SCHENECTADY The first goal of the 2014 NCAA Division I mens ice hockey tournament was scored by Union College senior Matt Hatch.
When the tournament was over, Hatch, a Massena native, was hoisting the national championship trophy over his head, celebrating the end of an impressive amateur career.
In four years at Union, Hatch played on teams that went 104-37-20, won three ECAC Hockey Tournament titles, made two Frozen Fours and brought home the national championship last Saturday after a 7-4 win over the University of Minnesota.
Its kind of a surreal experience, Hatch said. It hasnt really sunk in yet that we won it. You kind of think about it and it still gives you chills to know what we accomplished as a team.
Hatch played in all 42 games for Union this season, which finished 32-6-4. He scored 13 goals with nine assists and in 148 career games he tallied 34 goals with 39 assists.
Saturdays win was not the first time Hatch won a major championship. He was on Massenas 2008 state Division I championship squad as a senior in high school.
It draws a lot of similarities, Hatch said. Its really the same experience, doing it with all your teammates, all the guys you worked so hard with for four years, it was special.
Even the post-championship experience was familiar. The night Massena won its state title the team returned home escorted by police cars and fire trucks with sirens blaring. Union arrived back on campus Sunday afternoon with a police escort and a large gathering of fans outside of Messa Rink to welcome the team.
It was awesome, Hatch said. It was the same thing we had at Massena when everyone was waiting at school for us. Its special to see that many fans support us through the year.
Massena has not forgotten Hatch. Several locals adopted Union as a favorite team since he started playing for the Dutchmen.
Thats also something thats been really special for me, Hatch said. People I havent talked too in forever have reached out to me and people I havent met before have reached out to me. Thats whats so special about living in a town like Massena and the north country. Everyone is in the same boat together. Its very humbling that so many people out there care enough to shoot a message and congratulate me.
Throughout the Frozen Four weekend ESPNs broadcast mentioned the odds Union was up against, how it was a small school without scholarships taking on powerhouse programs like Boston College and Minnesota.
But Union was not a newcomer to the event, having reached it in Hatchs sophomore season when the program was eliminated by Ferris State in a semifinal.
You realize how much harder it is to win the championship and how much work you have to put in, Hatch said. In order to be successful, you have to work hard. Thats the biggest thing Ill take from this experience and thats one of the biggest things I learned from Union hockey.
Now Hatch goes back to being a college senior trying to finish up his degree. He said he is studying economics and minoring in history.
But going to work in an office somewhere is probably a few years away for Hatch, who hopes to play professional hockey somewhere next season.
Its still pretty early to figure out all that stuff, Hatch said. Ive talked to some people and Ill be playing somewhere, its kind of a matter of where at this point and time. Its exciting that Ill be able to have this opportunity. Its really a dream come true to play pro hockey at any level. I always wanted to and Im very fortunate to have that opportunity to keep playing.
At some point next season Hatch will probably have to take a day off from wherever he is playing in order to make the traditional national champions visit to the White House.
Thats really exciting, Hatch said. It will be something that will be fun with the team, to get back together, whenever it is, and have a little reunion and well have our championship rings by then.