When Keith Kinkaid made his NHL debut for New Jersey on Tuesday, Union men's hockey head coach Rick Bennett couldn't have been happier for his former goaltender.
"It was really fun to watch him play," Bennett said. "To see his dream become a reality was really special."
Bennett, an assistant when Kinkaid was being recruited, said the goalie landed on Union's radar after a strong showing one year in the Chowder Cup, a summer tournament. Reeling Kinkaid in was a "team effort," according to Bennett, who also credited former head coach Nate Leaman and ex-assistant Ben Barr.
Bennett said Kinkaid began flashing pro potential during the 2008-2009 season when he posted a 1.78 goals against average for the St. Louis Bandits of the North American Hockey League.
It turned out that Kinkaid would only do one more year at Union as the Farmingville, New York native signed with the New Jersey Devils organization in the weeks following his sophomore campaign and has since played extensively for their top minor league affiliate in Albany.
Despite stopping 12 of 13 shots in his NHL debut, Kinkaid was sent back to Albany on Wednesday for more seasoning.
Kinkaid isn't the only other recent Union player to have gone on to the pro ranks. Forward Kelly Zajac and defenseman Nolan Julseth-White are currently on American Hockey League rosters (Albany and Providence, respectively) while forward Jeremy Welsh is with Carolina in the National Hockey League.
That has to look impressive to potential recruits, right?
"I'd like to think it does help, but we've heard a lot of 'no' through our recruiting battles this year," Bennett said. "To say it has pushed over the edge in recruiting, I can't say that it has."
From Steve Baker to Trevor Koenig to Kris Mayotte to Kinkaid to Troy Grosenick, Union has a rich history between the pipes.
"If you want to be a goaltender and you want to be in the spotlight, there's not a better program than Union College," Bennett said. "It seems like people gravitate towards the goaltender. That happens a lot of places, but more so here. It's such a high profiled position and people want to know you. It's really important that we recruit high character guys.
"If you're a good goalie, you're going to have a lot of the spotlight. Through that spotlight, you have to carry yourself in the right way. All these guys that have come through the program have done that."
Grosenick missed Saturday's 4-0 win over Clarkson after sustaining an injury the previous night, but returned to practice this week and has "looked good," according to Bennett.
Backup Colin Stevens turned in a terrific performance in relief of Grosenick, stopping all 24 shots he faced en route to picking up his third shutout of the year.
"It will be a nice, healthy competition," Bennett said of his goaltending situation. "That's what you want going into the playoffs."
The ECAC men's hockey playoffs get underway this weekend, but Union is off on account of having a first round bye. The Dutchmen host the highest remaining five through nine seed next weekend.
If Bennett is right, fifth-seeded Dartmouth will be coming to Messa Rink. The coach picked them to eliminate 12th-seeded Harvard this weekend.
In other action, sixth-seeded St. Lawrence hosts 11th-seeded Colgate and Bennett favors Colgate.
"It's tough for me to count Colgate out when they always seem to get there," he said.
The third first round matchup pits eighth-seeded Princeton against ninth-seeded Cornell and Bennett likes Cornell.
"Cornell is one of those teams, too," he said. "They find a way and have a ton of experience."
The final first round series is seventh-seeded Brown against 10th-seeded Clarkson.
"I'm going to have to go with Brown at this point, but if Allan McPherson is healthy it's going to be a tossup," Bennett said, referencing Clarkson's fourth-leading scorer who was banged up Saturday's 4-0 loss to Union.