The deja vu was palpable.
The last two Union hockey coaches and the current one — along with various assistants — are all crammed into the same region.
Who knows if Union will get the dream matchup against Providence in the East Regional final on Saturday?
There is still the sticky detail of getting through today’s semifinals, but as the four teams gathered at Webster Bank Arena on Thursday, the theme of the day was the progress the Dutchmen have made since Kevin Sneddon was hired as head coach in 1998.
Bridging that process between Sneddon’s engagement with the alumni for support and Rick Bennett’s three straight NCAA appearances was the eight seasons during which Nate Leaman expanded on Sneddon’s groundwork and brought in his future successor.
Now Leaman is in his third season at Providence, having brought the Friars back to the NCAAs for the first time since 2001. In many ways, it echoes what happened at Union during his time in Schenectady.
“The evolution of our program is starting to come,” he said.
Leaman credited Sneddon, whose Vermont Catamounts will face Union today, for starting the momentum despite what he considers counterproductive indifference toward the program by former school president Roger Hull.
The Dutchmen had some pathetic seasons after going Division I, including 3-26-3 in 1998-99.
In 2004, Hull infamously said in a statement about the program, “Let me tell you of my idea of being competitive: fielding a team that has a reasonable chance of winning every time it steps on the ice. And when they got to 40 percent [winning percentage], I was proud . . .”
Leaman brought up that quote in saying, “The program was really left out for dead for Kevin, to be honest. It was a college president who really didn’t understand athletics at all, and had a pretty poor budget.”
Leaman said Union never would have achieved its current status without president Stephen Ainlay and athletic director Jim McLaughlin.
So why leave?
Leaman chose not to elaborate, saying only that going to Providence was “a family decision,” which usually means more money. Providence graduate Bennett, by the way, also interviewed for that job.
The moment seemed right for Leaman because Providence was showing signs of a parallel hockey resurgence like Union’s.
Back in Schenectady, Bennett has expanded on Leaman’s work and recruiting to turn the Dutchmen into the top-ranked team in the country.
Seniors Mat Bodie and Daniel Carr said the crucial adjustment Bennett made was to allow the forwards more latitude to show off the talent for which they were recruited.
That has put the Dutchmen in a position to show us something we’ve never seen before.