By Meghan Creane
The Union community definitely has something to be proud of from these past two weeks, since two alumni of the class of 2013 have not only played, but also impacted two games in the NHL. Keith Kinkaid and Jeremy Welsh both graced the ice of Messa Rink for the Dutchmen and turned out amazing results during their time on the men’s ice hockey team. They have now both taken their talents all the way to the top, and what a long journey it has been.
The journey Kinkaid made to the NHL is something many scouts thought would be unattainable for the tall and lanky goaltender from Farmingville, N.Y. Scouts began to take notice of his size and skill while a member of the New York Bobcats (Atlantic Junior Hockey League) during the 2007-2008 season.
His outstanding play earned him a midseason promotion to the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League, the best junior league in North America. Everyone was excited to see what Keith could do, but unfortunately he was underwhelming, and some scouts and coaches were scared away—except for Union. The Dutchmen coaching staff still kept a close eye on Kinkaid prior to his 2008-2009 season with the St. Louis Bandits of the North American Hockey League, a Tier II junior league in the U.S. It paid off, since Kinkaid turned in one of the most decorated seasons in the history of the NAHL. He was named an All-Star, First Team All-League, League’s Top Goaltender, League Regular Season & Post-Season MVP and won the league championship. Kinkaid committed to Union in the midst of this incredible run.
The rest is history. Kinkaid came to Schenectady and found early success helping the Dutchmen to their first-ever ECAC Final Four and Championship game appearance. Kinkaid followed up this act with an even better one, leading Union to its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance along with his numerous honors: First Team All-League, ECAC Goaltender of the Year,and First Team All-American. Assistant Coach Jason Tapp remembers Kinkaid as an “ultra confident kid” who was “put in pressure situations and remained calm and cool…never rattled.” Current starting goalie Troy Groseneck ‘14 admired Kinkaid for being “an absolute rock” and a guy that inspired greatness on the whole team.
This was when the talks with NHL teams began to heat up. It was a tough decision for Kinkaid, but a contract with the New Jersey Devils and his dream of making it to the NHL were too appetizing. As of this moment, it has paid off for Kinkaid, who finally achieved his dream of playing in the NHL Tuesday, March 5. He came in to relieve Johan Hedberg with the Devils down 3-0, midway through the second period. Even though the Devils did not win, Kinkaid put in a solid performance, stopping 12 of 13 shots, including a stop on a breakaway from the NHL’s leading goal scorer Steven Stamkos. He was sent back down to the Albany Devils (AHL) after the game, but don’t be surprised if he’s back up with the NHL sometime in the near future, especially given his history of making a lot of “big saves look simple” according to Tapp.
Welsh’s talent was also evident during his junior days with his size and talent. As a member of the Oakville Blades of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, Welsh racked up 52 points in 48 games in the 2007-2008 season that saw the Blades win the league championship and Dudley Hewitt Cup (awarded to the Central Canadian Junior A champion). The following season, he captained the Blades to another strong finish, as well as accumulating 36 goals, 47 assists and 83 points in just 49 games. It was impossible not to see how good Welsh was. Many colleges and even pro teams showed interest in him, but luckily for the Dutchmen he picked Union.
Before he even committed to the Dutchmen, Welsh had an interesting and memorable encounter with the school and President Stephen Ainlay. As Coach Rick Bennett recounts, “I took him to the president’s house thinking it was a Minerva and found Mrs. Ainlay baking cookies…[Welsh and President Ainlay] then realized they had a previous connection.”
During his freshman year, it was obvious that Welsh had the tools and smarts to be an excellent college player. He scored 10 goals in his first year at Union, a solid amount for a freshman, but he still had plenty to work on. Over his next two seasons the Bayfield, Ontario native worked on all parts of his game, especially his skating. It paid off, since Welsh netted 16 goals and added 21 assists in his sophomore year.
But, it was Welsh’s third and final year that most of the student body really remembers. He was absolutely dominant, scoring 27 goals (fourth in the nation) and at times carrying the Dutchmen offense. His size, hands, leadership, improved skating and especially his booming shot had many scouts from the NHL coming to watch him play everywhere from Messa Rink to Tampa, Fla. where Welsh and the Dutchmen played in the Frozen Four.
The 3-1 loss to Ferris State in the Frozen Four was Union’s last of the 2011-2012 season, as well as the last game Welsh would play for Union. It was a bittersweet day for Welsh, since the Dutchmen lost, but right after the game he signed a professional contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. Just two days later he played in his first NHL game, becoming the first former Union player to play in an NHL game since Duane Joyce ‘87 played for the Dallas Stars in the 1993-94 season. All the Dutchmen miss Welsh, but especially Greg Coburn ‘13 who was good friends with Welsh. The two are still in contact despite busy schedules.
Welsh is splitting time between the Hurricanes and their AHL affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, this season. In 53 AHL games this year, Welsh has notched 11 goals, 10 assists and 21 points in 53 games. He’s also played five games with the Hurricanes this year, and tallied his first point last Thursday on Drayson Bowman’s goal against Montreal. He’s made the most of his time in the NHL, and don’t be surprised if he becomes a fixture in the Hurricanes lineup in the near future.
With two key alumni successfully making their way to the NHL it makes one wonder: Where will we see them next? As Tapp explains both guys had finally “got the call they had been waiting for. That’s what it’s like being a pro…when day you’re up and the next day you’re down.”
One thing that is for sure is that the Union community is proud and supportive of both of these former Dutchmen and are anxious to see what they will do next.