Union hockey: Triumphant underdogs

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By Nick DAngelo

Last week, when Union Hockey captured the national championship, some onlookers were left scratching their heads.

How did a little liberal arts school that had only competed for a third of the NCAA’s existence defeat the titans of the game?

The answer is easy for anyone who identifies as a Dutchman: this is what Union is all about.

“Across cultures, contexts, and time periods, underdog narratives have inspired people,” Neeru Paharia and her team wrote for the Journal of Consumer Research in 2009.

From Barack Obama to J.K. Rowling to Michael Phelps, the rise of the “nobody” has captured the imagination of generations.

Our Dutchmen are no different. CBS Sports lauded Union’s success despite the absence of athletic scholarships and meager enrollment compared to the other schools, like “national power” Minnesota.

“Union dispatched two of the most successful programs in all of college hockey to win this national title, so it is a championship well earned,” wrote Chris Peters. In other words, David slew Goliath — twice.

Union’s secret to success is simple perseverance. We work hard, we remain relentless and we are often singularly focused on the greater objective.

In March, the New York Times noted, “Union College may be small, but it has extra-large dreams.”

Those dreams derive from 219 years of cultivation; hopes, values and ideals that have matured through centuries of diligent efforts, as well as painful defeats.

Dean of Students Stephen Leavitt noted in an e-mail to the student body that the last time Union was in contention for a national championship was in 1929. In that year, as the nation drifted toward depression, Union Men’s Lacrosse sailed to victory.

Recognized as the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Co-National Champions, along with the U.S. Naval Academy, the team completed a perfect 7-0 season.

They defeated long-time rivals Yale, Harvard, NYU, Colgate and St. Lawrence to receive the Wingate Trophy, awarded by the USILA to the best team in the country.

Two members of that 1929 team, Fred Wyatt and Jason Stranahan, were later inducted in the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

The culture of relentless drive is not unique to our 100 acres, either; Schenectady City Councilman Vince Riggi wrote that in 1954, Schenectady Little League brought home the national championship to a proud city.

In that year, our community was once again the underdog, defeating Lakeland, Fla., Masontown, Pa., and finally Colton, Calif., in the Little League World Series. Coincidentally, a member of that team, Jim Barbieri, also made it to the Major League World Series, playing for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1966.

Who from our 2014 champion hockey team may one day be considered for the National Hall of Fame? The choices are numerous.

Harvard Business Review noted that underdog narratives share two important features: they highlight humble beginnings and portray “a passion and determination to triumph against the odds.”

I would add that these narratives also include big dreams and grandiose visions.

Who can forget the courageous actions of William Seward in 1867? Purchasing the vast tundra of Alaska for two cents an acre, Seward was laughed at for his pitiful treaty.

His legacy was that of an underdog, and it appeared that the hero who had helped end the Civil War would now end his illustrious career in shame.

One hundred and fifty years later, though, and historians recount “Seward’s Folly” as one of the savviest diplomatic transactions in U.S. history, second only to Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase.

Dutchmen like Seward have lofty goals and, coupled with our irascible energy, those goals are destined to be realized.

On our campus, the Union flag flies just below that of the United States of America. As I walked beneath the flagpole after our championship victory, I was overwhelmed by the symbolism.

After all, the triumphant underdog is a uniquely American personification. Our nation existed for just 19 years without Union, and the college’s sense of purpose is undeniably linked to that greater Revolutionary pride and patriotism.

How appropriate it is, then, that Union now represents the best of American college hockey.

Our college has been a well-kept secret. Although it was founded before many Ivy League institutions, with history far richer and alumni just as famous, we have remained a private enigma.

That may now change. Times Union noted that our NCAA win has put Union on the map.

Whether that is true remains to be seen. Regardless, the nation will now know our great pride: Dutchmen bleed garnet.

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