Categories: College Sports
The last time Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon, formerly of Union, was behind the bench for a game at Messa Rink was Jan. 7, 2005. The Catamounts were in their final year in ECAC Hockey before moving to Hockey East the following season.
There weren’t any championship banners hanging from the Messa rafters like there are now. The only banners in the rink were the 12 that represented the ECACH teams, and one for the conference.
When Sneddon looks up at that ceiling on Sunday during the Catamounts’ 4 p.m. game against the Dutchmen, he’ll see several banners representing the team’s achievements since 2011, including the 2014 NCAA title. Although he wasn’t around for those wins, Sneddon can take a measure of credit for those titles, thanks to him spearheading the formation of the Garnet Blades booster club.
The Garnet Blades is celebrating its 15th season as the fund-raising arm for the Dutchmen. Since starting in 2000, the Blades have raised more than $1.5 million to help in areas such as recruiting, a new locker room and equipment.
“In this day and age, it’s really nice to have a couple of things that you wouldn’t have without the Blades,” Union coach Rick Bennett said. “The Blades helps us really thrive in the Division I era.”
Sneddon, who joined Union as an assistant coach in 1993 before taking over as head coach in 1998, recalled that before the Blades, the program didn’t get much help from the college. Even though Union elevated its hockey program from Division III to Division I in 1991, it wasn’t given preferential treatment.
“Our budget was as low as possible in Division I,” said Sneddon, who became Vermont’s head coach in the summer of 2003. “There weren’t a lot of adjustments made when we moved from D-III to D-I. It was hard to keep afloat and do the things that we needed to do to make our kids feel good about the equipment, and the recruiting and the locker room.”
Union had only two winning seasons in the 1990s, and made the ECACH tournament only three times. Before 2003, 10 of the 12 teams made the postseason. The Dutchmen’s low point was in Sneddon’s first season, 1998-99, when the Dutchmen went 3-26-3.
Several former players wanted to help the program, and formed the Blades.
“I wouldn’t say they were losing every game because they had some seasons with some promise,” said Dalton Menhall, who played from 1988-92 and was on the first Division I team, and later helped start the Garnet Blades. “But you had a bunch of alums who cared about the program and said, ‘What can we do to try to help make this program more competitive and have a shot at a home playoff series or winning the ECACs some day.’ Those were the goals. We weren’t thinking winning national championships, clearly.”
Sneddon had some experience with the Blue Line Club, a group that helped the Harvard hockey team when he played there from 1988-92.
“He had a lot of influence,” said Menhall, a former Blades president, said of Sneddon. “Every coach that we’ve had has played a very important role in helping the Blades get to where it is today. But Kevin is the VIP of it. If you think about it, he was the one who knew about the Blue Line Club, and had gotten the by-laws from Harvard. He’s a smart guy. He said, ‘Look, there is something you guys can do.’
“I think without him collaborating with us, this thing wouldn’t have started.”
Current Blades president Tim Meigher, a 1975 Union graduate, is influenced by Sneddon.
“He was well-organized and kept us on point, which is kind of the way I try to do it now,” Meigher said. “The important thing was he was open and honest about what he needed to succeed, and he wasn’t critical at all of the college. He was very supportive of the college. He had been there a while.
“But he had also been very candid about what it took to play at this level. You can’t get a better read on that than from your head coach. He’s out there every day recruiting, and talking to families, and talking to coaches of the kids you want to recruit.”
Val Belmonte, who was Union’s athletic director at the time, said Sneddon was the reason the Blades became successful.
“Kevin’s legacy with the Garnet Blades was he built a solid foundation for the organization to grow,” Belmonte said. “He built a culture and tradition of sustained excellence through pride in the college, pride in the program and pride in the overall development of our student-athletes.”
Sneddon appreciates the compliments. But he knows he wasn’t alone in making the Blades happen.
“I’m just proud that we were able to bring alumni even closer to the program,” Sneddon said. “That’s the most important thing, that these guys have such a great bond.”