Goalie Dillon Pieri knew what his role would be when he committed to Union College several years ago.
With Troy Grosenick and Colin Stevens the top two goalies, Pieri was going to be the third-string goalie. That didn’t change when Grosenick left last April to sign with the San Jose Sharks and the Dutchmen landed Alex Sakellaropoulos from the U.S. Hockey League’s Chicago Steel. For Pieri, it meant practicing a lot with little to no chance of seeing playing time. Plus, he wouldn’t be going on the Dutchmen’s regular-season road trips.
But that doesn’t mean that Pieri is content with his role.
“That position is probably the hardest position that we have here on this team,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “But he has handled it the past few seasons quite well. He will come see me sometimes to see how [he] can get into the net, which is what you want. We don’t want guys that are satisfied in that locker room. We do appreciate his want and need to be in that net.”
With the return of the injured Stevens still uncertain, Bennett isn’t sure who will start in goal tonight when the Dutchmen (1-2-1) visit UConn at 7:05 in Storrs, Conn.
Pieri showed the Dutchmen last Saturday than he is more than just a third-string netminder. In just his second career game, the junior made six saves in 25:33 of action after replacing Sakellaropoulos in the second period with Union trailing Lake Superior State, 3-1. The Dutchmen, despite having a 48-17 shot advantage, dropped a 3-2 decision.
“His evolution has been very positive,” Bennett said. “[Assistant coach] Jason Tapp has done a great job with Dillon [at practice]. I think he’s been much better here in his junior year than he was his freshman year and sophomore year. I think his progression has gotten better throughout his time. He earned that ice the other night, and did a great job with it.”
Pieri, 21, came to Union from the Boston Advantage Hockey Club. In 34 games, he was 13-12-6 with a 3.30 goals-against average, a .907 save percentage and four shutouts.
“It was pretty clearcut when I got here,” the Needham, Mass., native said about his role. “I just love hockey. You just have to embrace it, and I get to play every single day. There’s nothing really else to it. I just love being on the ice. I feel like I’d be lost without it.”
Pieri’s only other appearance was in Union’s 7-3 victory over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Nov. 3 last season. He played in the final 3:52 of that game, making one save.
But that was just mop-up duty. The Lake Superior State game was a more serious situation, and Pieri was perfect.
“I thought it went well,” Pieri said. “I gave the team a chance to win. That’s all I can I ask of myself, and I know that’s what coach wanted when he threw me in there. I did the best I could. The team fed off the energy, and I thought that we played well.”
Tapp said Pieri works hard in practice and has a great attitude. He was proud of his effort against Lake Superior State.
“[His work ethic] has been good,” Tapp said. “Obviously, he had the opportunity there. He stepped in and played well for us. That’s what you want when you come off the bench. You want the guy to come in there and, at least, hold the fort while he’s in there, and that’s what he did. He gave us a chance to come back. We almost made a game of it.”
As for Stevens, he rode a stationary bike Wednesday and was scheduled to take some shots in his first practice on Thursday.
“We’ll see if he makes the bus or not,” Bennett said. “I’m not quite certain whether if he’s going to be on that bus or not.”
Stevens was injured just over six minutes into the season-opening game against Bowling Green Oct. 11 when he was drilled by Falcons forward Bryce Williamson as he was driving the net.