College spotlight: the Union Dutchmen


 “It’s unbelievable the growth this program has taken over the past, probably, eight years,”

This spring, the Union College Dutchmen, from the small town of Schenectady, New York, made their first run at a National Championship.

After storming past Minnesota in the Frozen Four Final, Union took home it’s programs first NCAA Division I Championship, surprising many along the way. So how did the Dutchmen evolve into a championship team?… Let’s take a look.


Union’s jump to Division I in 1991 was not an easy one. Prior to the ’92 season, Union had been a Division III hockey school, and had seen recent success, going 19-8-2, 16-8-3, and 17-6-3 in it’s final three seasons as a Division III hockey school.

When Union made the jump to Division I for the 1991-1992 season, their record saw much less success. After replacing Army in the ECAC for the ’91-’92 season, Union had a lot of work ahead of them. Bruce Delventhal, who had been coaching for the previous three seasons with Division III Union, continued to coach the team for the first five seasons in Division I, but was only able to produce one winning season in ’93-’94.

In 1996, Delventhal was replaced by Stan Moore, who saw an excellent first season, leading the “Skating Dutchmen” to a 18-13-3 record, their best yet in Division I. However, he could not carry that success into the following season, and left a year later after a dispute with Union.

Next, Union brought in Kevin Sneddon. Sneddon helped to improve the program quite a bit, improving the team’s record every season, and leading them to three ECAC tournament berths. The height of his success at Union occurred in 2003, when he coached Union to their first-ever home ice advantage in the ECAC playoffs. Following the 2003 season, Sneddon left for Vermont, and Union hired Nate Leaman to fill his hole.

Leaman’s first few seasons as head coach didn’t turn any heads, as he worked the program an even 16-16-6 season in 2005-2006. He then finally found a winning season two years later, going 15-14-6.

However, Leaman’s first few seasons, while not producing much, were a work in the process. He had begun to turn the Dutchmen around, and that resonated in the following seasons.

The Recent Years

Apr 12, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Union Dutchmen forward Kevin Sullivan (16) tries to move past Minnesota Gophers defenseman Jake Parenteau (6) during the second period in the championship game of the Frozen Four college ice hockey tournament at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2009-2010 season, Union saw it’s first convincing winning record under Leaman, going 21-12-6, finishing third in the conference. The following year, which was Leaman’s final season, Union took home hardware for the first time in it’s program’s history, finishing first in the ECAC with an astonishing 17-3-2 in-conference record (26-10-4 overall), reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time.

Next year, Union hired Rick Bennett as the new head coach. Under a dedicated, team-first system, Bennett led Union to even greater success, finishing first in the ECAC, and winning the ECAC tournament in his first season. That year, Union made their first run in the NCAA tournament, finishing in third place, after being knocked out by Ferris State, who would go on to lose to Boston College in the championship game.

In the 2012-2013 season, Union took home it’s second straight ECAC tournament championship, after finishing in fourth place with a 22-13-5 overall record. Once again, Union automatically qualified for the NCAA tournament, but was eliminated by Quinnipiac in the East Regional Final. Quinnipiac would then go on to reach the National Championship game, where they lost to a fellow ECAC team; Yale. Yale’s win brought the ECAC their first national championship since Harvard in 1989.

National Champions

Last season was finally the year for Union. The Dutchmen dominated in the regular season, sporting a 32-6-4 record, while achieving the #1 overall ranked team in the NCAA for the first time. Under Bennett, Union won the ECAC regular season title for the third time in four years, won their third straight ECAC tournament championship, and reached the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year.

In the first round, Union stormed by Vermont, by a final score of 5-2. Next up was Providence, who Union soundly defeated, 3-1.

Boston College would not go down so easily. Led by eventual Hobey Baker Award winner Johnny Gaudreau, Boston College took on Union in the Frozen Four semi-finals. Union broke a 2-2 tie in the third period against BC on Daniel Ciampini’s deflection goal, putting them up one. However, 18 seconds later, Union’s Matt Hatch was ejected from the game after hitting Boston College’s Scott Savage from behind, meaning Union had to kill off a 5 minute major against the explosive BC offense.

Apr 12, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Union Dutchmen defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere (14) is checked by Minnesota Gophers forward Seth Ambroz (17) and defenseman Justin Holl (12) during the second period in the championship game of the Frozen Four college ice hockey tournament at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Somehow, Union got through the penalty-kill unscathed, and added to the lead with 8:07 to go. The pace did not slow down, as BC’s Fitzgerald scored with the goalie pulled to cut the lead in half, with only 1:45 to play. Union countered with an empty net goal, going back up by two goals once again.

With 4.2 seconds to go, BC scored again, making it 5-4. However, the clock was drastically against BC, who generated a quick chance via Gaudreau as time expired, but could not convert.

Union’s win meant that they would go on to face Minnesota in their first ever national championship game.

In another high-scoring game, #3 ranked Union took down #1 ranked 7-4 Minnesota in front of 18,000 fans at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Union’s Shayne Gostisbehere was a plus-7 in the game, and was the subject of much praise.

Following the national championship victory, Union’s Matt Bodie showed his appreciation for the development of the schools hockey program.

"“It’s unbelievable the growth this program has taken over the past, probably, eight years,” Bodie said. “I’ve only been here for four of them, but those championships for anyone that’s ever had a hand in Union hockey because we wouldn’t be here without all those players before us. We learned a lot from them, and they broke us into college hockey, and we’re forever grateful for that.”"

The Road Ahead

The road ahead for the Union Dutchmen should be interesting. With Bennett as head coach, the Dutchmen have developed an excellent system that takes the ability of the team as a whole and puts it to use, focusing on a team-first mentality.

At the same time, Union will be saying good-bye to several star players, including Shayne Gostisbehere, the only drafted player on the team. 

To be honest, I’m not sure what to expect from Union this season. On one hand, they could continue their excellent play due to their system, and lead the ECAC once again. However, on the other and, it’ll be a much different team stepping onto the ice at Messa Rink in Schenectady this fall.

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.