We’ve reached the home stretch. For the next week, TCHB will be unveiling the final five teams in the preseason top 16 countdown. 16 of course because there are 16 teams in the NCAA tournament. Today’s team is the #5 Union Dutchmen
Last year Union’s program soared to new heights, as the school captured its first ever ECAC regular season title. The team remains largely intact on the ice, though they have one major hole to fill as former coach Nate Leaman left to take over the program at Providence. Replacing him is Rick Bennett, who was an assistant to Leaman since the 2005-06 season, and ironically was at Providence before then. The fact that little is likely to change with the running of the program leads me to believe that Union is a serious Frozen Four contender this year.
Forwards: Of Union’s 9 highest scoring forwards, 7 of them are back this year. Maybe it is a bit of western bias on my part, but I have always been a big fan of Kelly Zajac. Zajac led the team with 42 points and was 4th with 13 goals. Though to be fair to his detractors almost 1/3 of his goals came in their second game of the year, when he had 4 vs. Sacred Heart. The Pioneers were dead last in defense last year, allowing 4.68 goals per game, so perhaps we should temper our expectations for him this year.
Still, even if Zajac regresses a bit (which is no lock) there are plenty of forwards ready to step up: Daniel Carr led the team with 20 goals as a Freshman last year, and Jeremy Welsh (16), and Wayne Simpson (16), each had great Sophomore seasons.
To fill the void of the departed Adam Presizniuk (12 goals) and John Simpson (8), I like Kyle Bodie, who had 8 goals as a Sophomore, and I have heard good things about Kevin Sullivan. He only had 3 goals in 21 games last year, but all three came in the 2nd half of the season, though admittedly he wasn’t able to generate too many shots. Interestingly, the Dutchmen were undefeated when he registered a point, and were 15-4-2 when he was in the lineup.
Defensemen: Union lost Brock Matheson to graduation, but returns the rest of their D corps. Good news for a team that allowed 2.10 goals per game overall, which was 2nd in the country. They also allowed only 1.95 per ECAC game, which led the conference. Mat Bodie was the big scorer from back there, with 3-11-14 in conference play, which was 4th among ECAC defensemen, and 6-26–32 overall. The rest of the D corps won’t offer much in the way of offense (though Greg Coburn had 5 goals) but it’s tough to argue with how well they played last year.
Goaltenders: This is the big question. Keith Kinkaid left as an amateur free agent to sign with New Jersey, and given that he had a .920 save percentage last year, Union has a big hole to fill. Troy Grosenick had just a .897 save percentage in only 3 games played last year, and Union has a pair of recruits coming in as well in Dillon Pieri, who looks like the third goalie as of now, and they’ll also bring in Colin Stevens, who was tremendous in the EJHL this year. I am assuming by the end of the year he will be getting the bulk of the playing time for the Dutchmen.
Union has a great group of forwards and defensemen back, and assuming all systems are go as far as the coaching staff is concerned and a goalie can come somewhere near Kinkaid’s production Union should be in the NCAA tournament and in the frozen four mix.