Now, the real work begins
SCHENECTADY The immediate impact of the Union College hockey team’s national championship was readily apparent on Sunday.
You could hear it in head coach Rick Bennett’s voice and see it in the players’ scruffy appearance.
Saturday was not a night for curfews.
Asked if he got any sleep, Bennett let out a raspy chuckle and said, “You can probably tell by the voice that that would be a ‘No.’ ”
The long-term impact of the championship may be a little more nebulous, but one thing is clear: Union can no longer be viewed as a program trying to establish itself at the highest level of college hockey.
The Dutchmen are made men now by virtue of that title, and there’s no reason to believe that that will change in the coming years.
Yes, each year’s recruiting task will continue to be an unruly beast to be tamed.
Yes, you can’t assume that they’ll be in contention for another national championship next year.
The framework is in place now, though, to get to that level on a consistent basis, and finally is validated by the 7-4 victory over Minnesota in Philadelphia.
It wasn’t a fluke that they made it that far, and it wasn’t a fluke that they won.
“We believed we belonged with the big boys, and hopefully, some people start to realize that Union hockey is here for good now,” Union captain Mat Bodie said after the game on Saturday.
The players arrived at Wells Fargo Center in suit and tie and changed back out of their uniforms for the post-game.
Bodie, in particular, got a workout, since he was a live guest on “SportsCenter” at 11:50 Saturday morning and was back in the black jacket and green tie well after the victory.
On Sunday, the team piled off the bus in hoodies, backward ballcaps, shorts and no socks, giddy and energetic, but also showing the effects of bus sleep replacing lost hotel sleep.
There to greet them were hundreds of fans, the pep band and a politician or two, which promises to be a familiar theme in the coming weeks as the city and who knows what other levels of government and community extend their congratulations.
“Unbelievable turnout,” said junior goalie Colin Stevens of Niskayuna. “It’s great to bring the title back to the best fans in college hockey.
“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. It’s pretty surreal. Just unbelievable to bring a title back to Schenectady.”
School president Stephen Ainlay said the championship can only enhance Union’s identity on a national scale, but he’s most pleased that it was reinforced by the revelation that the players take their schoolwork as seriously as their hockey.
Besides an uptick in booster donations, the school is sure to see a broader range of admissions applications.
“I was watching ESPN when Mat was interviewed, and I thought he represented the school so well,” Ainlay said. “It was live, and he was articulate and talked about the importance of being a student-athlete at a time when that concept is being criticized.”
The whirlwind has just begun in some ways, with events, like the annual awards banquet, already scheduled, and others surely in the works.
Bennett isn’t ready to say that winning a national championship should be an automatic recruiting bonanza, but it ought to be a powerful enticement. Does this trophy look familiar?
He believes that Shayne Gostisbehere is the only player in his lockerroom who should be contemplating jumping to the pros, but you never know.
See: Josh Jooris, last summer. So Bennett and his staff will have to be on their toes on the recruiting front.
“When we went to the Frozen Four a couple of years ago, people thought, ‘Well, it’s really going to help recruiting,’ ” Bennett said. “But I think in today’s economy, being a financial-aid school, sometimes it really works for you, and sometimes it doesn’t.
“When we came here years ago, sometimes you get great players, sometimes you miss out. Obviously, we’ve got some nice players in that lockerroom.”