By Dan Greene
The most prolific season in Union College’s Division I hockey history came to an abrupt halt in the playoffs at the end of the winter term and during spring break. After receiving a first round bye in the ECAC playoffs and riding a 14-1-1 record heading into the postseason, it seemed like the Dutchmen were going to be an unstoppable force. But that was not the case, as Union ended their campaign with three consecutive losses. These consecutive losses were shocking to the Union faithful, considering the Dutchmen only lost consecutive games once, and lost only once at Messa Rink the entire season.
Union’s postseason play began in the ECAC quarterfinals when they hosted Colgate for a best two-out-of-three series at Messa Rink. Colgate, who even though finished last in the ECAC in the regular season, were not a push over. The Raiders were finding their stride at the end of the regular season and were coming off an upset when they won two games at RPI the weekend before.The Dutchmen won the first game 4-1 behind two power-play goals from sophomore Wayne Simpson, and three assists each from junior Kelly Zajac and senior Adam Presizniuk. But, this victory was the last time Union fans left the rink with a smile on their faces.
Colgate proved their resilience for the second consecutive weekend, coming back to win two games after dropping the first game against higher-seeded teams on the road. In game 2, the Dutchmen held a 2-0 heading into the third period thanks to goals from Simpson and freshman Mat Bodie. Bodie’s sixth goal of theSee HOCKEY on Page 15season was his 30th point of the season, which set the record for most points by a Union defenseman in a season that was set last season by Mike Schreiber ‘10. But, the Raiders stormed back to score four goals in the final period to win 4-2 and force a third game the following night.
In the decisive third game, the two teams were tied heading into the third period. Zajac gave Union a one goal lead early in the frame, but only to see Colgate tie the game with 2:27 left in regulation. The Raiders took this momentum into overtime and beat the Dutchmen on Wade Poplawski’s first goal of the season.However, Union’s season did not end there. For the first time in Union’s Division I history, the Dutchmen received a berth to the NCAA Tournament. They were given a two-seed in the 16-team field and were placed in the East Regional at Bridgeport, Connecticut along with ECAC foe Yale, Atlantic Hockey’s Air Force, and the WCHA’s Minnesota-Duluth.
In addition to being honored with a NCAA Tournament berth, Union also had numerous players win ECAC awards. Stephane Boileau won Student-Athlete of the Year, Adam Presizniuk won Best Defensive Forward, Nate Leaman won the Tim Taylor Award for Coach of the Year for the second straight season, Brock Matheson won Best Defensive Defenseman, and Keith Kinkaid won the Ken Dryden Award for Goaltender of the Year
In Union’s first ever NCAA tourney, game they faced off against UMD. Heading into the game, a lot of emphasis was placed on Union’s nation-leading power-play. But the Dutchmen were held scoreless in their nine man advantages, while the Bulldogs scored twice in their eight chances. UMD’s defense and goaltender Kenny Reiter were too much for the Dutchmen as they did not allow Union to gain any momentum or flow throughout the period, leading to a 2-0 victory.
While Union’s season came to a disappointing close, this year was a dream. This squad went the farthest that any Union team has ever gone, and will lead the program to greatness and national prominence in the following years. The Dutchmen return six of their top seven scorers, six defenseman who logged a lot of minutes this season, and hopefully ECAC Goaltender of the Year Keith Kinkaid.
Over the past four years the Union hockey program has grown tremendously. In the year before the Class of 2011 came along, the Dutchmen finished last in the ECAC. But in the following years Union received their first ECAC Top Four finish (2008), won their first ECAC playoff series (2009), appeared in their first ECAC Final Four and Championship game (2010), and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time (2011).Who knows what will happen next season? Maybe the Dutchmen will take the next step and win a game in the NCAA Tournament or win the ECAC post-season crown. Either way, the following years will be one heck of a ride to the top of the college hockey world.