The postgame brawl with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Jan. 25 at the Times Union Center is probably the toughest moment of Union coach Rick Bennett’s career. The image of him getting ready to throw a punch is an image no one can forget.
Recently, Bennett had a conversation with former St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh.
“He said, ‘You just put that behind you [and] keep going,’ ” Bennett said. “That’s exactly what I did after the incident. I had a lot of help, too. I learned an absolute ton.”
Bennett’s fellow coaches also put the incident behind them. On Wednesday, Bennett was named the winner of the American Hockey Coaches Association’s Spencer Penrose Award as national coach of the year.
Bennett guided the Dutchmen to a 30-6-4 record. The Dutchmen won their second ECAC Hockey regular-season title in Bennett’s three seasons, and third in the last four years. Union captured its third straight ECACH tournament, becoming just the third team in league history to pull off that feat. He has Union in its second Frozen Four in three years.
He is the second Union coach to win the honor. Nate Leaman got it in 2011.
Bennett was suspended for four games because of his actions at the end of the Mayor’s Cup game.
“When I was asking for a scouting report from one of the coaches, he actually said I voted for you,” Bennett said. “And I just said that I appreciate that, but I really don’t feel I deserve that at this time, at least this year.”
Bennett got word that he won the award before the Dutchmen took the ice for their one-hour practice.
“I heard about three minutes before practice from [assistant coach] Joe Dumais,” Bennett said. “He’s on that Twitter stuff and Twitter world and all that jazz. I’m not. I found out that way. It’s a tremendous honor. I know when Nate had won it, I know he happy he was and he was very appreciative to his staff.
“I’m going to take it a step further. I think it’s a players’ award. Those guys make us look good. To our staff, they’re phenomenal guys. . . . I don’t want to say come to work, we come to the rink. You’re happy just to come to the rink every day and work with these guys and work with the coaching staff. That’s what makes it special.”
The players were happy for Bennett.
“Totally deserving,” goalie Colin Stevens said. “He’s a great coach. We have the utmost respect for him. He’s been there for us all year, regardless of what he’s been through.”
Defenseman Charlie Vasaturo isn’t the only Union player with connections to Philadelphia.
Forwards Nick Cruice and Cole Ikkala grew up in the Keystone State. Cruice grew up in Dresher, a suburb in Montgomery County, north of the city.
“It’s a good area for hockey right now,” Cruice said. “I played over in South Jersey with Team Comcast. I played at La Salle College High School. We won two state championships there [in 2008 and 2009]. I got to play at the Wells Fargo Center twice.”
Having the experience of playing at the Wells Fargo Center will help calm any nerves Cruice may have.
“It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a kid to play at their hometown NHL arena,” Cruice said. “I was fortunate enough to play there a couple of years ago. I’m a little more comfortable than some of the Canadian guys that come to Philadelphia. Other than that, it’s just another rink.”
Ikkala, who moved to McKinney, Texas, two years ago, used to live in Romansville, Pa., in Chester County, which is south of Philadelphia.
“It’s real exciting,” Ikkala said. “I lived in [the] Philly [area] for seven years, so I guess you can call that home. It’s the longest I lived anywhere. I spent two years at Downingtown West [High School] and two years with the Junior Flyers, so it’s exciting to get back. I have a lot of friends there.
“[Philadelphia] a big sports city. That’s what is most exciting about. It’s a city that’s so passionate about their sports.”
April is a big month for birthdays for the Dutchmen.
Junior forward Sam Coatta celebrated his 24th birthday Wednesday. Freshman defenseman Jeff Taylor turns 20 on Sunday. Junior forward Max Novak will be 23 on April 15. Junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere will be 21 on April 20.
Gostisbehere, selected by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2012 NHL draft, got to practice on the ice for the first time in his possible future home.
“It was definitely fun to be out there with the guys for the first time,” Gostisbehere said. “You find yourself, as you’re waiting in line for a drill, looking up at the rafters and seeing the banners. It’s such a big building and a big Jumbotron. It’s definitely nice to be here.”
BC forward Johnny Gaudreau is the seventh player since the 2001-02 season to score 70 points in a season.
The other six were Minnesota’s John Pohl (79 points in 2001-02), St. Cloud State’s Mark Hartigan (75 in 2001-02), Colorado College’s Peter Sejna (82 in 2002-03) and Noah Clarke (70 in 2002-03), Ferris State’s Chris Kunitz (79 in 2002-03) and Miami-Ohio’s Andy Miele (71 in 2010-11).