When Kevin Sneddon arrived at Union College in 1993 to join head coach Bruce Delventhal’s staff as an assistant coach, he saw a program that was still trying to navigate its way through NCAA Division I life at a Division III institution.
The recruiting budget was miniscule. The team would leave for road trips on the day of the game. There were no weight rooms in Achilles Rink.
While the times may have been tough, Sneddon wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.
Sneddon spent 10 seasons at Union, the last five as its head coach. Now coaching Vermont, Sneddon will guide the Catamounts against the top-seeded Dutchmen in the NCAA hockey tournament East Regional semifinal at 2 p.m. Friday at Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn.
Union still has a piece of Sneddon’s heart, even though it has been 11 years since he left as head coach of the Dutchmen to become the Catamounts’ head coach.
“I still maintain relationships at the school with everyone from coaches to faculty members,” Sneddon said. “It’s always going to be a special place to me. It wasn’t always easy there, but I learned a lot and was able to take a lot of those learning mistakes and a number of different things up here to Vermont.”
Sneddon has many interesting memories about his time at Union.
“I tell the story to people that I was an assistant coach at the Division I level, I was the assistant rink director and an assistant Division III women’s lacrosse coach,” Sneddon said. “Times have changed. I remember us just scrambling and traveling the day of a game to save money, and stopping at Mike’s Hot Dogs on Erie Boulevard. We would get those $5 breakfast sandwiches to feed the kids, and head on the road three hours to play a game. It was very different times.
“But those are important things that you learn as a coach to have your hand in on everything. You have to learn about running equipment. We were our own strength coaches. We didn’t have strength coaches at Union.”
Sneddon was on the verge of leaving Union in 1998 when Stan Moore suddenly resigned as the team’s head coach after two seasons to become an assistant coach at Colgate. Sneddon was offered the job, and took it.
The first season was very rough. The Dutchmen went 3-26-3.
“It was a very difficult time both for the program and certainly for myself,” Sneddon said. “I had plans to move to another program at that time to be an assistant coach. Stan Moore’s decision was pretty abrupt. There was two weeks left until school started. There was a lot of stuff going on with the program at that time. There was still the talk of [joining Division III] NESCAC. It was really hard to recruit.”
Slowly, Sneddon started to move the program in a positive direction. The team made the ECAC Hockey tournament in 2000 and 2001, when 10 of the 12 teams made the postseason. In 2003, the Dutchmen earned home ice in the tournament for the first time by finishing sixth. The Dutchmen lost to RPI in that series.
“What we had to do over time was build the culture up and get the kids to believe they belonged in Division I,” said Sneddon, who posted a 50-99-18 record in his five seasons as Union’s coach. “We needed to learn how to win. Getting home ice was a big step. Even though it was a very difficult series to lose, it was the evolution.”
Sneddon was instrumental in helping launch the Garnet Blades, a fundraising group for the hockey program.
“I remember talking to guys like [Garnet Blades president] Tim Meigher, [ex-players] Chris Sears, Chris Hancock, Scott Boyd, Rick Clifford and Dalton Menhall, all the guys who put in a ton of time with myself and the administration to try and get the Garnet Blades thing going,” Sneddon said. “I remember running our first golf tournament and we raised almost $30,000 for the program, which helped in recruiting. It still wasn’t enough, but certainly was neces-
“I remember talking to those guys, telling them that in five to 10 years, this number’s going to be a lot bigger, and it’s going to really help this program because it was so underfunded when I was there.”
According to Meigher, the Garnet Blades raised over $175,000 last year. It could crack the $200,000 mark this year.
“[Sneddon] was huge in the creation of the Garnet Blades,” Meigher said. “He embraced and nurtured the idea. He was always encouraging us to get hockey alums behind the program.”