For the longest time teams vying for the National Championship in the Frozen Four tournament included D-I schools from Hockey East, WCHA, and the former CCHA (which has since been disbanded). You could put money down that year in and year out the Frozen Four would be populated with teams from one of those three divisions. The ECAC was an afterthought.
Never given the proper recognition, the ECAC was the redheaded stepchild who was shunned with no real chance of making far in the tournament. They were a division that developed some decent NHL talent (Craig Adams, Erik Cole, Joe Nieuwendyk, Rich Peverley, etc.), but just couldn’t compete with the NCAA’s best. In the ECAC, it’s tough to get recognized, even if you’re the best team in the country.
Prior to the game versus BC, Union were considered underdogs. The strangest thing about that sentence is that Union is the best team in college hockey. Ranked #1 in the USCHO Standings, Union is and was a better hockey team than BC. However, the Boston College Eagles were favorites to win the game. It had less to do with John Gaudreau being on the team and more to do with BC being a big name D-I school.
Mat Bodie, defenseman for Union, had this to say about Union not being well-known on a national level:
“We’re a small school in Schenectady, New York. The community does a great job rallying around us. We may not fill a 10,000 seat arena, but we’re 2500 every night. It’s packed. It’s loud, and it’s a tough place to play. I think it’s just heart of the college hockey atmosphere. It doesn’t matter if you’re at a big school or small school. Your fan support is great. We’re lucky that we chose Union College as a place to play.”
Union College and the rest of the ECAC has emerged as a division that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
In 2012, Union made shook up the Frozen Four tournament by making a bid in the semifinals before eventually losing to Ferris State. The following year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Frozen Four saw two ECAC teams (Yale and Quinnipiac) advance to the National Championship game in which the Bulldogs defeated the Bobcats. Yale’s National Championship was the first time an ECAC team had won the title since 1989. This year, Union beat Boston College to advance to the National Championship game.Be that as it may, ECAC is refusing to go away. This year there were a total of four ECAC in the top 20 rankings. The year before there were three. The year before that there were four. The ECAC is beginning to grow into a real threat for even the best college programs in the United States and still it doesn’t get the same acknowledgment.
Union has the ability to make ECAC history on Saturday night. The Dutchmen do battle against the Minnesota Golden Gophers for the National Championship. If Union wins, the ECAC will have back-to-back National Champions for the first time in D-I since 1984.
But even if Union doesn’t win, it’s time to give them and the rest of the ECAC some credit. The conference has played the role of David to the NCAA’s Goliath for too long. They’ve developed some great NHL talent and continue to build great teams capable of competing for D-I hockey’s holy grail. They deserve some respect. I believe they’ve earned it.
Follow Shawn on Twitter: @ShawnTHW