SCHENECTADY – There will be plenty of new players wearing Union men’s hockey uniforms when the Dutch take on their rival RPI in an exhibition match on October 2 at Messa Rink in their first competition. since March 2020.
Between last season’s recruiting class and this season’s recruiting class, which was announced on Thursday, 16 players will make their Union debuts. Seven of those players had to take time off last year because the Dutch, along with seven other ECAC hockey schools, canceled their seasons due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Union is one of many regional programs that will be dealing with adding a pair of recruiting classes this season. The integration of 16 new players with the ghosts will give rise to some interesting practices leading up to the exhibition match. Union opens the regular season on October 8 in New Hampshire and holds its first preseason team reunion on September 13 before starting practice the next day.
“To sit here and say that I know [what’s going to happen with] having two freshman classes I don’t have, “said Rick Bennett, who is entering his 10th season as head coach of the Dutch,” And it’s going to be fun. When we talk to our staff and when we talk to the players on September 13, that’s the message. Last year was last year. It’s finish. It’s yesterday.
“We’re more focused on what we’re going to do here in September and try to put together a team as quickly as possible because we have an exhibition game on October 2. We can’t lose a single day.”
And that will make preseason training more difficult. Returning players may not be guaranteed consistent playing time, particularly after a 2019-20 season which saw the Dutch finish 8-25-4 on aggregate, the first time they failed to make it reach double winning figures since the 1999-2000 season when they also won eight games.
“It will be a training camp from this first opening meeting,” Bennett said. “Obviously, it’s not a physical encounter, it’s a mental encounter. . . . We can’t wait to hang out with the guys.
Recruiting has been difficult for Bennett and his assistant coach John Ronan. Due to the pandemic, the NCAA has banned coaches from traveling. Instead of seeing the rookies play in person, the coaches had to watch them on video and chat with them on the phone. The junior and preparatory teams that were able to play only had a limited number of games due to the pandemic. Not everyone got to play full seasons.
Bennett praised Ronan for his work.
“I want to be perfectly clear that this class embodies John Ronan,” Bennett said. “I don’t want to leave out [former associate head coach] Jason Tapp, too, with some of those players here. The job John did on the computer and just with all the calls was, honestly, very impressive. It was tireless. This [took] several hours to do it. He made the most of the situation and John did a great job.
Union had ice last season and had a few practices and intra-team games. Bennett liked what he saw.
“It was really exciting,” Bennett said. “We saw a lot, especially from the second year class who was in first year last year. We love their size and skill. They really add a lot to the team. I really felt that.
RPI is in the same situation as Union. Engineers were absent last season due to the pandemic. Unlike the Dutch, the Engineers did not have ice at Houston Field House, so all training was done remotely.
RPI head coach Dave Smith has 16 new players on the squad.
“It will be a challenge,” Smith said. “We need to bring our team together. There are obvious challenges of different systems, different characters, and different chemistries. What we do as coaches is we have to bring these guys together and form a team as quickly as possible.
Here’s a look at the nine new Union players.
Cullen Ferguson (defenseman): Played in 36 games with the Aberdeen Wings of the North American Hockey League last season and had six goals and 15 assists with a defensive rating over / under +33.
Collin Graf (formerly): Played in 42 games with the Boston Bruins Jr. at the National Collegiate Development Conference last season. He was fourth in the league with 54 points (19 goals, 35 assists).
Michael Hodge (formerly): Has 10 goals and 19 assists in a shortened 16-game season for the Fort McMurray Oil Barons of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
Josh Phillips (defender): Split between the American Hockey League’s Sioux Falls Stampede and the NAHL’s Minnesota Wilderness last season. Played 46 games for the Wilderness, recording four goals and five assists.
Thomas Richter (formerly): The son of former New York Rangers goaltender Mike Richter had three goals and six assists in a shortened 20-game season with the Penticton Vees of the BC Hockey League .
Andrew Seaman (formerly): Scored 10 goals and six assists in 17 games with the BCHL Prince George Spruce Kings.
Joe Sharib (goalie): Was 10-7-3 with a 3.10 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 21 games for the Connecticut Jr. of NCDC.
Caden Villegas (before): Played 42 games with the USHL Tri-City Storm and had eight goals and nine assists.
Connor Murphy (Guardian): The Hudson Falls native is a transfer from Northeastern and will be a junior. He was 9-9-3 for the Huskies last season with a 2.72 GAA, .910 save percentage and two shutouts.
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