Union's Dominance Has Risen With ECAC's
Dutchmen First to Win Three Straight Tournaments in 37 Years
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
LAKE PLACID, N.Y. Union entered the season off two consecutive ECAC tournqament championships and three straight NCAA tournament appearances. But there were many doubters of the Dutchmen in the preseason. That wasn't a knock, it just stood to reason that a smaller school like Union would have a tough time sustaining things and re-loading like the bigger schools would.
Those doubters got louder early in the season, as Union started a paltry 3-3-2, including two losses at home to Lake Superior State. Since that point, Union has lost just three games and has 24 wins.
It's to the credit of everyone at Union that it has been able to sustain this success.
"I won’t compare either of those teams to this one," Union coach Rick Bennett said. "I just know this team is really special because of the adversity it had to battle through this year, which was a lot more than either of those two teams. It means a ton."
Success does not come easy in college hockey; three-peats are rare. The last time a team won at least three consecutive ECAC championships was from 1974-1977, four decades ago, in Jack Parker's first four seasons at Boston University. This is also Bennett's first three seasons. The only other team to three-peat in the ECAC championship was Cornell, where it too ran off four in a row from 1967-1970.
"It is a testament of where this program has been and where it is going,” senior forward Matt Hatch said. “We came in here and it was on the rise. That is where we are leaving it. It is a testament to all the guys that were here before and the hard work put into the program."
Bennett picked up on that.
"The people that have worn that jersey before them is important but it goes even deeper than that," Bennett said. "The support from our school, President Ainlay, (athletic director) Jim McLaughlin, the Garnet Blades, and Tim Mayer is big. Their support for this program has been phenomenal and we are lucky to have that."
It wasn't the simplest road for Union but it worked. The adversity Bennett alluded to this season included his own four-game suspension for his part in a post-game melee against Rensselaer. That is something the Dutchmen were able to get by and even get stronger from, winning three of those four games.
"This team has been through a lot," Union assistant captain Dan Carr said. "We faced some adversity at the start of the year with Lake Superior State sweeping us at home. From then on we focused on one game at a time. That has been a big motto this year and we have to keep that going forward."
The Dutchmen will enter the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed. It will enter on a 13-game unbeaten streak, which is currently the best in the nation. Since a loss to this same Colgate team on Nov. 8, it is 25-3-2 and that too is the best mark in the nation.
Union played somewhat sloppily in the first period against Colgate in Saturday's title game, and the Raiders held a 16-5 shot advantage. But Colin Stevens made all the stops, and left Colgate somewhat frustrated.
The second period was a different story, and Union asserted control on the game. A giveaway led to Union's first goal, and that was the pin in the balloon for the Raiders. After Darcy Murphy took a bad penalty against Shayne Gostisbehere, Union needed all of three seconds to score off the ensuing power-play facoff, on a one-time blast from Daniel Carr.
"Keeping them down for 60 minutes is such a tall order," said Colgate coach Don Vaughan, who was denied his first ECAC tournament championship in this his 22nd season as Colgate coach. "There is so much depth to their game. They are hard to play against, they don’t make a lot of mistakes and there is great structure to its game. It is hard to play against a team like that."
Carr was named tournament MVP, and has 22 goals now this season, including nine in his last seven games.
Mistake free, smart hockey is the name of the game for Union. It makes few mistakes but when it does Colin Stevens is stout in goal. Stevens was injured early in the season and in the three games without Union went 1-2-2. His importance will be understated because of the defense that his team throws onto the ice.
"Union is a very good hockey team," Vaughan said. "They are an unbelievable organization from top to bottom. They proved it again tonight, just how good they are. They play the same way all the time. The consistency in their game is special. They are a complete team."
Along with three consecutive Whitelaw Cups, Union has won three of four Cleary Cups as regular-season champs. But there is an even bigger goal still to be accomplished — Union certainly can and should make a run towards a national title.
Colgate proved to be a formidable opponent for the Dutchmen in the ECAC championship game. The Young Raiders have come a long way this season to make its first ECAC final since 1990. Its inconsistency in the first half turned into defensive gold in the second half.
"I am very proud of our effort," Vaughan said. "I was just proud of our effort. Our body of work from start to finish was very special. It speaks to the character in that locker room. It has been a fun year, I love this team. I loved coming to the rink every day. This team put a charge into the coaching staff that I haven’t felt in a long time."
Colgate will still play on, however, as an expected No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. It will be the Raiders' first trip to the NCAAs since 2005. CHN projects Colgate to face Ferris State, a team it defeated earlier this season. It also has wins against Union, Quinnipiac and a shootout win in Minnesota. For whoever faces Colgate, it will be in for a test and one that will prove to be a big one.
"We are pretty excited for next weekend," forward Tyson Spink said. "It stings right now because we aren’t ECAC champs but when we reflect back on this weekend we beat a really good Quinnipiac team. Just coming off that sets us up well for the tournament."
Said Vaughan, "This team all year long has been really great at having short memories. Tonight will sting, but we will hit the reset button like we have all year. This team will show up to the rink on Monday ready to go to work and to prepare for whoever we are going to play."
Union and Rick Bennett have created a remarkable story in just four seasons, while Colgate is on the rise in the ECAC. Quinnipiac, Union and Colgate will present a legitimate three-way punch in the NCAAs, and one year removed from Yale's national title, gives the ECAC another legitimate shot at the big prize.
But for this week at least, Union again stands on top of a hill as tall as Whiteface Mountain, which is known for its Olympic glory just down the road from the famed Olympic Center.