GLENVILLE -- Messa Rink isn't available this week while workers install the new center-ice video board, so the Union men's hockey team has been practicing at the Schenectady County Recreational Facility.
They stepped off the bus in full gear Wednesday afternoon, and since 6-foot-4 senior goalie Jake Kupsky had his mask perched on top of his head, he had to duck to get through the door.
And he'll be standing tall in front of the Union goal when the Dutchmen's 2018-19 season kicks off next Saturday at Messa against Army.
He won't be in net every night, with promising sophomore Darion Hanson breathing down his neck on the heels of a nice 10-4-0 freshman season. But the logical move for now will be to ask Kupsky, an all-ECAC Hockey third-teamer, to regain the momentum he built while going undefeated in the final seven games of the 2017-18 regular season before Union was swept by Princeton in the ECACH quarterfinals.
Hard to play with this at center ice! pic.twitter.com/wcwqfOnzon— Union Athletics (@UnionAthletics) September 26, 2018
"Obviously, I didn't get the start I wanted to last year, and Darion came in and did a hell of a job for us," Kupsky said. "I think we had a good competition all year building off each other and learning from each other and pushing each other.
"If we keep doing that, we'll be fine. He's a very good goalie, and I believe in myself, so I think it's going to be an exciting year for us."
On the surface, the final number of games played by each goalie has the appearance of a platoon approach, with Kupsky the goalie of record for 24 games and Hanson for 14, while neither missed time due to injury.
While there were four weekends on which each got a start, there were six stretches of the schedule in which either was in net for more than two games in a row.
Head coach Rick Bennett and his staff settled on Kupsky for the final nine games of the season, but Kupsky was winless in the first five games of the season -- albeit against a rugged non-conference schedule -- after which Hanson was in net for six straight during which Union won five.
"That was a situation that we decided as coaches, and myself, so putting Jake in there for those five games, with that schedule, that was very tough," Bennett said. "But I do think it helped Jake with the future and how he finished, being a third-team all-ECAC goaltender. It's the old saying, 'It's not how you start, it's how you finish,' and I think Jake proved that theory."
Bennett said the Dutchmen were told after last season "to not come back next year like you look right now," meaning that that the usual rigorous offseason conditioning and weight work could be cranked up even more.
His early observation is that the team took that to heart, including Kupsky, who supplemented his workouts with more positional training at Larry Clemens' High Performance Goaltending in Kupsky's home state of Wisconsin.
Kupsky also revived his offseason routine of reading self-help books to bolster his psychological edge.
"When I go home for the offseason, it's more of positional workouts for me," he said. "I do a lot of goalie training throughout the summer and a lot of flexibility stuff to make sure I can stay loose and maintain a healthy body for the entire season. And then, like I said [last preseason], I just read books and keep the mental side of the game sharp, too.
"It helped out tremendously. If you're just playing goalie with a weak head game, I don't think you're going to be very successful. So harping on that last year and doing more of it this offseason will definitely help me this year."
Bennett reiterated that a big factor in choice of goalie for any given weekend is how they perform in graded "goalie ice" sessions with associate coach Jason Tapp, a former college goalie himself, at Boston University.
"The goalies here have always worked the hardest of any position," Bennett said. "That's by design. It's the toughest position to play. They're the last line of defense, and it seems like the goalies get a lot heaped on them after a loss, but when they're winning, I don't think there's a better position to be. It's kind of like being the quarterback at Notre Dame."
Hanson will get his shot at some point this season.
It's a challenging juggling act for the coaches, but not a bad position to be in, with not one but two goalies in which to be confident.
"To me, that's a crystal ball question; I don't have an answer," Bennett said. "It's how they're going, taking into account how their goalie ice is with coach Tapp. That is always going into Friday and Saturday night decisions, and how you play on Friday night if you're the starter.
"Then you look at the situations throughout the year of how do we get these guys plugged in so they get some reps and some games. But a lot goes into it behind the scenes. And if a guy is taking that puck and running with it, like we showed last year, we're going to give it to them."
The Dutchmen are scheduled to practice at the SCRF Friday morning and Saturday before returning to Messa next week.
The annual media day will be held Tuesday.
There were no apparent complaints about the ice surface inside the chilly SCRF.
"We feel it's a great distraction," Bennett said. "Any time you can put one of the better video boards in the country in your rink, you'll do whatever it takes to put that up. If we had to practice in New Hampshire, we would. It's a good problem."