By BOB YORK–
The rafters that sit high above the ice surface of the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia–the site of the NCAA’s Frozen Four–added a new pennant to its honor roll this spring. It read: Yale, National Champions, 2013.
A year from now, collegiate hockey will dangle yet another new banner from on high in preparation for its next summit meeting. It will make its debut hanging from the girders atop TD Garden in Boston. This one will inform all: Union, National Champions, 2014.
Although next year’s championship will take place in our own backyard, it’s not the only reason these two pennants should hit close to home for Big Green Nation. Three former Deerfield Academy grads have played a part in their schools earning a place among the game’s elite. Last year, Antione Lagaiiere (’09) and Alex Ward (’11) played a role in Yale’s run to the title, while Alex Gonye (’13) was a part of Union’s coronation, as the Dutchmen earned this year’s crown by knocking off the University of Minnesota Saturday night, 7-4.
“It definitely doesn’t get any better than this,” said Gonye via a cell phone conversation during a four-hour bus ride from Philadelphia back to the school’s campus in Schenectady, NY. “It’s hard to describe what I’m feeling … what we’re all feeling. I imagine it will all sink in pretty soon and we’ll all begin to realize what we’ve accomplished. For now though, whatever we’re all feeling sure feels great.”
The thrill of victory always feels great, but particularly when you’ve been dubbed as the “Cinderella” of the bunch. Although the Dutchmen were seeded third in the 16-team, they found themselves facing an uphill battle having to knock off second-seeded Boston College, then top-ranked Minnesota if the school hoped to clinch its first national crown since its men’s lacrosse team finished atop the tourney field back in 1929.
The Dutchmen skated through the East Regional by downing Hockey East powers University of Vermont and Providence College by respective scores of 5-2 and 3-1. Then came the Frozen Four where Union upstaged BC, 5-4, and the Golden Gophers, 7-4.
“Some might have looked upon this as a David versus Goliath kind of thing,” said Gonye, who was one of nine freshmen dotting a roster that posted a 32-6-4 record this winter while chalking up a 16-0-1 mark down the home stretch, “but everyone on this team really felt confident about our chances of winning the whole thing.
“Winning our regional tournament gave us a great deal of momentum heading into the Frozen Four,” added Gonye, who hails from New Canaan, Ct., “and after knocking off Boston College, we felt as though we just couldn’t be beaten.” And, as it turned out, they couldn’t.
The Dutchmen would erupt for three goals in a span of just under three minutes late in the first period of the title tilt and went on to become the school’s first men’s hockey team to win national honors since it began competing in the sport back in 1919. After nearly a century of chasing pucks, the school can finally quit chasing the elite of the sport–and has finally joined them.
“Considering our roster included nine freshmen and five sophomores, what this team accomplished this season is a real tribute to coach (Rick) Bennett and his staff,” said Gonye, “and considering we’re just losing five players to graduation, this program’s future should certainly be bright.”
Union’s youth movement was never more evident than at the Frozen Four, as two fellow members of Gonye’s freshman class–Mike Vecchione and Eli Lichtenwald–netted one goal each, while three juniors–Shayne Gostisbehere, Daniel Ciampini and Max Novak–chipped in one goal apiece as well in the title clincher. Vecchione also tallied once against Boston College, while Ciampini led the charge with a three-goal effort.
“They’re doing some good things at Union,” said Big Green hockey coach Brendan Creagh of a Dutchmen hockey program that has chalked up four consecutive 20-win seasons, “and I’m sure Alex will be making an impact there in the future.
“He can take over a hockey game when he’s playing at his best,” added Creagh of Gonye, who finished tied for second with Sam Lafferty (14) on the Deerfield scoring charts his senior season with 24 points. Gonye did so by posting six goals while leading the team with 18 assists.
“Alex has all the ingredients to make him an outstanding Division I hockey player,” continued Gonye’s former mentor. “He has good size (6-1, 175 pounds) … he’s smart … he always knows what’s going on around him on the ice … plus, he’s an outstanding puck handler,” which goes a long way to explaining the 31 assists he rang up during his junior and senior seasons at Deerfield.
According to his former mentor, Gonye’s biggest asset to the game, however, is his ability to get from Point A to Point B so quickly.
“Alex’s skating style is so effortless, it can really surprise you,” said Creagh. “He has deceptive speed. He just doesn’t look as though he’s skating as fast as you might think and you don’t realize it until he’s skated past you.”
Gonye, who was a rarity in Big Green hockey in that he earned a spot on the varsity as a freshman, could be similarly classified among the minority at Union as he is just one of four players on a 27-man roster who made the jump from the prep school ranks. The other 23 Dutchmen earned their diplomas from numerous junior hockey league programs located throughout North America.
“It was a big jump going from prep school hockey to Division I hockey,” said Gonye, “but I made it and I owe Coach Creagh and his staff a great deal of thanks. I became a much stronger hockey player during my four years at Deerfield and my time there was well spent. The program there not only prepared me physically for the rigors of Division I hockey, it prepared me mentally as well.”