Union College more mature this time around

This is the first of four stories previewing each team in the 2014 Frozen Four.
(Union Hockey)

(Union Hockey)

Looking at all the teams who have made it to the 2014 Frozen Four in Philadelphia, Pa., next week, Boston College, the University of Minnesota and the University of North Dakota have a combined 65 appearances – and then there’s Union College.

This is only the second time Union has made the Frozen Four since joining Division I of the NCAA in 1991-92, the first time being just two years ago.

“We feel very fortunate enough to be going back to the Frozen Four,” said Rick Bennett, head coach of Union. “Obviously that doesn’t happen every day. We’re just looking forward to the opportunity when we get to Philadelphia.”

Since taking over as coach in 2011, Bennett has put together a 78-27-16 record and now has taken his team to the ultimate college hockey tournament twice.

And this time around, Union is coming in with a far different mindset than the last time.

“Two years ago when we went, it was loud in that dressing room,” said senior defenseman Mat Bodie. “Guys were really celebrating hard. This year, we were extremely happy that we won, but we didn’t celebrate like we won a championship because we hadn’t yet.

“I think the biggest thing is that we’re keeping a lot of things just within the locker room. [We’re] not letting any distractions come at us and get carried away with any media or students or faculty members. This year, we’re just a little bit more mature in our approach here.”

The different attitude hasn’t gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.

“I thought the locker room from two years ago to the other day was night and day in the fact that it went from a circus to a business-like atmosphere,” Bennett said. “I really credit Mat and our leaders with that type of mentality. I thought it was excellent to go into. You could see the joy, but at the same time, you can look in and see the seriousness that this is not the end. We actually want to keep this thing going.”

Union will be facing a tough opponent in the semifinal game in Boston College, a very familiar face.

In last year’s East Regionals, the two met with Union coming out on top by a final of 5-1 before losing by the same score to Quinnipiac University the next day.

“Obviously last year was last year,” Bennett said. “They have a totally different team this time around, as do we. They have the top line there that is extremely dangerous, but they also have a core back there on defense and a goaltender that’s exceptional. It’s going to be just as tough, if not tougher than last year, but at this stage, everyone you face is tough.”

Despite the different teams, if Union can take anything away from the games last season, it’s that they need to grab the lead and not let up.

“They’re a real dangerous team,” Bodie said. “They have been for years. Last year, they were just as dangerous. We were fortunate to jump out on the lead against them last year. We’re going to have to play our game and be sound defensively if we’re going to try to shut them down.”

Heading into the tournament next week and in spite the 12-day break, Bennett and the coaching staff may change a few things in practice, but nothing major.

“We’re going to switch it up a little bit, but nothing Earth-shattering here these guys haven’t been through throughout the season,” he said. “[I’ll] talk to the coaching staff about it and I’ll talk to Mat and the leaders about it and explain it. As a team, we’ll watch the Providence game – what we did right, what we did wrong – and put that game behind us and get focused on Boston College.

“I don’t see any big adjustments. I’ve watched a few games of Boston College with their top line. We’ve faced some very dangerous lines all throughout the year, so hopefully that will help us going into the BC game. We’ll just use that experience against them.”

Lucky for Union, they’re led from the back-end by a solid goaltender in junior Colin Stevens.

Stevens, who battled back from an injury in the first game of the season, went on to post a 26-4-2 record with a 1.93 goals-against average and .932 save percentage, which is a big step forward from the year before when he played in only 11 games with a 4-2-4 record.

“I think Colin has faced a lot of adversity through his three years,” Bennett said. “I think through that adversity, he’s really learned from [it]. He’s matured, he’s gotten bigger and he’s gotten stronger throughout his time here. He came in very young and it just takes time.

“Colin has been willing to work hard and get better. The guys see the work that he puts in, so when they’re out there playing, they’re playing so hard for him because they know how hard he works. I think there’s something to that.”

The team as a whole has been clicking on all cylinders for two months, which can be credited to the game against Colgate University on Feb. 15.

“Going back to the Colgate game, we had some guys out of the lineup,” Bodie said. “We thought we were playing well, [but] we just had a couple defensive breakdowns. Since that time, I think Colin Stevens has really picked up his play. He’s been making phenomenal saves to bail out defensive mistakes.”

Since that time, Stevens and the team haven’t allowed more than two goals in a game, including four shutouts, and have won 10 in a row, which neither of the other three teams have accomplished heading into the tournament.

“As far as a preparation standpoint, I think guys have added a little bit extra to their practice habits,” Bodie said. “The drills we do and the defensive zone coverages have really increased here. I think we bought into that and practiced a little bit harder and that’s paying off a little bit in the games.

“A lot of people still really haven’t heard of Union College. From the player’s perspective and the coach’s perspective, we’re a lot more prepared for this. Last time, we celebrated pretty hard after we got there and this year was a little but more subdued because we know there’s still a lot more hockey left to play here.”

NOTES

Head Coach: Rick Bennett

Overall Record: 30-6-4

Streak: Win 10

Goals For / Goals Against: 148 / 82

Power Play: 21.6 percent

Penalty Kill: 83.0 percent

Top Forward: Daniel Carr (Senior) – 48 points (22G, 26A)

Top Defenseman: Mat Bodie (Senior) – 35 points (6G, 29A)

No. 1 Goaltender: Colin Stevens – 26-4-2, 1.93 GAA, .932 SV%, 6 SO

NHL Draft Picks: Shayne Gostisbehere (D – Philadelphia Flyers)

Frozen Four Appearances: 2

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Categories: College Sports, Frozen Four, Ice Hockey, Sports

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