Opening Faceoff: Union hockey teams will phase in athletic scholarships over the next four years

We now have a better understanding of how the Union men’s and women’s hockey teams will be distributing athletic scholarships starting next season.

I spoke with Union College athletic director Jim McLaughlin last Tuesday about the athletic scholarships for the hockey teams. He said the athletic scholarships will be phased in over the next four years. There will be five athletic scholarships awarded by each team next season, five more in 2024-25 and five more in 2025-26. The teams should be at 18 athletic scholarships by 2026-27.

Union won the right to award athletic scholarships at last January’s NCAA convention. Proposal 4, which grants multi-divisional programs the ability to apply all Division I legislation to its Division I programs, including financial aid, was passed by the NCAA Division III membership.

“It’s obviously been a great addition,” McLaughlin said. “We’ve talked all along that it was going to be a plan that we’re going to phase in over a three- to four-year period. [Union women’s head coach] Josh Sciba and [Union men’s head coach] Josh Hauge are armed with them for this upcoming year, and I can certainly say it’s made a difference in the conversations that we’re having with individuals.”

Both coaches are happy with the phase-in process.

“It gives you the ability to manage your money a little bit and not go crazy,” Hauge said, “because I think if you had all 18, somebody could just sort of go nuts with it. This puts us in a spot [where] you spread them out throughout the classes as they come in.”

“It’s fantastic,” Sciba said. “Just the ability to have scholarships, in general, is something that I think is going to help us big time. We’ve already secured prospects for our class of 2023 that are scholarship players. Just the conversations, and the ability to be able to give out scholarships is obviously a huge, huge piece for us. Every time when we talked to recruits, it’s always been we love it here, the education takes care of itself. They actually love the rink, like the character and like the charm of the old rink. But I think the financial hurdle has always been something that’s been the biggest issue. I think for a lot of people that we’re recruiting now, we can eliminate that or at least improve that drastically in some way. I think it helps open up a lot more doors for us, so it’s definitely helpful.”

The big issue for both coaches is whether they want to award scholarships to incoming players only, or reward some of the current players.

“As of right now, the returning players all have their financial aid packages that they are expecting to continue on, unless they hear otherwise,” Sciba said. “But I think our intent right now is to continue to use them for incoming players, which we’ve communicated with a lot of our players. I think for us, there’s maybe some players in there that we can help them out at some point in their career in some way. If we have some scholarship money available, certainly we’d like to do it. But I think the easiest way for us is just to continue to get out there and recruit and use those scholarships for incoming players.”

“I think that you’re going to have to help some guys out in house and take care of some guys at the same point,” Hauge said. “I think everybody came [in] under the agreement of what they had. You’d love to take care of everyone, but at the same point, you’ve got to look for the future as well.”

UNION ADDS TWO

The Dutchmen received two commitments for the class of 2023-24 in the past week.

Jacob Jeannette, a forward for the United States Hockey League’s Dubuque Fighting Saints, and Riley Brueck, a forward for the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers, announced their commitments to Union recently on Twitter.

Jeannette is in his fourth season in the USHL. He spent the last three seasons with the USHL’s Waterloo Black Hawks. Last season, he had eight goals and 15 assists in 46 games. In 13 games this season, Jeannette has three goals and three assists.

“He works really hard,” Fighting Saints head coach and former RPI player Kirk MacDonald said in a telephone interview Monday. “His teammates love him. He’s a guy you can play up and down your lineup. He can play a ton of different roles. He’s killed penalties for us. He’s played on the power play. His line with the other two guys he’s with is arguably our best line the last four games, really dominant and controlling the play when they’re on the ice. They’ve been guys we can put out there when we need to kind of get momentum going back in our favor.”

Jeannette, who is from Duluth, Minnesota, is thrilled to be joining Union next season.

“[The] last couple of years of juniors, just being in the Midwest still after being in the Midwest growing up, I kind of wanted to experience something else,” Jeannette said in a telephone interview Tuesday. “When Union reached out, that was always intriguing to me. But on top of that, all the coaches that are there, Hauge, [assistant coaches] Lennie [Childs] and [John] Ronan, those guys are amazing. Just getting to talk to them on my visit and talking to them through the recruitment process, it was kind of a no-brainer for me to pick Union just because of what those guys are building. I think it’s going to be really special. I know the program’s on the right track right now.”

Brueck in his first season with Sioux City. He has two assists in nine games this season. Brueck spent the last two seasons with the North American Hockey League’s Wichita Falls Warriors. He had 18 goals and 15 assists in 47 games last season.

“Extremely honored to announce my commitment to play NCAA Division 1 hockey and further my education at Union College! Thank you to all my family, friends, and coaches who helped me to this point!” Bruce wrote on Twitter.

CATCHING UP

Besides talking about Jeannette, I had a chance to catch up with MacDonald, who played for RPI from 2002-07. He missed the 2005-06 season while battling testicular cancer.

MacDonald is in first season as head coach of Dubuque after spending the previous five years as the head coach of the ECHL’s Reading Royals.

MacDonald said he enjoyed his time in Reading, which is 58 miles northwest of Philadelphia. But he was ready for a change.

“We always had good teams and success,” MacDonald said. “There’s positives and negatives. I think the one thing there, which was always tough, was you build a team in the summer, then you’ve got to build another team when the call ups happen around Thanksgiving and then you got to build another team in the spring when the college season ends. There’s no continuity. You have your core group, and they’re awesome. That part’s great, but it’s nice to be here. And we’re now in month three, and it’s the same group and you can really see the growth in their habits and skill development because you’re not losing guys to call ups.

“Guys are committed to being here and wanting to get better. You want guys to get opportunities, or that the teams are here looking out for the NHL draft and you’ve got them for the whole year and you’re really seeing that development.”

POWER RANKINGS

Here is my latest installment of the ECAC Hockey Power Rankings.

1) Harvard — Ranked ninth, still undefeated and will face a stiff two-game test at No. 5 Michigan this weekend.

2) Quinnipiac — Swept Princeton last weekend, and now plays in this weekend’s Friendship Four tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Bobcats face Dartmouth on Friday.

3) Clarkson – Impressive sweep of Arizona State. The Golden Knights seem to be back on track.

4) Cornell – Scored five goals each against Yale and Brown.

5) Colgate – Also took care of business against Brown and Yale.

6) Union — Finishing up first trimester exams.

7) RPI – Engineers were lucky to earn a tie last Saturday against Alaska Fairbanks after losing to the Nanooks the night before.

8) St. Lawrence — Its game last Saturday at Niagara was postponed because of the blizzard in Western New York.

9) Princeton – No match for Quinnipiac last weekend.

10) Dartmouth — Off last weekend, which gave the Big Green plenty of time to prepare for Quinnipiac

11) Brown – Took Colgate is overtime last Friday.

12) Yale — The Bulldogs broke their four-game goalless drought by scoring twice against Cornell last Friday, and getting one against Colgate. But the Bulldogs surrendered 13 goals.

WALSH HONORED AGAIN

Union freshman forward Riley Walsh won her third women’s ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Week award. She scored both of the Dutchwomen’s goals, including the overtime game-winner, in last Tuesday’s 2-1 victory over RPI. It was Walsh’s third overtime game-winning goal.

Walsh shared the award with Yale’s Jordan Ray.

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