Sneddon: 'So Happy For Everyone'
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
PHILADELPHIA It’s been 11 years since Kevin Sneddon has had an office on Union’s campus. But when the Dutchmen claimed their first national championship on Saturday night, their former bench boss was on the ice, with a smile on his face.
Sneddon is a member of the NCAA Ice Hockey Committee as Hockey East’s representative – he’s now the head coach at Vermont – and witnessed first hand the program he helped usher into the Division I ranks win its first national title.
“It’s a great sense of pride,” he said. “I’m so happy for everyone involved with their program. I was just a small spoke in the wheel. You look back in the early days with Bruce Delventhal, and all of the incredible hard work he put into the program being part of that difficult transition into Division I. He took it from D-III to D-I without a lot of support. Then Stan Moore, then me, then Nate (Leaman), everyone has helped move it forward. Rick has taken it to the ultimate level. You take pride in knowing you were a small part of it, but these guys deserve the credit.”
Sneddon joined the Union staff in 1993 as an assistant coach under Delventhal. In 1998, he took over as head coach before moving on to Vermont in 2003.
Those were the dark days of Union hockey. It’s not that there weren’t people involved with the program, like Sneddon, who cared and were invested in seeing it improve. But rather, the college as a whole wasn’t making athletics a priority.
That made their job difficult.
There was hardly any financial support from the administration and the program suffered on the ice, winning just six games total in its first two seasons as a D-I program.
Due to the lack of resources, Sneddon helped form the Garnet Blades, the booster club responsible for much of the team’s finances. The group originated with only hockey alumni and raised about $30,000 in the early years, Sneddon said. Today, it’s responsible for about $200,000 per season in financial support.
“We weren’t allowed to fundraise,” Sneddon said. “They had some issues and we were told, ‘We don’t do that,’ but we really needed it. We didn’t have the financial support to go out recruiting or to get the kids the equipment like other programs were doing.
“That support is so important. I’m sure Rick would attribute a lot of their resources and support to them too. All of those things they’re able to do, recruiting, facility upgrades, equipment, it’s the Garnet Blades. I’m happy for those guys, too. The members of that club are passionate about Union hockey.”
In his first season with the Dutchmen, the team won just three games. By the time he left the program in 2002, that total had been upped to 14.
Leaman, now the head coach at Providence College, took over when Sneddon left and continued the program down its path. His final season, the Dutchmen won 26 games, qualifying for the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time and earning a tournament berth for the first time since 1986, when Union was part of the D-III tournament.
Union has made the NCAA tournament every season since.
Bennett, one of Leaman’s assistants, took the program over in 2011-12 and guided the Dutchmen to the Frozen Four, losing to Ferris State in the semifinals.
“This is one of the best stories you could write,” Sneddon said. “Union is a small school without scholarships. It’s not an Ivy, but it’s a tremendous academic institution. This is a feel-good story for anyone who likes sports.
“Jimmy McLaughlin, the athletic director, he and I were assistant coaches there at the same time. Obviously I was with hockey and he was with football. To see how happy he was out there, he deserves a lot of the credit. You’re only as good as the people above you. I know Rick and the work he has done with his staff is incredible, this wasn’t a fluke.”
Bennett added, “For every player that has worn that jersey, for every coach that has coached here before us, I think this is a tremendous accomplishment. I want to thank them. It’s just a surreal moment right now.”
Sneddon’s Catamounts played Union in the first round of this year’s NCAA tournament in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Union won the game, 5-2, en route to this title.
“There was no question in my mind, they were the best team we saw all year,” Sneddon said. “They were on a different level.”
The Dutchmen also worked with sports psychologist Wally Bzdell, who received his doctoral degree from Boston University. Through the eyes of a coach, Sneddon said his work was evident.
“They are a five-man unit,” Sneddon said. “Wally has done a great job with them on team building. You can see it. They are comfortable and they genuinely enjoy each other. They are so proud of the crest on the front of that jersey and what it represents. They have all that talent, and when you’re playing for the crest on the front instead of the one on the back, you’re going to be special.”
And special they were.