Former Union Coaches Reflect on Frozen Four Run
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
TAMPA, Fla. Nate Leaman is part of something historic.
At no point in college hockey history has a coach left one school considered a "stepping stone," and the team he left behind went to such immediate greater heights without him.
Not exactly an accomplishment Leaman will put on the resume, but it's a bit of timing he can sit back and at least be somewhat amused by.
Leaman, who left for Providence after last season, is certainly not jealous of what Union has done. And why should he be? He fingerprints are still all over the program.
"I couldn't be more thankful for the opportunity that Union gave me," Leaman said. "As a 29-year old, hiring me, I was the youngest coach at the time. I am really happy for them and the kids, and happy for (current coach) Rick (Bennett), happy for the athletic director Jim McLaughlin, happy for the school."
The only comparable event in memory is when Ron Mason left Bowling Green for Michigan State in 1979. Under Jerry York, Bowling Green eventually won a national championship in 1984. After York left, Bowling Green hasn't returned to the NCAAs since.
Clearly, it's unusual.
Leaman helped lay a foundation that hopefully can be sustained. No ECAC team is going to be in contention for a Frozen Four every year, but just having the opportunity to compete at that level is something Union can now say is possible.
"The program was never about one person," Leaman said. "It was about building the foundation and building it the right way. I think (previous coach) Kevin Sneddon started that process. He had tough years, he did the heavy lifting. But he got a couple things in place there that I was able to build off of and grow, and put some other big things in place there. And the program keeps going and going."
Leaman wasn't sure what Union could be this year — nobody could — but he knew there was a good group coming back.
"It's a natural progression. You go to the tournament and you try not to be happy to be there, but it's tough," Leaman said. "Just as our (Providence) kids went to the Hockey East (final four), it's just natural sometimes. But you have good leadership there. I thought they would miss Brock Matheson — he's one of the best captains I've been around. If anyone left their mark on the program it's Brock. But kids learn from one another. The focus we had down the stretch last year, when we were 14-1-1, Brock was a huge part of that, and I think that wore off on the (returning players)."
Bruce Delventhal is another old Union coach with some fingerprints on the program. Delventhal, now in the administration at Plattsburgh State and an active member of the American Hockey Coaches Association, was the coach at Union when it transitioned from Division III to Division I.
In fact, because of Delventhal's association with the AHCA, he was responsible for signing Bennett's All-America plaque back in the day.
Connections in hockey are endless.
"I'm just thrilled for them, it's awesome," Delventhal said. "There are good people there, it's a great school. I was very fortunate to have some terrific young men."
Delventhal said he could never imagine Union getting to a Frozen Four. Then again, he couldn't imagine the Frozen Four becoming what it is altogether.
"(In 2002), I was with Amo Bessone, Lefty Smith an Al Renfrew, we were enjoying the game at the Xcel Center, and I said, 'Did you ever think it would be like this?' And they said, 'No way, Bruce.' I guess I'm a little like that about Union. I felt we could be competitive, maybe one day win an ECAC title or two, but that's where I stopped. I remember the old Clarkson teams, with Jerry (York), they were awesome — and BU and BC — that's how I saw the landscape.
"So to take a program with no scholarships into competition, you certainly never thought you'd end up at the Frozen Four. I'm very proud."