In an outpouring of support that linked the College with the city it calls home, thousands of people turned out Thursday for a parade honoring the men’s hockey team for capturing its first Division I national championship.
Players and coaches piled onto fire trucks for the start of the parade in front of Alumni Gym as students, faculty and staff cheered and waved. A caravan of convertibles shuttling dignitaries, including Union President Stephen C. Ainlay and Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy, drove ahead of the team as the route passed Messa Rink and wound its way for over a mile through city streets lined three and four deep with supporters before ending up at City Hall.
Union’s pep band, the Nott Noisemakers, entertained the crowds aboard a flatbed truck.
As thousands who packed the surrounding area looked on, McCarthy presented a key to the city to senior defenseman and captain Mat Bodie, who accepted on behalf of the team.
“What a great day for our community and what a great day for Union College,” McCarthy said from the steps of City Hall, which was adorned with two huge banners, “Go Union.”
“Today, the focus of the nation is on Union College, the city of Schenectady and the Capital Region. Winning the national title makes us all so proud.”
U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko read a Congressional proclamation, calling them a team “everyone can be proud of.”
Ainlay praised the community for its support of the team as it began its incredible run to the championship from the ECAC tournament in Lake Placid to the NCAA Regionals in Bridgeport to finally, the Frozen Four in Philadelphia last week.
“When we were in Lake Placid, Schenectady was there,” Ainlay told the boisterous crowd, many of whom wore Union jerseys and hats. “When we were in Bridgeport, Schenectady was there. And when we were in Philadelphia, Schenectady was there. Thank you, thank you and thank you.”
He lauded the accomplishments of the team for their performance on the ice and off. But he said they represent more than just the College.
“They also represent this city and this region with their hard work, their tenacity, their resilience and more importantly, their character,” he said. “This team is Schenectady’s team, this team is the Capital Region’s team, and this team is New York’s team. It’s Union College.”
Northeastern Fine Jewelry presented special garnet pucks to Ainlay, Athletic Director Jim McLaughlin and Coach Rick Bennett. Emblazoned with 2.5 carats of diamonds shaped in the form of the letter “U,” each sterling silver puck features the engraving, “2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Ice Hockey Champions.”
Bennett, who has led the team to two Frozen Four appearances in three years, expressed his appreciation for the crowd’s support.
“We are greatly honored and truly humbled,” he said. “We appreciate the support. Just know that we did this together.”
Bodie said that before each game this season, he would gather his teammates in the locker room for a pre-game speech. He would end each pep talk by imploring them, “Let’s go get our job done.”
“Today, I’m proud to say we got the job done,” Bodie said before he hoisted the championship trophy above his head. The crowd roared.
Thursday’s parade was sponsored by the city of Schenectady and the Chamber of Schenectady County, with support from a number of civic and business organizations. The celebration featured dozens of players from local youth hockey teams.
Rich Becker, the public address announcer for Messa Rink, served as master of ceremonies.
Fans waiting at City Hall were treated to music from Grand Central Station, a band formed by drummer Paul DeBiase, manager of the College’s Copy Center and Mail Services.
The celebration was the culmination of a remarkable week centered on the accomplishments of the hockey team, which knocked off powerhouses Boston College and Minnesota at the Frozen Four in Philadelphia to claim college hockey’s top prize.
The team finished with a record of 32-6-4 and the school's first championship since the 1929 men's lacrosse team. The Dutchmen’s unprecedented run generated a wealth of national and local media attention, including coverage from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, ESPN and dozens of other outlets.
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