By Evan Slavit
Over the summer, the Dutchmen made some headlines. A recruit, goaltender Julien Laplante, lost his chance to play for the Dutchmen when it was revealed to coach Rick Bennett that Laplante had played in a professional game.
When Ken Schott of the Schenectady Gazette asked Bennett how he found this out, Bennett replied by saying, “I found through a second party that he had 20 minutes of major junior. When I called the player about it, he confirmed that he played 20 minutes of an exhibition game. I said that’s not how we run the program, and that was it.”
At the ripe age of sixteen, Laplante was purportedly offered the opportunity to play for the Portland Winter Hawks of the Western Hockey League. The Winter Hawks are a major junior team, which is overseen by the CHL, and considered a professional league by the NCAA.
He then played 20 minutes, or one period, of an exhibition game for them. That is all. He wasn’t paid, he had no idea he had broken any rules, and never played another game for them. That, however, was enough for the NCAA to suspend Laplante for a full season.
Before any ruling was made, Bennett and the rest of the coaching staff told him they were planning on moving on. Shortly after, the departed head coach of the men’s program, Nate Leaman, contacted Laplante and secured him a spot for the ex-head coach’s new team, the Providence Friars.
It remains that Laplante will have to sit out the season with the Friars as well before he will be eligible to play in the 2012-2013 campaign.
Yet, the question remains: why would Union dismiss Laplante, a bonafide prospect, so easily, despite the NCAA-mandated waiting period?
The answer seems to be twofold. First, Bennett made his decision before the NCAA deemed Laplante ineligible, a move that seems to be geared toward keeping Union’s track record of good PR in place. On the heels of the most successful season in program history, it holds that the new coach would try to avoid any fracas off the ice.
Second, and more importantly, the decision to jettison Laplante was made easier by the status of recruit Colin Stevens. Stevens, who was committed to join the Dutchmen the first season—that is, the 2012-2013 campaign—in which Laplante would be eligible. With Laplante in the mix, the goaltender depth chart would have had Troy Grosenick, Laplante, Stevens, and Dillon Pieri. That would be four goaltenders capable of starting at the college hockey level log-jammed on Bennett’s roster.
To resign any of the four to the bench for the majority, if not all, of their college hockey careers seems unnecessary, if not selfish. Instead Union let him go, and it looks like he has found a nice opportunity with the coach he originally intended to play for in Providence.
The positive for Union is that, despite the panic that ensued, the coaching staff was able to contact Stevens and get him to attend Union a year early. Stevens is a highly touted recruit, similar to the now-departed Keith Kinkaid in both fanfare and build.
Additionally, with the highly capable Grosenick penciled in as the team’s number one option between the pipes, Stevens is under no pressure to come in and dominate right away. Grosenick, who was slotted behind Kinkaid and the now-graduated Corey Milan, has looked very good and has the support of the team.
It seems as if the program is preparing itself for a similar situation to what it had two years ago. That was Kinkaid’s freshman season, and the coaching staff put him in a platoon with then starter, Corey Milan.
Milan, a former all-ECAC rookie, was clearly the better goalie at the start of the season, but as the season progressed, Kinkaid picked up his play and the two of them formed one of the best platoons in the ECAC, and led the team to the ECAC Finals.
Coach Bennett is now hoping for the same result, two years later.