Union’s Leaman named ECAC Coach of the Year

Nate Leaman spread the credit for the Union College men's hockey team success this season. Leaman's

Nate Leaman spread the credit for the Union College men’s hockey team success this season.

Leaman’s fellow ECAC Hockey coaches gave him the respect for a job well done Monday, when he was named the league’s Tim Taylor Coach of the Year.

Leaman guided the Dutchmen to a 12-6-4 record and a third-place finish, their highest finish in league play in 19 years at the Division I level. Union has a 20-11-6 overall record. The 20 wins are the most in their Division I history, and just the third time overall that a Union team has won 20 games.

And on Sunday night, in the Dutchmen’s biggest accomplishment to date, they beat Quinnipiac, 2-1, to win their ECACH tournament best-of-three quarterfinal series, 2-1, and advance to the semifinals for the first time. Union faces St. Lawrence at 7 p.m. Friday at the Times Union Center.

“It’s a reflection of the players, and the staff,” Leaman said. “Good players make a good coach. I also feel the staff that we have is excellent. They deserve much of the credit, from my assistant coaches [Rick Bennett, Ben Barr and Jason Tapp] to [hockey sports inform­ation director] Kevin Zalaznik and [equipment manager] Dave Baglio.

“It’s been one of those things where you try to lead the guys, but, ultimately, it’s the guys out there making the plays. The players are the ones that deserve the credit.”

The Dutchmen moved up from 17th to 15th in the USCHO.com NCAA hockey poll. They have been ranked 13 consecutive weeks. Union is also ranked 15th in the USA Today/USA Hockey Mag­azine poll.

“It’s absolutely well deserved,” Union athletic director Jim McLaughlin said of Leaman’s award. “It’s never been a secret of what I’ve thought about Nate. I’ve always viewed him as one of the best coaches in college hockey, and he has always done a great job for us. It’s nice to see he’s getting the recognition from the colleagues within the league.”

Leaman, who has a 111-116-31 career record, becomes the third Union coach to win the award, joining Bruce Delventhal (1994) and Stan Moore (1997). Union becomes the second school to have three different Coach of the Year winners since the award was initiated in 1987. Colgate had Moore (2004), Terry Slater (1990) and Don Vaughan (2000) win the honor.

Leaman was named Union’s head coach July 29, 2003, after serving as an assistant coach at Harvard for four years. He was a graduate assistant coach at Maine during the 1998-99 season, when the Black Bears won the NCAA title.

“I don’t think I’ve changed too much with the standard of what we want the program to be,” Leaman said. “That’s the one thing that why we’re probably having success.”

Last month, four-time Coach of the Year Award winner St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh declared his vote for Leaman after the Dutchmen beat the Saints, 4-2, at Messa Rink.

“He’s been a legitimate candidate for this Coach of the Year thing for a while,” Marsh, who was a finalist for this season’s award, said during a conference call Monday. “I felt he was right there when Guy [Gadowsky] won it with Princeton [in 2008], and Keith [Allain of Yale] deserved it last year. Nate has done a fabulous job there. As a younger coach, his record bears that out.”

Leaman has two years remaining on his contract. He received an extension two years ago. McLaughlin plans to speak with Leaman about another extension.

“I couldn’t be more pleased with the direction of this program on the ice, off the ice and the leadership that he has displayed,” McLaughlin said. “We still have a lot more work to do this year. We don’t need any distractions right now. At the end of the year, it’s something I intend to do, and try to keep our best people here.”

Polacek a finalist

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute forward Chase Polacek has been named a finalist for ECACH Player of the Year.

Polacek led the league in scoring with 17 goals and 18 assists in 22 league games.

The other finalists are Cornell goalie Ben Scrivens and Yale forward Sean Backman.

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