By Evan Slavit
The excitement in Schenectady after the Dutchmen qualified for the Frozen Four was off the charts. Alumni, locals, students and professors all expressed their enthusiasm and gratitude for the team’s performance.
The local and national media went into a frenzy trying to find out everything it could about this small and little-known school that had somehow propelled itself into the national spotlight. The anticipation built and built until the puck was dropped.
In Tampa, nothing changed. Walking around the city, it wasn’t hard to spot Union fans.
It seemed every block you walked down there was a person decked out in Union attire. In the rink the energy was palpable.
As images flashed of the Union players and pep band members, Union fans went crazy. You could hear “Let’s Go Union” chants from around the stadium. When the Dutchmen scored their first goal, the place went nuts. It was a once in a lifetime experience.
Union Hockey superfan Justin Zolot ‘12 had the chance to be a part of the action. Zolot has led the fans of the most successful Union team to date.
Throughout the game, Zolot kept the fans in the game by starting and leading cheers in Union’s student section.
The excitement of the Dutchmen being one of the last four teams standing and the possibility of playing in the title game was something any Union hockey fan would cherish for a lifetime.
It’s no wonder this was the reaction. Think back just four years ago. The Dutchmen had never even won an ECAC playoff series.
They were the only team in the ECAC without the accomplishment. At that time even consistent ECAC relevancy would have been an improvement.
To go from that to a Frozen Four berth in four years is astounding and something that can’t be harped on enough.
A fan base that has been waiting desperately for excitement has been spoiled over the last four years, and it has been one fun ride.
While the game eventually ended in a 3-1 loss for the Dutchmen, it was close throughout.
There is not a fan on either side that will tell you they felt secure with the outcome until the final buzzer sounded. That tells you that while the Dutchmen had no wins to show for the weekend, they still belonged on the big stage.
At the end of the game several Union fans piled out. There were tears streaming down the faces of some, but even they couldn’t help but put things in perspective.
Before the season many hoped for another national tournament berth, but a prolonged run in the ECAC playoffs would have sufficed. Instead they were rewarded with the best season in Union’s Division I history by a longshot. They realized they were just taken on a ride, and they couldn’t have been more thankful.
As the time passed before the University of Minnesota vs. Boston College game, Twitter exploded with congratulatory messages. The overwhelming theme was a sense of pride.
Other programs congratulated the fans, coaches, and players on a great season. Fans tweeted to show players support despite the loss.
Overall, there was a ton of positivity out of a weekend that could have been considered a disappointment. It seemed that most realized they were playing with house money at that point.
The weekend ended with Boston College downing Ferris State 4-1, and winning the national title. Slowly the excitement faded, and things went back to normal for most of Schenectady.
There was one person who continued to run on a bit of a high, though. Hours after the loss, Jeremy Welsh ‘13 was offered an entry-level contract from the Carolina Hurricanes. On Saturday he played in his first NHL game. He is the first player in Union’s Division I era to log minutes in the NHL. It was a small sample for Hurricane fans and Welsh, but he will be back with the Hurricanes next season, looking to make a prolonged impact for them.
As for Union Men’s Hockey, they should feel confident in their ability to be competitive next season.
There were only four seniors on this team, and only two who started regularly. At this point it appears only Welsh will be leaving the team early.
In addition, it sounds like Union should be expecting another strong recruiting class.
While another Frozen Four appearance may not seem likely, many people doubted Union’s ability to even make it back to the NCAA this season. Basically, you never know…
The season may be over, but for many it will be a cherished memory for a long time. This team will always be special to Union fans.
With the coaching staff in place, and the added notoriety the school has achieved, don’t be surprised to see this program sustain this level of excellence next year.
Hopefully it won’t be long until we see Union’s first ever national title.