Union was the only men’s college hockey team to win its conference’s regular-season and tournament championships.
But that wasn’t enough for the Dutchmen to earn the overall No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.
The Dutchmen (28-6-4) are the third overall seed for the tournament, which was announced Sunday. They are the top seed in the East Regional at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn., and will face Vermont and ex-Union head coach Kevin Sneddon at 2 p.m. Friday in the first semifinal in what will be an ECAC Hockey vs. Hockey East showdown. The other semifinal pits the ECACH’s Quinnipiac against Hockey East’s Providence, which features another former Union head coach, Nate Leaman.
The Dutchmen, ranked second in the national polls, are making their fourth straight NCAA appearance. They won their third Cleary Cup regular-season title in four years, and then captured their third straight ECACH tournament Whitelaw Cup with a 5-2 win over Colgate on Saturday in Lake Placid.
Top-seeded Minnesota (Big Ten) and No. 2 seed Boston College (Hockey East) both won their regular-season titles, but neither one made their tournament final. Minnesota lost in the semifinal to Ohio State, while BC was ousted by Notre Dame in the quarterfinals.
Union, which takes a 13-game unbeaten streak (12-0-1) into the NCAAs, isn’t looking at not getting the top overall seed as a snub.
“I think the PairWise [Rankings] does a pretty good job of predicting how teams have done throughout the year,” Union captain Mat Bodie said shortly after the team arrived home Sunday afternoon. “Minnesota and BC are both great teams. They deserve the spots that they’ve earned.”
Dutchmen coach Rick Bennett is happy with the seeding.
“It’s not a far travel,” Bennett said. “We’ve had some experience in Bridgeport. That’s a positive for us.”
The Dutchmen are appearing in Bridgeport for the third time. They lost in the 2011 semifinal to Minnesota Duluth. The following year, they beat Michigan State and UMass-Lowell to win the region and advance to their first Frozen Four in their Division I era.
“We had some good success there a couple of years ago,” Union defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “We look to keep it going and, hopefully, pull it out again.”
Sneddon joined Union as an assistant coach, when Bruce Delventhal was the head coach, in 1993. He became head coach in 1998, when Stan Moore resigned.
Sneddon posted a 50-99-18 record in his five seasons as Union head coach. After starting 3-26-3 in 1998-99, the Dutchmen slowly improved under Sneddon. In his final season, he guided the Dutchmen to their first ECACH tournament home-ice series.
Sneddon serves on the NCAA hockey tournament committee, and had to remove himself from the selection meeting after he found out his team made the tournament. He figured that the Catamounts would either be in Bridgeport or at the Midwest Regional in Cincinnati.
When the matchups were revealed, Sneddon was pleased to be heading to Bridgeport and face the school where he started his coaching career.
“The tie-in with the program that is still very dear to my heart [makes it special],” Sneddon said. “It certainly started with Nate Leaman, but Rick Bennett has done such an amazing job with the program. I’m excited to go against them.
Union and Vermont were ECACH foes from 1991, when the Dutchmen joined the Division I ranks from Division III, until 2005, when the Catamounts left for Hockey East. Vermont leads the series, 18-10-2, including 16-9-2 in Division I.
The teams have met just once since Vermont left the ECACH. The Catamounts took a 2-1 win in the first round of the Catamount Cup Dec. 29, 2012.
Vermont’s leading scorer is senior forward Chris McCarthy with 16 goals and 19 assists. Freshman forward Mario Puskarich is the team’s top goal scorer with 19. He was named Hockey East Rookie of the Year.
“They’re very hard-working [and] fast,” Bennett said. “You’ve got to fight for your ice.”