ECACH tournament berth.
After earning an NCAA hockey tournament automatic bid for winning the ECACH tournament, the Dutchmen were the third-seeded team in the East Region. They beat second-seeded Boston College,
5-1, in the semifinal in a game that started at 9:30 p.m. and ended at 11:42 p.m.
Union had to face top-seeded Quinnipiac at 6:30 the next night. The Dutchmen had tired legs against a Bobcats squad that had played Canisius in the first semifinal. Quinnipiac rolled to a 5-1 win.
“You want to set the table,” Bennett said. “That will be one of our themes this year. I’m actually thinking about buying a table and put it right in the locker room, and just setting the table like you would at Thanksgiving or Christmas. What are you going to bring to help set that table up with? I thought that caught us last year.”