Thanks to a combination of injuries and the coaches’ decision to shake up the lineup following a lackluster effort at St. Lawrence on Jan. 31, Union sophomore forward Theo DiPauli got a chance to be in the lineup for the first time in 3 1⁄2 months when he played against Clarkson the next night.
After showing some jam and scoring his first collegiate goal in Union’s 5-3 ECAC Hockey win over defending NCAA champion Yale at Messa Rink Saturday night, DiPauli is making a case for a more regular role.
“He’s one of the hardest workers we have,” Union acting head coach Joe Dumas said. “He’s a 4.0 student. He just does everything that is asked of him. He’s waited for his opportunity, and he got it. He’s running with it right now.”
The goal came in his fifth game of the season, and the 13th of his career. DiPauli, who came to Union from the U.S. Hockey League’s Chicago Steel, hadn’t played since the Dutchmen’s third game of the season against Lake Superior State on Oct. 18.
After a 2-1 loss to the Saints, Dumais and the rest of the staff decided to make some changes. Some were by necessity. Left winger Cole Ikkala was injured blocking two shots. Center Eli Lichtenwald, who was suspended for the game because of his fight in the Mayor’s Cup game, was also injured and didn’t make the trip. Also, right winger Michael Pontarelli was a healthy scratch for the Clarkson game.
DiPauli was given the opportunity to play, and he has taken advantage of it.
“I really feel more confident the last three games,” said DiPauli, a bioengineering major who won the team’s Thomas VanArden Dukehart Award for the highest GPA last year. “I played early in the season. I thought I was going to be able to stick in the lineup, but, obviously, that wasn’t the case.
“The last three games, I’ve felt good. Practice has been good, and it really translates on to the ice.”
DiPauli’s first goal was an important one, not only because it was his first college goal and point, but that it tied the score, 2-2, four minutes into the second period.
After taking a 1-0 lead on Daniel Ciampini’s goal 1:23 into the game, Yale rebounded to take a 2-1 advantage on goals by Mike Doherty at 6:19 of the first and Kenny Agostino 2:15 into the second.
Just 1:45 later, Dutchmen defenseman Sebastien Gingras had a shot blocked at the left point. But the puck wemt right back to Gingras, and he got off another shot. That shot got to the net, where goalie Alex Lyon made the save. But the rebound got away from him and caromed into the low slot. DiPauli was there, and he backhanded it home.
“I thought it was a huge goal,” Dumais said. “It really lifted our bench. Our whole team pulls for Theo. He’s a great kid. He works hard every single day. And when he got that goal, our whole bench just erupted. They were very excited.”
Dumais guided the Dutchmen to a 3-1 record while head coach Rick Bennett served his four-game suspension from the Mayor’s Cup fracas.
“It was a great experience,” Dumais said. “I’ve told you before, the team runs itself. Rick has done a great job of establishing this program, and I just kind of filled in and called lines. It’s more the guys rewarded me and rewarded Rick for this.”
Asked if he was sorry it was over, Dumais said he wasn’t.
“I’m going to be very happy to get back to being the assistant coach, and Rick running the games.”
Bennett will be back behind the bench Friday when the Dutchmen travel to Cornell. Although he was allowed to be in Messa this weekend — the final two games of the suspension were league-imposed — Bennett chose to stay home. He didn’t travel to St. Lawrence and Clarkson because of the school-imposed suspension.