Team of the Week: Union
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
PROVIDENCE, R.I. It's not every week that you can lose at Brown and still win CHN Team of the Week. But call this one — our finale of the season — an homage for a season's body of work.
And anything that gets our good friend Ken Schott to go a little crazy, we have to consider a big deal.
To put Union's first-round ECAC playoff bye in context — which it earned despite splitting this past weekend — remember that, not only is the little school in Schenectady, N.Y., a non-scholarship school, but it's Division III school. It doesn't even have the cachet of an Ivy League team.
And it was just four years ago when then-president Roger Hull made his now-infamous declaration that he was "proud" when the program finished .400. With those kind of expectations set for the program, and with little financial support, the program was doomed to fail.
Good coaches like Stan Moore and Kevin Sneddon came and went.
But here is Nate Leaman, seeing it through. And in his time there, he has seen a new president, some new assistance from the admissions department, and at least some optimism.
And in that context, Union — which has never made the [[ECAC tournament]]'s final weekend since joining the league in 1991 — was able to take advantage of a relatively mediocre ECAC season, and place fourth.
Yeah, so what the Dutchmen actually lost its last game, when a win or tie would've clinched a spot. Cornell's loss Saturday — a team Union has beaten twice — put the Dutchmen into the final spot.
"It's a season-long accomplishment, so we're OK with that," Leaman said.
"You've got to understand, this program — this is not a Boston College, it's not even a UMass. We have to take steps, baby steps. We're working up the ladder here. ... With that said, this is a step we neeed to take and we have to do something in the playoffs now."
Leaman and the rest of the coaches knew the Harvard result in the middle of the third period. The players didn't know, but seemed to figure it out.
"They knew when I didn't pull Magic (goalie Justin Mrazek)," said Leaman. "But the guys know. As a coach, sometimes you're just worried about making sure you're playing at your highest level."
Which is not to say that Leaman and his staff were giddy on Saturday night. The team's effort was poor in the first period, at least. Leaman didn't allow the players to speak to the media after the game.
"I think it's a step with our young team," Leaman said. "We have to spend the next two weeks improving because that effort will not be good enough in the playoffs, that's the bottom line. The effort needs to be a lot better, especially in the one-on-one battles."
This is all new to Union, and it's new to Leaman. When he was an assistant at Harvard, there was no bye week, so he hasn't experienced this either.
Leaman gave the team Monday off, then it's four days of practice, the weekend off, and back to practice. The Dutchmen will play Cornell again, if the Big Red win their best-of-3 series at home against last-place Dartmouth. If not, Union will play the highest remaining seed of the first-round competitors.
It remains to be seen whether Union players can re-charge the batteries in this time, or completely lose their edge. This is the age-old question.
"We've played eight weeks straight of league games. Ourselves, Cornell and Colgate are the only three teams that play 16 straight league games in the second half. And those wear on you," Leaman said. "And this isn't an excuse, but we go to school too; academics wears on the kids too. So we have to use this time wisely and make sure that we get healthy, and make sure we have the energy to bring our 'A' game.
"When you're playing 16 straight league games, it takes its toll on you weekend after weekend, especially since the games get more and more intense, and get harder and harder. So it's (the bye) something I'm very happy we accomplished, because we need that mental break."