Union keeps on working

Saturday, March 22, 2014
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— It’s hard to believe this was once the site of the Olympics, at least when viewed against the gargantuan bloat of modern-day Games.

Cast in the shadow of the dazzling $50 billion fantasy world that is Sochi, the Olympic Center in the Adirondack Mountains is all well-worn amber varnish and darkened but sturdy plywood surfaces.

But despite time and the elements, things still hold up here. Instead of hulking relics and decrepit shells of unused venues, there is a vitality here, where they still use all their cool stuff.

That includes 1980 Rink-Herb Brooks Arena, where Union beat Cornell, 5-2, on Friday. I got the same feeling walking into the rink that I had when I watched the Siena men’s basketball team play Butler at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse in 2010. Like rings on a tree, you could guess the age of exposed iron pipes by the coats of paint. A treat.

The Union Dutchmen fit right in.

Skating the same surface on which Team USA beat the Russians in 1980, the second-ranked team in the country didn’t need any miracles, dispatching Cornell with as workmanlike a performance as you could ask for in a conference semifinal.

When one area of the Dutchmen’s game needed help, another area was there to buttress it.

There was nothing spectacular about this win, no last-minute heroics, just a pretty methodical handling of a good Cornell team that historically has been known for getting early leads and protecting them.

Herb Brooks told Team USA that they could skate with the dazzling Russians; on Friday, Union ground down the grinding Big Red.

I remember the last 10 minutes of Team USA’s win over the vaunted, impregnable Russians as the longest 10 minutes of hockey I’ve ever seen, and don’t expect that to ever change if I live to be 80.

The last 10 minutes of Union’s win wasn’t dull so much as it was uneventful, a supremely confident team adding a final buff and shine.

In typical fashion, coach Rick Bennett and his players were subdued after the game, businessmen on a business trip.

Yes, the individual awards piled up as the ECAC celebrated its big weekend, but the Dutchmen shrugged off the accolades, deflecting credit to those around them.

A nice touch arranged by the ECAC was to bring in Buzz Schneider and Bob Suter from the 1980 team to meet the players on Thursday and participate in a shooting contest during the first intermission.

Do you believe in miracles?

The Union Dutchmen believe in themselves, which appears to be plenty.

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