Hockey history: Dutchmen skate to success on and off the ice

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By Tess Koman

Union has numerous historical honors. From being the first college chartered by the NYS Board of Regents in New York to holding the title as the “Mother of Fraternities,” we’re constantly demonstrating that we can play with the greats while maintaining our historical reputation.

The men’s ice hockey team (26-7-7) has now added another title to Union’s list of firsts— for the first time in Division I Union Hockey history, the Dutchmen are going to the Frozen Four.

Today, the Dutchmen will make their historic debut in the Frozen Four in their matchup against Ferris State in Tampa.

This season, the Dutchmen skated to a No. 3 ranking in Division I NCAA hockey, and to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Division I tournament.

In a school of only 2,200 students that does not offer athletic scholarships, the Dutchmen’s athletic abilities are now the center of attention, but players and coaches say that academics remain an integral part of the players’ lives at Union.

Many have already labeled the Dutchmen as the underdogs, but star sophomore goaltender Troy Grosenick, whose academic achievements include Dean’s List Scholar, ECAC Student Athlete of the Year finalist, Elite 89 Finalist and Hobey Baker Award Finalist, disagrees with the assessment.

“Just knowing the culture of the team and the overall academic culture of the school, we don’t see ourselves as underdogs,” Grosenick said.

The Dutchmen compete in the ECAC division, consisting of 12 teams, 6 of which hail from Ivy League schools such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Cornell, Brown and Dartmouth.

Union has defeated its Ivy League competition athletically as well as academically, producing three of the past five ECAC Hockey Student-Athlete of the Year award winners.

Union’s Athletic Director Jim McClaughin noted, “Given the fact that we are against [Ivy League schools], that’s a great achievement.”

16 out of 27 players on Union’s 2010-2011 team were also members of the ECAC Hockey All Academic Team. The 2011-2012 team has yet to be announced.

“Our players are here for a reason, and that reason is academics,” Coach Rick Bennett said.

President Stephen Ainlay noted, “It is striking that our student athletes and coaches keep talking about the academic strengths of Union—small classes, close working relationships with faculty, tight knit community—and not just game statistics.”

That kind of attitude resonates with the players in all situations. Dean of Faculty and VP of Academic Affairs Therese McCarty remembers, “when I was teaching economics, I regularly had quite a few hockey players in class.  One term, I had three hockey players who always sat in the front row.  I got to know them quite well because we would often chat before class started. Near the end of the term, one of them said to me, ‘Coach told us to sit in the front of the classroom and not to wear our hats.’  I replied, ‘Coach is pretty smart.’”

To McCarty and many members of the administration, this is a small sign of the large degree of support for the education of student-athletes that stems from the hockey program.

“The academic achievement is paramount for us because hockey is not going to last forever,” McClaughlin said.

Grosenick agrees. “When I was looking for schools, I wasn’t looking just to play hockey. Student comes before athlete in student athlete. I was looking for a good academic school, not just a good hockey school. Union is the perfect combination of both,” Grosenick explained. “Our team motto is, ‘Academics are 1, hockey is 1B,’” he continued.

At Union, the administration believes that the challenges that student athletes face in the classroom benefit them in their respective sports.

For the hockey program, McClaughlin explained, “The work ethic in the classroom transfers over to the ice and the work ethic on the ice transfers to the classroom.”

The only plaque hanging on the Dutchmen’s locker room wall is one that displays the team’s academic achievements. “That’s the only one you’ll see in this locker room,” Bennett said.

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