Alums Celebrate Title with Union
For Union hockey players of a certain era, playing Minnesota for the Division I national championship was not just unfathomable; it would have been impossible as a Division III program.
It made sense, then, that this was something many of them had to see first-hand to believe. And Saturday’s crowd of 18,000-plus included some 60 to 80 Union alums from the Division III era cheering on their team in old jerseys and new hats, with young children in tow and big smiles on their faces, even before the game was decided.
“You couldn’t even picture Union playing against teams like Minnesota,” said Denny Baldwin, now a venture capitalist who came in from Boston. “The fact that they are able to do it without athletic scholarships is pretty incredible.”
These alums were not just basking in the glow of the current team’s success. Head coach Rick Bennett has embraced the alumni base, even those who played before today’s players were born, and made them part of the program. When ESPN’s Quint Kessenich spoke to the coach on the ice in the moments after Saturday’s final horn, one of the first things he did was acknowledge the former players in the stands.
“To all the players who have worn this jersey, to all the coaches who have coached before me,” he said, “I just want to say thank you very much. You made this possible.”
Those are hardly empty words of appreciation. Like many college programs, former players are part of a fraternity that continues to grow. They keep in touch electronically and visit campus for reunions and alumni games, but getting together in Philadelphia was something extra special.
“It’s hard to put it into words,” said Dalton Menhall, a defenseman whose Union career spanned the move to Division I in 1991-92. “It’s a tribute to the coaching staff, which has maintained a connection and made the alumni feel like a big family. Guys have come from all over to see the Dutchmen. To be around these guys again is pretty special.”
About a dozen members of that 1991-92 team were in attendance, a group that went 3-21-1 in Union’s first ECAC season. A national championship may have seemed a distant – if not impossible – dream at that point.
Nevertheless, the bonds made during those years are maintained to this day. Saturday all of those former players were able to celebrate Union’s national championship as if they were on the ice with Mat Bodie and Shayne Gostisbehere.