Two years ago, Union rewarded hockey coach Rick Bennett for getting the Dutchmen to their first Frozen Four with a four-year contract extension. Last year, after the Dutchmen reached the NCAA tournament East Regional final, Bennett got a one-year extension.
After leading the Dutchmen to their first NCAA hockey title last month, Bennett was rewarded again.
Union athletic director Jim McLaughlin announced Thursday that Bennett signed a two-year contract extension. The deal now runs through the 2021-22 season.
“He’s been exceptional,” McLaughlin said. “He’s exceeded every expectation. I think he’s the best college coach in the country. I couldn’t be more appreciative of the leadership that he provides to the young men, his commitment to their academic success and on-ice success.”
Bennett has been at Union since the 2005-06 season, when he joined head coach Nate Leaman’s staff as assistant coach. He was later elevated to associate head coach, and then promoted to head coach on April 22, 2011, when Leaman left to become head coach at Providence College.
“It means that I absolutely enjoy working for Union College,” Bennett said. “When I come to the rink every day, I’m very fortunate to work for people that I respect tremendously in president [Stephen] Ainlay, [vice president of academic affairs and dean of the faculty] Therese McCarty and Jim McLaughlin. And that’s what keeps me loyal to this school and this program. I’ve enjoyed coming to the rink every day for the past nine seasons.”
He completed his third season as the Dutchmen’s head coach in style. Besides winning the NCAA championship, Union captured the ECAC Hockey regular-season title, the ECACH tournament championship and NCAA tournament East Regional crown. Bennett was named the American Hockey Coaches Association’s Spencer Penrose Award winner as national coach of the year.
Union won a school-record 32 games. The Dutchmen went 16-0-1 over their final 17 games.
Since taking over for Leaman, Bennett has a career record of 80-27-16, including a postseason mark of 19-2. Union has won two ECACH regular-season titles and three straight ECACH tournament championships, joining Cornell and Boston University as the only teams to accomplish that. Union has reached the NCAA tournament three straight times under Bennett, including two Frozen Four appearances.
“You always have to have that belief [of success],” Bennett said. “As I’ve always mentioned, I don’t have a crystal ball in this office. It’s been nice to enjoy this because you never know in the field of sports how quickly it can turn. If we keep bringing in high-quality student-athletes, we can keep this thing at a competitive level.”
Bennett was suspended four games after going after members of the RPI hockey team following the Engineers’ 2-1 win over the Dutchmen at the Mayor’s Cup game Jan. 25 at the Times Union Center. Bennett got a two-game suspension by the school, and ECACH commissioner Steve Hagwell penalized Bennett two more games.
Bennett accepted his punishment. He still had support from Union.
“That’s one of the big reasons I wanted to sign this contract when Jim McLaughlin came to me,” Bennett said. “In this profession of sports, loyalty is thrown out the window an awful lot. From what Jim McLaughlin did for me throughout that, and the support I received from president Ainlay and Therese McCarty meant the world to me. They were there through the adversity. It was nice to turn that around because it was the lowest point of my career, and I experienced the highest point of my career within one season. That wouldn’t have happened without those three people.”