Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Know Your Enemy: Union

If you ever needed proof that anything is possible, ask someone who's been following the ECAC since the early 1990s if they ever thought Union would ever see a Frozen Four berth. For those of you who watched Union turn in terrible season after terrible season after terrible season after playoff choke, you can now officially remind yourself of this whenever you are down on your team: Union College played in the Frozen Four.

Nickname: Dutchmen
Location: Schenectady, NY
Founded: 1795
Conference: ECAC
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2012
Last Frozen Four: 2012
Coach: Rick Bennett (2nd season)
2011-12 Record: 26-8-7 (14-4-4 ECAC, 1st place)
Series: RPI leads, 45-28-10
First Game: February 26, 1904 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: November 13, 2010 (Troy, NY)
Last UC win: March 10, 2012 (Schenectady, NY)

2012-13 games: November 2, 2012 (Troy, NY); November 3, 2012 (Schenectady, NY); January 26, 2013 (Albany, NY)

Key players: F Wayne Simpson, sr.; F Kyle Bodie, sr.; D Greg Coburn, sr.; D Shawn Stuart, sr.; D Ryan Forgaard, sr; F Daniel Carr, jr.; F Josh Jooris, jr.; F Matt Hatch, jr.; D Mat Bodie, jr.; G Troy Grosenick, jr.; D Shayne Gostisbehere, so.; F Max Novak, so.; D Tim Boyle, fr.; F Theo DiPauli, fr.

Key losses: F Jeremy Welsh, F Kelly Zajac, D Nolan Julseth-White

Previous KYE installments:
Union's rise to the final weekend of the college hockey experience certainly wasn't overnight and, by the time they were playing there, the only people who should have been genuinely surprised are the people who routinely write off the ECAC as a league that just doesn't compete come late March. If there's one thing that characterized Union last year - and two years ago as well, for that matter - it's that they were a team that pretty much excelled at everything without quite being the best at anything, although statistically there wasn't a better defensive team last year with the Dutchmen clocking in at an eye-popping 1.83 goals per game.

They scored goals (6th in the nation). They converted on the power play (4th in the nation). They killed penalties (12th in the nation). There just weren't a lot of holes in Union's game last year because they played as a team and they refused to let anyone take them out of their game. And if you noticed above, the team's going to be largely the same as last year's, too.

There's no question that the offense will take a hit with Welsh's early jump to the NHL - he became the first Union alum in the NHL since the school's D-I move when he played in Carolina's final game of the regular season last year, picking up 4 penalty minutes - and Zajac's graduation (the Devils took a flyer on him). However, there is still plenty of offense in Schenectady to cushion the blow, especially with Carr, Simpson, and Jooris. It also opens room for Novak, who had a solid freshman campaign.

Defensively, Julseth-White was a rock but he wasn't the only one. With Grosenick sticking around after his unexpectedly monstrous sophomore season and basically all of the top defenders returning (especially Gostisbehere, whose tremendous freshman season saw him drafted in the 3rd round of the NHL Draft in June by Philadelphia), and the addition of fourth round draft selection Boyle (Ottawa), there's little reason to expect that Union will take much of a fall from where they were last year, especially if Forgaard stays healthy.

There's no question that Grosenick is going to need to replicate his numbers from last year to give the Dutchmen a shot at making another deep run into the NCAA tournament, but even if he's a little off, there's little doubt that Union has the talent to be the best in the ECAC for a third consecutive season. They are very well placed to compete over the next two years and possibly beyond, having locked up Rick Bennett through the end of the decade. That'll make for three very tough games for RPI - coming off a season where RPI lost five times to the same team for the first time in school history - but it's also never a bad thing to be paired with a tough team as your travel partner, something which we used to lament on a regular basis.

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