A lost weekend against Lake Superior State last October seems like a long time ago to the Union hockey program. Since that time, the Dutchmen have won the ECAC Regular Season and Tournament championships and, of course, were crowned NCAA Champions.
Since that weekend sweep at the hands of the Lakers, Union has only taken to the ice at Messa Rink and lost just once. This weekend No. 2 Union looks to add to its 13-game home winning streak against No. 9 St. Cloud State.
St. Cloud State provides the toughest test yet this season for Rick Bennett's club. Union comes into the weekend fresh off a two-game sweep of Maine at the always-hostile Alfond Arena.
With all the offseason departures due to graduation and Shayne Gostisbehere's early exit to the pros, the Dutchmen are still a work in progress. Bennett mentioned as much after Friday's 3-0 win over Maine, suggesting that his team was still making too many mistakes. Bennett, arguably the country's top young coach, is in the Bill Belichick mold of coaching where he is always striving for improvement.
The loss of Gostisbehere and captain Mat Bodie was not just a blow to the team's blue line, but also to its leadership core.
Bodie and Gostisbehere aren't easily replaceable, but senior Charlie Vasaturo has taken over the leadership role. Junior defenseman Sebastien Gingras was always known as more of an offensive defenseman, but he has really stepped up his play in his own end. The former Maine commit +4 over the two games against the team that originally recruited him.
Pittsburgh Penguins draft choice Jeff Taylor has been strong so far this young season. He has a goal and four assists from the blue line and is +3.
It's not a surprise to people who watched the Dutchmen closely last season, but sophomore Mike Vecchione has really stepped up to fill some of the scoring void. The Saugus, Mass. native was good on draws last season and played an important role centering Daniel Carr's line. This season he has stepped up his game even further. Vecchione has at least two points in each of Union's four games for a total of three goals and six assists. He's been even better in the faceoff circle, going 57-33, and has a +5 plus/minus ratio.
After registering an assist in each of the first three games Daniel Ciampini lit the lamp twice and added a helper in Union's 5-2 win over Maine Saturday in the series finale.
Another positive development for the Dutchmen's future success this season is the immediate contribution of several freshmen. Spencer Foo has stepped into Carr's spot on the top line with Ciampini and Vecchione. The Edmonton, Alberta native has two goals and two assists.
Ryan Scarfo has centered the second line with fellow rookie Roman Ammirato on the left side. Scarfo, a North Chelmsford, Mass. native, has gained a lot responsibility in all three zones fairly quickly.
Two freshmen defenders appear to have adjusted quite well to patrolling the blue line at the Division I level. J.C. Brassard and Nick DeSimone have played in all four games. Brassard, in his final year of draft eligibility, has a goal and two assists and is +4 on the season.
Goaltender Colin Stevens was lost in the shadow of Mat Bodie and Gostisbehere last season, but he's a potential game changer. The senior from Niskayuna, NY picked up his 10th career shutout Friday night and was the undisputed difference in the game.
For St. Cloud this is the second consecutive series against a top 10 foe from ECAC Hockey. The Huskies split a pair of games at home against Colgate the first weekend of the season before an off-weekend. Bob Motzko's team is expected to once again be in contention for an NCAA Tournament spot.
SCSU is led up front by junior forward and Los Angeles Kings prospect Johnny Brodzinski, who has three goals and an assist on the young season. Joey Benik has the only other Huskies' goal.
Defensively, the Huskies are led by senior Andrew Prochno and junior Ethan Prow who were +19 and +16, respectively, last season. St. Cloud will be without heralded freshman Mike Ilvonen, who has to sit out the first five games due to the NCAA's ruling on his eligibility.
Sophomore Charlie Lindgren takes over as the full-time starter following the early defection of Ryan Faragher to the professional ranks.
Puck drop at Messa Rink is scheduled for 7 p.m. both nights. Neither game is on television, but can be seen here at http://www.unionathletics.tv/.
For Union fans looking to get a better read on St. Cloud, Mick Hatten of the St. Cloud Times is a good follow @MickHatten. SCSU fans looking for insight into Union should follow Ken Schott of the Schenectady Daily Gazette @slapschotts and Ryan Fay @UnionHockeyBlog.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.