There was no ice at Messa Rink on Thursday. The dark gray of the rink without its familiar bright white surface was dull and in stark contrast to the boisterous bunch of Union College hockey fans in the bleachers.
The crowd’s lively faces were fixated on every slap shot, rebound and check appearing on a big screen rigged on the Messa Rink floor.
But by the end of the Dutchmen’s losing fight against the Ferris State Bulldogs during the Frozen Four national semifinal in Tampa, Fla., disappointment had dampened only some of the faces in the crowd.
“If you can’t be in Tampa, you might as well be in the rink,” said Union hockey fanatic Dylan Seber.
In fact, the hundreds of people overcrowding the bleachers Thursday were a testament to the team’s loyal fans, who continued to cheer from more than 1,300 miles away after Union’s 3-1 loss.
Seber, a lifelong Schenectady resident, turned 34 on the much-anticipated semifinal day. And just being with hundreds of other Union fans was the best birthday present he could ask for.
“This atmosphere is crazy,” he said. “This is nothing like we see all year ’round.”
His friend and fellow Schenectady resident Camille Covey agreed. New to Union College hockey this season, she has come to enjoy the intense camaraderie that exists among fans.
“If we could have this at every game, that would be phenomenal,” she said.
“You’ve got to think,” interrupted Seber, with eyes glued to the big screen, “we’ve had about 18 years of losing seasons. We’re talking three, four wins tops, maybe a seed. So even to be at this high of a winning percentage is a big step.”
His observation came only 10 minutes into the first period. No one had scored, and Aaron Schmit had yet to score the empty-net goal in the third period that would secure victory for Ferris State.
“No matter what happens, this is where we got,” said Covey, smiling as she looked around at the bleachers full of fans in Frozen Four sweatshirts, garnet shirts and scarves and red U’s painted on cheeks.
Jumping up and down from her front and center spot in the Messa bleachers was 31-year-old Jessica Love, waving red and white pom-pons as her parents clapped inflatable noisemakers.
She’s followed the team since it played at the Division III level and said the small liberal arts school and the city of Schenectady have been the best cheerleaders for the team.
“Look at when we played Michigan State and they had like 36,000 students,” said Love over the sound of foghorns and noisemakers. “Union has like 2,200 and it was such a huge accomplishment for us to get here. This is just great. I love to see that everybody showed up. I hope the players see this so they can see we all care about them.”