The Union College men’s hockey season didn’t quite end the way everyone on campus had hoped, but fans reminded the team Friday afternoon that they still have plenty to be proud of in becoming the first Union team to reach the Frozen Four.
More than 100 students, staff members and fans came to Messa Rink to welcome the Dutchmen’s bus as the team returned to campus after Thursday night’s 3-1 loss to Ferris State in the semifinals of the NCAA Division I men’s hockey championship in Tampa, Fla.
“Welcome Home! We Are So Proud of U!” said one large, hand-lettered sign fans held up as the players disembarked from the chartered bus to cheers.
“It’s great to see the appreciation,” said senior defenseman Nolan Julseth-White, who, having played his final college game, lingered outside to talk with supporters and reporters even as other players quickly grabbed their gear from the bus’s cargo bay and headed inside the arena.
Rookie coach Rick Bennett acknowledged the players’ disappointment after their loss in a game that remained close until the final minutes. The loss came after nearly two weeks of buildup about the program’s first trip to the Frozen Four.
The team finished the season with a 26-8-7 record, better than nearly anyone expected.
“It’s been an interesting ride, but it’s been a lot of fun. These guys have had a great year,” Bennett said.
The coach also praised the fans who turned out on a sunny but breezy afternoon after much of the campus had emptied out for the Easter weekend.
“It says a lot about our college that they’re here,” Bennett said. “We couldn’t be happier with the reception we got.”
Among those in the crowd to welcome the team home was Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney, a 1975 Union graduate and longtime hockey fan. The academically rigorous school has long been known for not waiving any of its academic standards for athletics, he noted.
“I remember even five years ago, longtime fans said they would never win in the ECAC or NCAA,” Carney said. “This team proved them wrong. As a longtime fan, I’m thrilled.”
“It’s wonderful they made it [to the tournament]. They worked so hard to get there,” said Calley Stacey, the college’s director of operations for dining services.
Sophomore Mike Ingoldsby had a unique perspective. The Stratford, Ont., native was recruited by the college to play hockey, but he has had to stop playing because of concussions suffered on the ice last season.
“It’s not fun to be the guys who lose,” Ingoldsby said. “I think when the guys step back and have a couple of weeks to think about it, they’ll be proud of what they accomplished.”
After a six-week break for the returning players, Bennett said training will resume, as the Union program starts looking toward its 2012-13 season and perhaps another trip to the NCAA tournament.
Ferris State will play Boston College tonight for the national championship.