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Union Moves Forward with NCAA Championship Season in Rearview

The No. 2 Dutchmen head to the always-hostile Alfond Arena this weekend for a two-game series against the University of Maine.

Union goaltender Colin Stevens
Union goaltender Colin Stevens
Matt Dewkett

Sam Coatta and his Union teammates are ready to move on from last season. After receiving their NCAA Championship rings and witnessing the first national championship banner in program history raised to the Messa Rink rafters last Friday, the Dutchmen are ready to move on to the future.

"We want to focus on the future. [The banner ceremony] was the last hurrah. We're now moving on and focusing on this year," said Coatta.

It's not that Coatta and his teammates aren't extremely proud of their accomplishments from last season, but the senior class is eager to provide the leadership necessary for Union to once again be playing meaningful games in April.

"Nothing is guaranteed," said Coatta, a senior with 25 career points. "It will definitely be different. It's something we have to approach as a team," he added on playing with new expectations.

According to Coatta, Union had a very good fall camp and has continued to concentrate on the things the team believes has made it successful over the past few seasons

"We're harping on the approach of how to play Union hockey. We're trying to engrave on the young guys to come to the rink and work hard everyday," said Coatta. "We're making big strides. We're getting better everyday. We want to build on the success."

If Union is to make another run at a national championship, it will do so without the likes of Shayne Gostisbehere, Mat Bodie, Daniel Carr and a host of other significant role players.

"We lost some key players, but the coaching staff did a really good job of bringing new guys in. The freshmen were brought in to play for a reason, not necessarily to fill roles of the guys who left," said Coatta. "Mat Bodie was a great leader for us," added the alternate captain.

After opening weekend wins over American International and New Hampshire, Union is ranked No. 2 in the country as it heads to Orono for a two-game series against the University of Maine at the always-hostile Alfond Arena.

"[Maine] is a good team. It's a tough atmosphere up there. Everyone around college hockey knows how loud and great the fans are up there. They have a great tradition," said Coatta.

Union is led offensively by standout sophomore Mike Vecchione, who has picked up right where he left off last season. The former UNH commit centered Daniel Carr's line last season, but after putting up two goals and two assists in the first two games, Vecchione has made it clear he will be just fine on his own.

Coatta has two goals and assist so far this season while fellow senior Daniel Ciampini has two assists. Six different Dutchmen accounted for the team's 10 goals last weekend.

Freshman Spencer Foo notched a goal in his first collegiate game and added an assist the next night. "Spencer had a good weekend," said Coatta of the former Bonnyville Pontiac star.

There was significant concern about the defense after losing Gostisbehere and Bodie on the blue line. Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Jeff Taylor will anchor a defense that has just one senior, Charlie Vasaturo. Hardcore Maine fans might recognize the name of junior defenseman Sebastien Gingras, a former Black Bear commit.

Two swift-footed rookies, JC Brassard and Nick DeSimone, have already implanted themselves into the lineup. "Brassard and DeSimone were really solid back there. They'll get even better as the year goes along," said Coatta.

The backbone of the defense is senior goaltender Colin Stevens who emerged as an outstanding goaltender last season after hiding in the shadows of former goaltender Troy Grosenick who moved on to the San Jose Sharks organization.

"Colin has a quiet confidence about him which is perhaps why he isn't as noticed around the country," said Coatta. "But in our locker room we've always known how big he is for us. He's come a long way. Alex Sakellaropoulos is a good goalie too. They really push each other. We have confidence in both."

The Dutchmen will still be without senior forward Max Novak, who is serving the last two games of his five-game suspension of an unspecified violation of team rules. Junior forwards Matt Wilkins and Nick Cruice are eligible to return this weekend after serving three game suspensions.

Maine will be out for blood after a tough trip to the Last Frontier that saw the Black Bears fall on consecutive nights to Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks.

What second year head coach Red Gendron's team lacks in depth, it makes up for in high-end talent. Maine's roster includes two returning All-Americans in forward Devin Shore and defenseman Ben Hutton.

Shore, a Dallas Stars prospect, is one of the truly elite two-way center icemen in college hockey. An exceptional leader, Shore is in his second season with a letter on his sweater. He's not flashy like say a Johnny Gaudreau, but he has deceptive speed and is poised with the puck and has terrific hockey IQ.

Hutton is a mobile defenseman who has always had good vision and stick skills, but his defensive game improved significantly last season. The Vancouver Canucks draft pick logged a ton of minutes in all situations for Gendron. What Union fans will notice is Hutton doesn't shy away from joining the rush. Last year he set the school record for most goals in a season by a defenseman.

In goal, Union will most likely see two different tenders over the course of the weekend. Redshirt sophomore Matt Morris and freshman Sean Romeo each got a start in Anchorage and that should be the plan again this weekend. Neither goalie had a good game statistically, but much of that can be blamed on the defense in front.

This is the first matchup between the two schools since the 2009-10 season when the Dutchmen swept a two-game series at Messa Rink in Schenectady. The season before, Maine swept a two-game set at the Alfond.

Friday's game is a 7:30 start and will be broadcast nationally on Fox College Sports. Saturday's series finale is a 7:00 start. The series is an early test for both teams as they look to prove their team's merit on different levels.

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.