By Douglas Baskies
Growing up in a Southern New Jersey suburb 12 miles outside of Philadelphia, my brother and I were (and are) die-hard Flyers fans.
Our father took us to games, we wore the player jerseys and the after-school activity was street hockey in front of our house with our neighbors until it got dark.
During the 1997-1998 academic year, my brother Mike and I attended Union together for one year while he was a senior and I was a first-year.
Now, 16 years later, we met up at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia with three of our young kids in tow … but instead of attending an NHL playoff game to watch the Flyers win a Stanley Cup, this time we sat together to watch our alma mater face off against the hockey juggernaut Minnesota Gophers in the Flyers home arena.
To put this quite modestly, it was a completely surreal experience.
Outside of the Northeast, we occasionally see a token Union shirt or, sporadically, a Dutchman bumper sticker down in the Washington, D.C., area where I live.
But on the evening of April 12, Union was very well-represented in Philadelphia.
We sat in Section 124, adjacent to the Minnesota boosters section and directly across from the Union student and alumni sections.
Prior to the game, Minnesota sent their skating cheerleader squad onto the ice, played their fight songs and took pictures with their renowned mascot.
As for Union, no cheerleaders, no big band and no mascot.
We looked up at the rafters, where, that night, the Philadelphia 76ers banners were replaced with collegiate banners, one representing each school and the years in which each won a championship.
There was Minnesota’s banner showing three national championship years in the past 12 years.
As for Union, no banner (just yet). Once the game started, we were quickly reminded how small and tight-knit the Union “family” truly is.
Sitting with my son, my brother and two of my nephews, I couldn’t help but meet the people sitting in the row directly behind us who we learned will be sending their son to play for Union’s hockey team next fall.
I couldn’t help but strike up a conversation with the Union student sitting to my right only find out that he is in the same fraternity that my brother and I were in.
I couldn’t help but answer text messages to meet other alumni in between periods outside, in the concourse.
And I couldn’t help but put our kids on our laps so other alumni could sit with us and catch up during the game.
From the outskirts, the match-up could have been billed as something similar to the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, or to the movie Alaska, where Juneau natives took on the New York Rangers, or even to a family favorite film, Hoosiers, where a tiny Indiana high school basketball team wins a state championship.
You see, Boston College and the University of Minnesota, the teams Union respectively beat in the semifinals and finals, won six of the previous 13 national championships. (Read that one again!)
However, once you hear how these Union athletes speak about one another, watch them skate together and then see how conditionally superior they truly are, you quickly and predictably anticipate them to win!
For my brother, our three boys and me, the evening of April 12, when Union College was anointed NCAA hockey champions, will be remembered forever as “the game.”
For us, we can’t wait for the day that the MVP of this 2014 Frozen Four Union team will play for the Flyers, who drafted him two years ago.
Now in our thirties, we still haven’t seen the Flyers win a Stanley Cup … but we did see our Union Dutchmen win a national championship in the Flyers’ arena.
Hey Ghost, see you soon in Philadelphia where our kids will be wearing your jersey!