SCHENECTADY — It would have been easy for center Sam Bowles to give up on his Union College hockey career.
Bowles came to Union four years ago from the Boston Junior Bruins, where he was an Eastern Junior Hockey League all-star in the 2003-04 season. But Bowles wasn’t playing much at Union. When he was, it was mostly on the fourth line.
But instead of pouting about it, Bowles worked hard, and embraced his role.
Bowles has been an integral part of the Dutchmen’s run to a possible first-round bye in the ECAC Hockey tournament. With two games left, Union is in a fourth-place tie with Cornell for the final bye, but has the tiebreaker edge on the Big Red.
“I’ve taken on the job of doing whatever I can to help the team win,” Bowles said. “Whether it’s killing penalties, whether it’s winning faceoffs, whatever it is, that’s what I want to do to help this team win because we have a special group here this year.”
Bowles came through for the Dutchmen in their 3-1 win Saturday against St. Lawrence at Messa Rink, the final home game of the regular season. He scored the game-winning goal late in the second period, and had a key assist on Chris Potts’ insurance goal midway through the third period.
Even more remarkable about that performance is that Bowles had missed the previous two games because of an injury suffered in the Cornell game Feb. 15. Bowles wasn’t healthy enough to play both games over the weekend. With Saturday being Senior Night, Union coach Nate Leaman wanted him in the lineup against the Saints, so he kept Bowles out of Friday’s game with Clarkson.
“That was probably the best game of his career,” Leaman said. “He’s a guy that didn’t play a lot his first three years. He just kept working in practice, and he kept working in the weight room. Now, he’s gotten his chance this year. He’s really helped our team, in giving us probably the best fourth line that I’ve had since I’ve been here. That’s huge, when your fourth line can go out there and generate energy and generate scoring chances, because it focuses the other guys on the bench.”
The key for Bowles, who has three goals and one assist this season, was accepting his role on the team. That could be difficult for someone who was a point producer in junior hockey. Bowles had 24 goals, including five game-winners, and 33 assists for the Junior Bruins in 2003-04.
Not only does Bowles center the fourth line, he is an outstanding penalty killer. To show how much his teammates respect him, they voted him to be an alternate captain this season.
“It was frustrating, at times,” Bowles said. “But I guess throughout my whole hockey career, I’ve had ups and downs. I’ve always wanted to be a part of Division I hockey. It’s been a goal since I’ve been a little kid. The coaches never lost faith in me. They always
believed that I could do it. It takes hard work. Not everyone is gifted as some of the guys are on our team. Other guys have to work hard.”
Bowles snapped a 1-1 tie late in the second period Saturday, firing a turnaround wrist shot past goalie Justin Pesony.
On Potts’ goal, Bowles carried the puck into the St. Lawrence zone, skated behind the net and backhanded the puck to Potts, who shot it past Pesony.
“I was just trying to drive it wide because I know they’ve been playing with a couple of forwards back on [defense] ,” Bowles said. “I tried to take advantage of that. I came around the net, and looked up. First, I was thinking about going to the lane, but ‘Pottsie’ did a great job calling for it. He was cocked, and ready to go. I just put it over to him, and he did the rest.”
If there is one thing Leaman is most proud of Bowles, is that he has shown a lot of heart.
“What’s most special about Sam is that there’s been other guys that have come to our program and have hit adversity, and they’ve left because they haven’t been able to battle through the adversity,” Leaman said. “Sam’s a kid that’s come here for three years, and battled and battled and battled. Now, he’s gotten his opportunity this year, and he hasn’t let go of it. Not only is he not letting go, he’s been a huge positive for our team.
“You can’t say enough, as a coach, about those guys because those are the guys who are going to be really successful in life, and you know it because they battled through adversity. They stuck their nose in it, and they keep grinding and grinding. Now, you see good things come their way.”