October 26, 2011

ECAC Hockey Journal: So far, so good at Union

by Dan Guttenplan

Rick Bennett had been an assistant hockey coach at Union for six seasons when he received a promotion to become the head man in April.

He figured his experience at Union would either be his biggest strength or his biggest weakness.

"Every assistant coach who has taken over a program has some type of headache or issue," Bennett said. "Mine was, ‘Are they going to accept me as a head coach after knowing me as an assistant?’"

It was a legitimate question for Bennett, who had served under Nate Leaman since 2005-2006, a stretch in which Union experienced unprecedented success in the history of the program. Leaman moved on to Providence College in April after leading Union to an ECAC Hockey regular-season title and NCAA tournament berth. He is the reigning Division 1 Coach of the Year.

Bennett's preseason fears that his message might fall on deaf ears appear to be unwarranted. He has Union off to a 2-0-3 start with two of the ties coming against Western Michigan, the No. 7 team in the most recent USCHO.com poll.

"So far, so good," Bennett said. "The guys have responded to me the way I hoped."

Bennett's first-year starting goaltender, Trey Grosenick, earned ECAC Hockey Goaltender of the Week honors Tuesday. He posted his first shutout Saturday in a 5-0 non-league win over RIT.

So, five games in, is it fair to say the beat goes on at Union, a program that recently drew a ranking in the USCHO.com poll for the 41st consecutive week?

"I've changed a few things, but I haven't tinkered too much with it," Bennett said. "There hasn't been anything earth shattering: little system changes, power-play personnel and penalty-kill changes.

"The biggest thing is to be yourself," Bennett continued. "I'm doing it the same way I did it as an assistant. I'm up front with them and always honest. It seems to help, system-wise."

In his experience as an assistant, Bennett found that his best course of action was often to slip into the background and "let the players play." The same philosophy appears to be serving him well in his new post.

Game of the Week

Union at UNH, Friday

The Dutchmen will take on UNH for the first time since 2003. It will be a big weekend for Union, as the squad will honor the 2010-11 season with a Cleary Cup and NCAA tournament banner ceremony.

UNH is in desperation mode, still seeking its first win.

ECAC Hockey power ratings

1. Yale (0-0)

The Elis open against Princeton Friday night in the Ivy Shootout.

2. Union (2-0-3)

So much for goaltending issues; the Dutchmen have allowed nine goals in five games.

3. Cornell (0-0)

The Big Red open against Mercyhurst at home Saturday night.

4. Colgate (3-1-1)

Ranked in the USCHO.com poll for two weeks in a row for first time since 2006.

5. Quinnipiac (6-2)

Freshman Matthew Peca was named ECAC Freshman of the Week on the heels of Jeremy Langlois' ECAC Player of the Week nod.

6. Dartmouth (0-0)

Dartmouth opens its much-anticipated season against Brown Friday in the Ivy Shootout.

7. Clarkson (4-1-1)

First-year coach Casey Jones just completed his first homestand by leading the team to a four-game winning streak.

8. RPI (1-4)

A 5-2 loss to Notre Dame is all RPI had to show for itself last week.

9. Princeton (0-0)

The Tigers are dealt the tough task of an opener against Yale Friday in the Ivy Shootout.

10. Harvard (0-0)

Harvard does not begin its season until Nov. 4 against Princeton.

11. Brown (0-0)

Brown will have a chance to prove itself Saturday against Dartmouth in the Ivy Shootout.

12. St. Lawrence (0-4)

St. Lawrence received a much-needed week off after allowing 25 goals allowed in four games.

Dan Guttenplan can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.