ALBANY, N.Y. — The Union Dutchmen aren’t playing in the ECAC Hockey championship game Saturday because they’re experienced.
They’re not residing on higher ground than the program has ever achieved because they’re older.
And they’re certainly not making a run at a first-ever NCAA berth because they have a veteran defensive corps.
Union’s blue line is younger than Larry King’s latest marriage. They’re fresher than Pine-Sol. With 18 combined NCAA seasons between them, Union’s 10 rostered defenders average out to less than sophomores. (Nolan Julseth-White played in only two games last year, so he is considered a frosh-plus.) Yet the group is a combined plus-77 this year, with only one player — freshman Ryan Forgaard — towing a negative number (minus-4). Not only are these greenhorn rearguards pulling their weight in the defensive zone, but they’re putting up some points, too: Eighteen goals and 53 assists are no beginners’ luck.
“It’s not tonight or the past three games,” said coach Nate Leaman of his defensive corps’ success. “I thought they did a pretty good job. They had good stick-on-puck play. We knew coming in [to the year] that we’d have three freshmen on defense … but the guys had good buy-ins, which makes it easy for the coach to put in a system that will help support that defense.”
Did we forget to mention that senior sentinel Mike Wakita is out with an injury, too? No big deal. Union forced St. Lawrence to take long shots through optimistic screens, boxing out any would-be invaders with game-long success.
“They work real hard,” said victimized coach Joe Marsh. “You’ve seen the development and maturation of their team. They showed a lot of maturity, they play within their capabilities, they play well as a group, and they don’t over-do things.”
Wakita’s classmate and fellow blue-liner Mike Schreiber never really saw his younger colleagues as, well, younger.
“I wouldn’t really say they’re young guys,” he said. “They came into camp ready to learn, and that’s what they’ve done all year. They worked hard in the weight rooms, they’ve worked hard on the ice, they keep everything simple.”
Schreiber knew this would be a group that played beyond its years early on.
“One or two weeks into the year,” he said. “Not just in games, but in practices also.”
Union had never played in a league championship weekend before this one. They’d never won 20 games in a season before, much less played for an ECAC Hockey crown.
But that’s the fun thing about youth … it can’t succumb to lessons that it’s never been taught.