Union College men’s hockey coach Nate Leaman is one win away from 100 career victories. He isn’t sure if it’s that big of a deal.
“I won’t think about that,” Leaman said. “I don’t think it’s any big milestone, to be honest, at all. There’s been a lot of coaches, even within our league, that have had a heck of a lot more success than we’ve had.”
While Leaman downplays the significance of the milestone, he can’t deny that it will happen.
He gets his first crack at 100 wins this afternoon at 4 p.m., when the 18th-ranked Dutchmen (8-3-5) face 15th-ranked Massachusetts (10-5) in the first round of the UConn Hockey Classic in Storrs, Conn.
Union takes a nine-game unbeaten streak (5-0-4) into the game. It can tie the team record unbeaten streak of 10 games (8-0-2), set during the 1993-94 season.
Leaman, who was an assistant coach for four seasons at Harvard, was hired as the Dutchmen’s coach on July 29, 2003, replacing Kevin Sneddon, who left to coach Vermont. In his seventh season with Union, Leaman has a 99-108-30 career record. The 99 wins are the most in Union’s 19-year NCAA Division I history. He will become just the second Union coach in program history to win 100 games. Charlie Morrison was 122-146-9 from 1978-88, when the Dutchmen were a Division III program.
Leaman’s first victory came Oct. 11, 2003, a 4-2 win over Niagara. Ninety-eight wins later, he has the same attitude he did back then — crediting the players and assistant coaches.
“I’m just focused on building the program, building the culture of the program into a winning college program every year, with chances to win the ECAC championships,” Leaman said. “That’s what I’m focused on. I think we’ve done a good job building to this point, but there is a lot of growth that we can make with our program here.”
The Dutchmen have accomplished a lot during Leaman’s tenure.
— They have earned home ice in the ECAC Hockey tournament five times in six seasons.
— They finished a program-best fourth in 2007-08.
— They set a team record with 19 wins last season.
— They won their first playoff series last year, sweeping Clarkson in the first round.
— They won two tournament titles — last season’s Governor’s Cup and the Rensselaer Holiday Tournament last month.
— They are ranked in the USCHO.com NCAA hockey poll for the first time in nine years.
“We’re continuing to get better,” Leaman said. “We haven’t had a hiccup. We haven’t taken a step back at all. We knew, coming in, it was going to take a lot of time. It’s taken baby steps, but all the baby steps keep going forward, and that is what’s important.”
One thing Leaman used to fight was the perception that Union was fortunate to win games. Without the benefit of athletic scholarships, the Dutchmen won’t get the high-end recruits. But Leaman and his staff have found many talented players, and they have made the Dutchmen a program other teams respect.
“Coach puts every player first and foremost, not only on the ice, but off the ice,” Union senior forward Jason Walters said. “That’s the first thing he says to you when he recruits you, hockey and school go hand in hand. The opportunity you get as a player coming here and the effort coach Leaman puts into recruiting you has come a long way with getting guys here. That’s helped the program develop into where it is today.”
Dutchmen associate coach Rick Bennett said Leaman deserves plenty of credit for changing the hockey culture at Union.
“It’s his overall learning the league through his time,” said Bennett, who has been with Union for five seasons. “They say you learn a lot by years of experience. He works so hard, he always works at recruiting. He made a great name for himself at Harvard, and it just continued on here. That has helped us get to that level we’re at right now.”
RPI faces Michigan
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute will face Michigan in the first round of the Great Lakes Invitational tonight at 7:35 at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. The Engineers (9-9-1) are playing in this tournament for the first time since 1985, when they lost to Michigan State in the championship game. Michigan (9-9) has won the last two tournament titles.
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Categories: College Sports