Union celebrates its national title
SCHENECTADY, N.Y. -- Mat Bodie isn't much of a speech-giver.
The Union senior captain wasn't ever looking to stand up and give his team a run-of-the-mill motivational pep-talk this season or inspire anything more than simply playing hockey.
But, despite that, Bodie spoke to his teammates before every game the Dutchmen played this season and he finished the same way every time, telling them ‘let's go get our job done.'
On Thursday afternoon, in front of a crowd of thousands packed together in front of Schenectady City Hall, Bodie gave that same speech one last time, but with a little bit of an edit. The Union men's hockey team had gotten the job done; past tense.
To the cheers and applause of fans, students and alumni from across the Capital Region, Bodie yelled out one final exclamation, before lifting up the NCAA men's ice hockey National Championship trophy, the culmination of a miles-long championship parade throughout downtown Schenectady and a Union season that defied everyone's expectations.
"I keep stealing the word ‘surreal moment,' because it really was," Union coach Rick Bennett said. "The support that we get, again, we're just truly honored and humbled by it."
The Dutchmen clinched the program's first-ever national title last Saturday, skating past perennial powerhouse Minnesota for a 7-4 victory in an underdog story that was seemingly written for Union, a team with no athletic scholarships that represents a school of just 2,200 students.
After a whirlwind week following the championship, including pro signings for Bodie and junior defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, the Dutchmen were honored in their hometown, riding on firetrucks, flanked by a police escort, on a parade route that began in front of Alumni Gymnasium on campus and zigzaged through downtown Schenectady before a final ceremony in front of City Hall.
The fans came out in droves for the champions, decked out in Union gear, which the on-campus bookstore had to restock earlier this week, and holding hand made signs and balloons. The cheers were loud, with people lining the sidewalks and sitting on porches and balconies and the support that the Dutchmen saw from every single one of them was just like winning a title all over again.
"It's pretty awesome just to see everyone out there," Gostisbehere, who was named the Frozen Four's Most Outstanding Player, said. "All the support. You don't expect there to be that many people. But it just goes to show, even with 2,200 students, it doesn't feel like that."
Gostisbhere was simply happy to be part of the event at all on Thursday. He'll be suiting up for the Adirondack Phantoms in the AHL team's final game at the Glens Falls Civic Center tonight.
"It's definitely nuts," he said. "I was glad I could make it down here for the parade today and the banquet too. It's been really fun."
When the team finally reached its destination at City Hall, they were applauded and honored by local politicians, including Congressman Paul Tonko who pledged to honor Union on the congressional level during the upcoming session.
Afterwards Schenectady mayor Gary McCarthy presented keys to the city to the team and coaching staff and Bennett was also honored with a diamond-encrusted hockey puck designed by Northeastern Fine Jewelry.
"We want to give them more than a pat on the back and give them the recognition they deserve," McCarthy said of the event. "It brings a level of recognition that you're not able to produce any other way. It's a smaller school, a great reputation but the team went out and beat all the big boys."
As continuous cheers of "Let's Go Union" filled the crowd, the Dutchmen were finally able to sit and let the moment sink in. They had gone out and gotten the job done and, most importantly, they had done their city proud.
"It's starting to sink in but it's still pretty crazy," senior and alternate captain Daniel Carr said. "This whole week has just been a whirlwind. With the group of guys we have though, it's been an absolute privilege."
While there may have been those who doubted Union's ability to win a national title, the Dutchmen never questioned their goal or their ability to succeed and, for them, Thursday's parade was a testament to that determination.
"We believed all year we could get the job done," Niskayuna native Colin Stevens said. "We knew going into the Frozen Four, we could win a championship and it worked out."
As the crowd started to disperse around City Hall and a few fans took pictures with players and the trophy, the Union hockey team knew that it had done its job.
The Dutchmen were champions and it was exactly how they had pictured it.
"It was an amazing experience," Bennett said. "To actually see it come to fruition, it's pretty special. It's incredible."
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.