I get that hockey is a niche sport, and accepting that means there are even fewer folks who appreciate college hockey.
I am one of those.
I enjoy watching college baseball as well. While we love our Cinderella stories, like 1966 Texas Western and 1983 NC State winning college basketball’s national title, Butler playing for a championship and VCU running to the Final Four in 2011, Saturday night’s battle for college hockey supremacy defined what makes college athletics so great. Union College won its first ever national championship with a 7-4 win over Minnesota.
The Gophers, out of the Big Ten, were the #1 overall seed and own a program drenched in tradition. The Dutchmen play in the ECAC, and won both the regular season and conference championships. They have been a Division-1 program for just 24 years, and were making just their second ever NCAA Tournament.
Union College has just one D-1 sport: hockey. It is a school of just over 2,200. It has no scholarship players and just one NHL draft pick (Shayne Gostisbehere). They finished with 32 wins, went 17-1-2 against nationally-ranked teams and closed their season on a 17 game-unbeaten streak. They beat Vermont, Providence (who finished third in the powerful Hockey East) and #2 overall seed Boston College before stunning the highly-skilled Gophers.
Minnesota, in contrast, has over 51,000 students, 26 scholarship players, 14 NHL draftees and has won five national crowns.
Granted, there have been other small schools to win college hockey titles, like Harvard in 1989 and Cornell twice in 1967 and 1970, but none with the story of Union, whose senior class won 71% of its games. It may not be as improbable as Fresno State’s 2008 college baseball run to a national championship, but it’s pretty close.
Of course, I might be the only one able to appreciate and understand that comparison.