The Union Dutchmen expected some warm weather when they arrived here Tuesday afternoon for the NCAA hockey Frozen Four.
What they didn’t expect was to be greeted by youth hockey players and to walk on a red carpet.
Several members of Tampa-area youth hockey teams welcomed the Dutchmen to the Frozen Four by lining on either side of the red carpet at the Tampa Jet Center. The Dutchmen walked through the stick salute on a red carpet and mingled on the tarmac on an 89-degree day, weather more typical for summer than for hockey.
The Dutchmen (26-7-7) will face Ferris State (25-11-3) in the first semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The winner will face the Boston College-Minnesota victor in Saturday’s championship game at 7 p.m.
As the Dutchmen descended from the airplane — the same plane that brought the Kentucky Wildcats back to Lexington after they won the NCAA men’s basketball championship Monday night over Kansas — they were cheered on by the youth players and their parents. The youth players lined up on either side of the red carpet, and raised their sticks high as the Dutchmen walked through onto the tarmac. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn spoke to them, welcoming them to the city.
Off in the distance, a reggae band played.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Union senior center Kelly Zajac said. “It’s nice to be recognized.”
Union goalie Troy Grosenick was mesmerized by the welcome.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Grosenick said. “We weren’t expecting anything like this, so it’s pretty neat.”
Union coach Rick Bennett was very thankful for the reception.
“This is phenomenal,” Bennett said. “You’ve got to keep this stuff in perspective, but we really appreciate it.”
There was also a large-size banner of Dutchmen leading scorer Jeremy Welsh at the jet center. The junior center, who has 27 goals and 16 assists, was impressed.
“I didn’t really recognize myself [at first],” Welsh said. “But once we got closer, it was pretty cool.”
Union was the first of the Frozen Four teams to arrive in town. It capped a whirlwind day for the team.
Before the Dutchmen left for Albany International Airport for their 1 p.m. flight to Tampa, a pep rally was held in the parking lot outside Messa Rink. Between 50 and 100 people attended the rally.
Assemblyman Jim Tedisco (R-Schenectady-Saratoga), a 1972 Union College graduate, presented an official Assembly citation to the team, recognizing its historic accomplishments. Tedisco also invited the Dutchmen to the Assembly chamber, and they will be honored there at a later date.
“It was great,” Dutchmen senior defenseman and team captain Nolan Julseth-White said. “A lot of fans showed up. We appreciate their support. They are all revved up, and it was great to see that just after practice. Hopefully, most of them made the trip down. If not, I know they’ll be supporting us back home.”
While the weather makes it tempting to hit the beach instead of getting ready to play a hockey game, the Dutchmen know the purpose of this trip, to bring home an NCAA championship.
“The guys in the dressing room know that this is a business trip,” Union freshman right winger Daniel Ciampini said. “We’re not here to soak in the sun.”
If you are thinking about coming down to Tampa to catch either the semifinals or Saturday’s championship game, single-session tickets are now available. The cost is $110 for the two semifinals, and $110 for the championship game. Tickets can be purchased online at www.ncaa.-com/tickets, or by calling (800) 745-3000. You can also visit the Tampa Bay Times Forum ticket office when you come to town. . . .
Ferris State arrived about 30 minutes after the Dutchmen. Minnesota came in around 8:30 p.m. Boston College was the last team to arrive, landing at 11:30 p.m. . . .
Union will practice from 12:15-1:15 p.m. today. The Dutchmen’s post-practice press conference runs from 1:50-2:20 p.m., and will be carried live by YNN.