SCHENECTADY, N.Y. — The six Union seniors gathered for a group hug in front of the net at the west end of Achilles Rink following Saturday’s ECAC game against Cornell, waiting to be honored for Senior Night.
The hug was one of consolation, for their college hockey careers had come to an end.
The Dutchmen’s playoff hopes, which seemed a sure thing a month ago, expired. Their 3-1 loss to ECAC regular-season champion Cornell, combined with victories by the two teams behind them, St. Lawrence and Yale, knocked the Dutchmen out of playoff contention for the first time since the six seniors — goalie Brandon Snee, defenseman Charles Simard and forwards Doug Christiansen, Seamus Galligan, Jeff Hutchins and Jeff Wilson — were freshmen in 1998-99.
“I just feel bad for the seniors, obviously, to end on that note,” said Union coach Kevin Sneddon, who fought back tears after the game. “I can’t focus on any of the tough times. I have to look at the positives. I think the team did a … lot of good things.”
St. Lawrence beat Vermont, 3-2, and Yale downed Brown, 5-3. The Saints and Bulldogs finished in a tie for ninth, one point ahead of the Dutchmen (8-11-3, 13-13-6).
“There were a lot of tears shed,” Hutchins said. “It was the best team we had in three years. A 19-point season should have been good enough to go somewhere this year.”
The Dutchmen entered February tied for the final home playoff berth with Yale. But a 2-5-1 month dropped them into ninth place heading into the final weekend of the season.
“We shot ourselves in the foot a few times,” Wilson said. “We paid for it in the end.”
They kept their hopes alive with Friday’s 5-2 win over Colgate. But St. Lawrence and Yale were also victorious, setting up the dramatic final night of the season.
Against the ninth-ranked Big Red (17-3-2, 21-6-2), the Dutchmen had no chance.
The Big Red played a flawless game. Their offense swarmed Snee, and their defense limited any Dutchmen scoring chances.
Cornell outshot Union, 29-7, through two periods. It took a 1-0 lead on Matt McRae’s power-play goal midway through the first period.
Sam Paolini scored twice in the second period for the Big Red. On his first goal at 7:07, he made a nice move from the left wing to the front of the net and flipped a backhander over Snee’s glove side.
Pinpoint passing on the power play led to Paolini’s next goal at 14:40. Stephen Baby sent the puck from the left point down to Ryan Vesce at the bottom of the left circle. Vesce quickly sent the puck to Paolini in front of the net, and he one-timed it past Snee.
Nathan Gillies scored Union’s lone goal on a breakaway at 6:34 of the third period.
“It’s very disappointing,” Snee said. “We had a lot of potential.”
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.