Union Awaits NCAAs After Colgate Shocker
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
A year ago, with what a lot of people thought was Union's "year," the Dutchmen fell one game short of an ECAC championship and one game short of its first NCAA Tournament bid in its Division I history.
One year later, Union had an even better season, led by a sophomore goaltender and a pack of young scorers, upsetting Yale to take regular-season title. But this ECAC Tournament run falls far short of last year.
Perhaps an NCAA Tournament bid — all but assured — will be of consolation, but for now, Union was feeling the sting of an overtime loss in Game 3 at home to last-place Colgate, 4-3.
"It's tough because we led so much of this series, we just couldn't pull away from them," Union coach Nate Leaman said.
Union won the first game, and led 2-0 in Game 2 going into the third period of the second game, only to see it slip away. Sunday, Union took the lead three different times, but never led by more than one goal.
Colgate, meanwhile, did the same thing to RPI last weekend, losing the first game, and rallying to eventually win the series in overtime. The Raiders won seven games during the regular season, and didn't have their first league win until February. But have won four games in the playoffs.
"It was another gutsy performance by our team," Colgate coach Don Vaughan said. "I just thought the effort was over the top. Everyone knows we've had a challenging year. The two guys sitting next to me, seniors, Brian Day and Frank Brisebois, seniors who have endured a lot of that, a lot on their shoulders. And for us to come in and get a win, it speaks to the character. I couldn't be more proud of our team."
Said Leaman, "They've experienced a lot of overtime. They really dominated overtime against RPI last week. That's why I called timeout, to settle us down a bit. Give them credit."
The winning goal was scored by senior defenseman Wade Poplawski, his first of the season and just his sixth of his career.
"It's been kind of a fairy tale," Poplawski said. "We just never stopped believing in ourselves and each other, and we're playing our best hockey at the right time.
"I think I may have just come on the ice for a change, and I saw a guy come out to block a shot, and I threw a head fake. The goalie had a chance to square up almost but he wasn't quite set, and I saw an open spot and tried to put it there, and was just lucky it went there."
Colgate advances to face Yale in the semifinals in Atlantic City next weekend. Vaughan, who was at a loss most of the season to explain his team's dismal results, after being prognosticated to finish high in the ECAC, was nonetheless elated at this win.
"You lose two or three in a row, and everybody tightens up, and that happened to us this year," Vaughan said. "It wasn't because of a lack of effort. We were frustrated on a lot of nights with a lot of one-goal losses. We kept them focused. We tried to keep the guys understanding that we were really close. And once we got the first win, we got our confidence and built from there. ... We tried to keep it fun during those times too.
"We were disappointed and frustrated with the play of some guys, but it was never a question of the talent level. They were not playing the way they're capable of playing."
Union, meanwhile, awaits its NCAA Tournament fate. Because the field is selected with the objective Pairwise system, we already know with relative certaintly that Union will get its first NCAA bid in its 20-year Division I history.
"The best thing is for us is that we may be able to refocus and come out with more of the desperation that's needed, because there's a lot of upset guys in the locker room right now," Leaman said.
Vaughan believes Union will be fine in the NCAAs.
"They have one of the top teams in the country, they have been all year, and they deserve to be there," Vaughan said.
Thanks to Ken Schott of the Schenectady Gazette for his video quotes.