April 7, 2012
Approximately 48 hours after the Union College hockey team lost to Ferris State in the NCAA Tournament semifinals in Tampa, Jeremy Welsh played his first NHL game with the Carolina Hurricanes in a 4-1 loss to Florida.
Welsh racked up some decent numbers in his first -- and only -- NHL game this season (the Hurricanes are out of the playoff picture). He played on 24 shifts for more than 16 minutes and registered two shots on goal. He also racked up four penalty minutes and dished out three hits. Overall, it was a good introduction to the NHL for Welsh.
Welsh may not be the only Dutchmen going pro from this year's team, either. I suspect that goaltender Troy Grosenick will garner some much-deserved attention from NHL clubs looking to draft or sign a top-notch prospect. After the season Grosenick had (22-6-3 record, 1.65 goals against average, .936 save percentage), I'm sure he will be contacted by several clubs. Whether he decides to go pro or not is up to him, but he would be passing up a golden opportunity if he decides to come back to school next year.
Losing Welsh and potentially losing Grosenick would only be two of the more serious hits the Union roster will take after this historic season. Forward Kelly Zajac and defenseman Nolan Julseth-White are among five key seniors graduating in May. Combine that with who has already left (Welsh) and who might leave (Grosenick), and head coach Rick Bennett may have some significant holes to fill before next season.
There is some good news for Union hockey fans, though. The team's third and fourth leading scorers, Daniel Carr and Wayne Simpson, should be back next year -- barring any pro offers that might come their way. If Carr and Simpson return, that should give the Dutchmen a good core to build their offense around.
If Grosenick leaves, Union has a very capable replacement (not to mention a great local story) in Niskayuna native Colin Stevens. As a freshman, Stevens played in 11 games, racked up a .913 save percentage and a 2.25 GAA. That's a far bigger sample than what Grosenick had in his first year at Union in 2010-11 (three games, 2.12 GAA, .897 save percentage), so that should ease some minds going forward.
Overall, I think Union should have enough pieces in place next year to make another run at the ECAC regular season and tournament titles. Whether the Dutchmen get back to the "Frozen Four" is another matter. For that they will need someone to step up in Welsh's place, potentially someone to step up in Grosenick's place and a little bit of good fortune, too.