(This post is part of a fundraiser for 826 Boston, a non-profit tutoring and writing center. For $50, readers can get me to write anything about hockey they want, so donate today to make me say stuff by clicking here. I probably don’t believe the nonsense below, which was requested by an anonymous donor.)
For a very long time, Union was more or less an afterthought in college hockey, and with good reason. Up until the 2007-08 season, they’d posted just four seasons of .500 or better since going to Division 1 in 1991-92. You can see why many people would have written them off.
But since 2007, the program has taken off under the stewardship of two coaches: Nate Leaman and Rick Bennett. Leaman took over the program in 2003, when Kevin Sneddon moved on to Vermont, and suffered through a number of tough losing seasons. But then around 2008, all the program-building he did finally paid off. He won 19 games, then 21, then 26 in successive years, making the NCAA tournament in that final campaign for the first time in school history, and also capturing the ECAC regular-season title. Then Leaman moved on to Providence, and has done a nice job of building up that struggling program as well.
Since Bennett, who served as Leaman’s assistant all those years, took over, the team has won 74 games over three seasons, and made the NCAA tournament in each, including a trip to the Frozen Four in the first one. This has led some to wonder what makes Union so great. The answer is pretty simple: They always have the puck.
(Note: Available data for this goes back as far as 1999-2000, which was Sneddon’s second year on the job.)
Divided up into four-year chunks — reasonable because this is a system that moves players out every four years — we actually get a good delineation between coaches. We have data for four years of Sneddon, eight of Leaman, and the first three of Bennett. So here’s something about that:
As you can see, once Leaman got all of Sneddon’s guys, who to be fair were mixed in with the previous coach’s players, out of the system, this is a team that started taking over in possession. Leaman is a hell of a smart coach and clearly recognizes that winning is predicated upon having the puck. Once Leaman had nothing but his guys playing for him in 2007-08, Union’s possession numbers surged from 47.7 to 52.59, which is no small jump. And while you might be able to write that off as being a one-year quirk, the fact that they jumped to 53.2 percent the next season and haven’t slipped below 54 percent in the five years since tells you that this is the kind of player they look for, and the kind of game they play.
Bennett’s season isn’t over yet, and it should be noted that the guys he’s recruiting aren’t making up the entirety of the team’s roster yet. But with a .701 winning percentage under him, thanks to a 55.52 percent share of the shots taken in their games, one has to imagine that he’s not about to slow down any time soon.
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