SCHENECTADY — Two out of three ain’t ... good enough, for Union men’s hockey coach Rick Bennett.
The Union coaching staff wants the Dutchmen to play fast, play hard and play smart. It was that last area that stood out to Bennett during Union’s 0-3 start to the 2017-18 season, particularly in terms of unnecessary penalties that the Dutchmen were whistled for in losses to Boston University, Michigan Tech and Minnesota.
Union will play its home opener at 7 p.m. Friday against the University of Massachusetts at Messa Rink, and staying off the penalty kill has become a priority for a team that has been outscored 12-4 in three games, while surrendering four goals in 13 man-down situations.
“That’s on me just as much as on them, to hold those guys accountable,” Bennett said on Thursday in the Messa Rink lobby, while the Minutemen practiced on the ice.
“Some of them were playing-hard penalties, and our staff can live with those. If we’re having the same conversation 10-plus games in, then we’re going to have some issues.”
Other than Thursday’s interview, Bennett imposed a media blackout on the team, so players weren’t available to speak during the week.
He said it was merely a move to allow his players to concentrate solely on classwork and hockey.
“I want to limit drama,” he said. “With the start, we’ve got a lot of freshmen, and we need to focus on playing. I wanted to try something different, to have them just focus on school and focus on hockey.”
Union was 12-3-1 at home last year.
The last time the Dutchmen played at Messa Rink, the now graduated Mike Vecchione scored in overtime to beat Princeton to send Union to the ECAC Hockey semifinals in Lake Placid.
They’ll play UMass at Messa twice this season — the Minutemen come back on Dec. 10, as UMass head coach Greg Carvel agreed to fill a date that opened up when another non-conference opponent dropped off the schedule.
“Greg Carvel was nice enough to come in here twice, and we’ll reciprocate in a couple years and go to their place twice,” Bennett said.
UMass (1-1) opened its season by splitting two games at Arizona State.
The Minutemen’s roster includes two freshmen NHL draft picks on defense, Mario Ferraro (San Jose Sharks, second round) and Cale Makar, who was the fourth overall pick by the Detroit Red Wings.
Makar was a teammate of Union freshman Parker Foo on a Brooks Bandits team that won the Alberta Junior Hockey League championship.
“He kind of reminds me of Brian Leetch, how shifty he is, how he can pass the puck,” Bennett said. “He’s already passing the puck like a pro. He’s fun to watch. And his hands are probably the best we’ll ever see in this barn.
“Like when he’s on the offensive blueline, the way he can shift and get into shot lanes and break ankles of opposing forwards because of how shifty he is. Just a very dangerous hockey player. But they also have another one out there, too, in No. 5, Ferraro.”
A name familiar to Capital Region college hockey fans on Carvel’s staff is associate head coach Ben Barr, who played for RPI and was a Union assistant with Bennett under Nate Leaman.
Bennett credited Barr for having recruited defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, one of the stars on the 2014 national championship team, to Union.
While Union has had difficulty scoring through three games against high-quality opponents, the line of Brett Supinski, Sebastian Vidmar and Anthony Rinaldi has been solid, Bennett said.
He also had emphatic praise for junior goalie Jake Kupsky.
“They were our best line against Minnesota; it wasn’t even a question,” Bennett said. “Sean Harrison has played a steady three games as a first-year guy, a PK guy and has been solid 5-on-5.
“On the back line, J.C. Brassard is trying to establish himself as a No. 1 defenseman, because that’s what he needs to be for us. Brandon Estes has been solid as well.”
After tonight’s game, the Dutchmen come right back at home on Sunday against Vermont for a 4 p.m. game.