March 9, 2014

From NEHJ: Forging a Union strong dynamo

By Dan Guttenplan

Berkshire School product Kevin Sullivan had 17 assists through Union’s first 28 games.

If the Union men’s hockey team makes another deep run into March, history tells us senior forward Kevin Sullivan (Darien, Conn.) will have a big hand in the team’s success.

Sullivan, who attended the Berkshire School in Sheffield, Mass., before coming to Union, has a propensity for coming up big in the biggest moments throughout his college career.

As a sophomore in 2012, he notched a promising 13 points in 36 games, before emerging as one of Union’s most clutch players in the postseason. He helped Union close out RPI in the ECAC quarterfinals by scoring a career-best two goals. The next weekend, he notched an assist in Union’s win over Harvard in the ECAC tournament championship.

Last winter, Sullivan seemed to take a step back in the regular season with just one goal and four assists in October, November, December, January and February combined. Once again, he peaked in the games that mattered most. He had two goals in Union’s regular-season finale against Clarkson — a must-win for the Dutchmen in their quest for a first-round bye in the ECAC tournament. He added two goals and an assist in a close-out game over Dartmouth in the ECAC quarterfinals. He then tallied four assists in a three-game stretch against Yale, Brown and Boston College — all Union wins — as the Dutchmen repeated as ECAC tournament champions and advanced to the NCAA tournament regional final.

“He’s always been a second-half player,” Union coach Rick Bennett (Springfield, Mass.) said. “This year he’s been consistent throughout the season. He’s very well-liked by his teammates; people gravitate to him and his success. It’s no secret he’s played on some great teams, and he’s a big part of it.”

Sullivan has emerged as Union’s top passing forward as a senior, logging 17 assists through the team’s first 28 games. He needed just six games to surpass his career high for assists in a season.

The 23-year-old left wing developed his ice vision and passing skills in Connecticut playing youth hockey with his older brother Bobby, who later played Division 3 hockey at Colby College. Kevin often jumped on the ice with his brother’s friends, one of whom included current NHL forward Max Pacioretty (New Canaan, Conn.).

“I was fortunate my brother was friends with some really good players,” Sullivan said.

By high school, Sullivan had emerged as one of the top playmakers on the New England prep school circuit. He registered 66 points (21 goals, 45 assists) during his senior season. He also was a two-time U.S. Lacrosse Western New England All-American on defense.

Sullivan committed to Union in January of his junior season at the Berkshire School.

“I liked that Union was a smaller school,” Sullivan said. “I always thought it was cool that they could compete with bigger schools. The academics and hockey were both really good.”

Sullivan carved out a role as a third-line agitator as a freshman, although he admittedly needed to add strength to earn more ice time. He had three goals and eight assists in 22 games, setting the stage for a role on the top two lines.

“Coming from prep school to Division 1 hockey is very difficult,” Bennett said. “The speed and size of the players are the two most important aspects of being a productive hockey player. Kevin was trying to get acclimated to that. His experience in his three seasons has made him a dominant player. It’s been fun to watch.”

Before his sophomore season, Sullivan added enough strength to switch roles from agitator to legitimate power forward. He uses his 6-foot, 200-pound frame to create space for himself on the left wing as his linemates move into scoring position.

“That’s always been my thing,” Sullivan said. “I pass before I shoot. It’s not always the best thing. My prep school coaches and (Bennett) have gotten on me about it. I’ve been fortunate to play with some great goal scorers over the years.”

Sullivan also has played on some great teams, and this year is no different. Heading down the home stretch of the regular season, the Dutchmen held a three-point lead in the quest for the Cleary Cup, awarded to the ECAC Hockey regular-season champion. If the Dutchmen hold on, it would mark the third time in Sullivan’s four-year college career that Union won the Cleary Cup.

Sullivan also has been a member of Union teams that have made three NCAA tournament appearances and one Frozen Four appearance, plus two ECAC Hockey tournament championships. For a player who seems to thrive playing in those types of games, there will be no better finish to the season than another deep Union run.

“It’s sad to see it come to an end,” Sullivan said. “I think there’s a good chance we’ll go far again. As seniors, we’re leaving a good tradition here. The Cleary Cup, the ECAC tournament championship, and a national championship are all goals.”

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Twitter: @Dan_Guttenplan