It’s not easy being the St. Michael’s College men’s hockey team. Maybe that’s why Saturday’s 4-3 victory over Castleton State College was so sweet.
For years, the Purple Knights have labored for recognition and respectability in the long shadows cast by Vermont’s two powerhouse college-level teams, Middlebury College and Norwich University, who collectively own 10 NCAA championships and even more league titles since 1995.
While the Panthers and the Cadets can contend for national titles and display their showcase rinks year after year, the Purple Knights have had to be content with lesser goals.
As a Division II school — the division level being determined by basketball — SMC is ineligible for the Division III title Middlebury and Norwich chase. That, along with the lack of an on-campus arena, gives St. Michael’s coaches a sizable recruiting disadvantage. SMC coach Chris Davison can’t sweet-talk a recruit with a line like, “Hey, kid, come play for us and win an NCAA championship ring,” not like Norwich’s Mike McShane or Middlebury’s Bill Beaney can.
And with powerful Plattsburgh State only a good skate across a frozen Lake Champlain, the Knights can be forgiven any feelings of adequacy while living in the land of hockey giants.
For years, that was tough enough, and the Knights handled it all as well as they could, but now upstart Castleton, while not yet a national power, has emerged as a program of growing importance and reputation.
So there was Saturday’s game at Cairns Arena, with the Spartans (at that moment 9-8-5) holding a secure 3-1 lead over St. Michael’s (then 4-14-3) midway through the game. It appeared to be yet another afternoon in which the Purple Knights would have to console themselves for the good battle waged but lost.
Yet it didn’t turn out that way. First Alex Davidson scored on a power play. Then Fran Briand scored a nifty short-handed goal to tie. Finally, Josh Geary tipped in the lead goal. All within the last 10 minutes of the period.
That was just enough. The Purple Knights hung on through every Castleton surge in the third period and won their fifth game of the season.
It was a win to celebrate, especially for seniors Dave Vorozilchak, Tim Geverd, Jean-Maxime Legare, Ryan Nest, Kyle Marquis, Paul Nannicelli, Alex Higgins and Bryan Brunton, each playing his final home game in SMC purple-and-gold. They won through determination, refusal to quit and good, hard hockey.