Union freshman center Mike Vecchione knew something was wrong with his health during the Dutchmen’s two-game series at St. Cloud State in December.
Dutchmen coach Rick Bennett noticed it, too.
“In the second game, we were kind of wondering what’s going on,” Bennett said. “He didn’t quite have the legs. When you aren’t having the legs at St. Cloud on an Olympic [ice] sheet, it was, basically, a setup for failure.”
It turned out that Vecchione had mononucleosis, and he missed four games because of it.
Since he returned to the lineup Jan. 24, Vecchione has stepped up his game. He has seven goals and 11 assists in his last 16 games for the top-ranked Dutchmen, who will take on Vermont in the NCAA tournament East Regional at 2 p.m. Friday in Bridgeport, Conn.
“After the St. Cloud series, I went home. I wasn’t feeling right,” said Vecchione, the Dutchmen’s fourth-leading scorer with 12 goals and 19 assists in 34 games. “I went to the doctors, and found out I had mono. All you can do was wait it out and just stay as healthy as you can and just wait for it to pass.”
The waiting was the frustrating part.
“After the stretch we went on, it was very frustrating,” Vecchione said. “Coming back and not being able to play with the guys, it [stunk] and everything. The boys rallied behind me and really motivated me to get better out there. I just came back stronger with the help of them.”
In Vecchione’s first game back, he had a goal and an assist in Union’s 4-3 win over Harvard. In his last nine contests, Vecchione has been on a roll, with six goals and nine assists.
Vecchione finished ECAC Hockey play as the conference’s fourth-leading freshman scorer with six goals and 11 assists. He was named to the ECACH All-Rookie team.
In last weekend’s ECACH tournament championship round, Vecchione had a goal in the semifinals against Cornell, and another against Colgate in the Dutchmen’s title-clinching win.
“Mike’s one of those guys who’s just a hard worker every day,” Dutchmen senior left winger Daniel Carr said. “I think it’s starting to pay off for him at the end here. He’s starting to bury a lot of his chances. He’s such an explosive skater that he’s able to get himself in great places to score.”
Vecchione was paired with Carr and junior right winger Daniel Ciampini in the Feb. 1 game at Clarkson. They have played 14 of the last 15 games together — Carr missed the Feb. 15 game at Colgate with an injury — and they have combined for 24 goals and 23 assists.
“Playing with them, it’s pretty contagious because they’re constantly winning puck battles, and they want to win the puck and they want the puck on their sticks,”
Ciampini said. “When you play on their line, it’s almost as if you’ve got to elevate your game to play with them. I think we’ve been pushing each other, in that sense. With Carr’s scoring ability next to none in the nation, I would say, and the way Mike sees the ice, it’s pretty tremendous. And he looks exactly like [ex-Dutchmen forward] Wayne Simpson out there. That’s a bonus.”
Vecchione is learning a lot from his linemates. He enjoys the bond they have developed.
“They’re great leaders,” Vecchione said. “They make it a little easier for me. There’s less pressure for me. They’re a couple of great players. We’re good on and off the ice together. Our chemistry is really good. It’s been clicking. Hopefully, it continues to do that.”
Vecchione, Union’s top faceoff man, has won 289 draws.
“It’s having a quick stick,” Vecchione said. “I get down low, trying to use my body as best I can. We practice it every single day. Everyone seems to be good at it in practice. In the games, I just find out what the other guy is trying to do. I do my best to win it back.
“It’s just being strong on the stick and wanting it more than the other guy.”
Bennett credits Vecchione’s low center of gravity for his success.
“He’s very strong, and that does help,” Bennett said. “He’s very quick, as well. Guys aren’t going to push him off or, basically, beat him with speed. He’s got it all covered. I’m not going to sit here and tell you he’s [like Chicago Blackhawks center] Jonathan Toews. But for a freshman, it’s pretty good.”
Union sold out its allotment of tickets for the regional. Fans who want to attend the game can go to http://www.ncaa.-com/championships/icehockey-men/d1/tickets-hospitality or www.ticketmaster.com.
Tickets are sold as three-game, all-session packages for $65 each.