Thunderous cheers drown out the final notes of the national anthem in packed Sage Rink. Seeded first in the New England Small College Athletic Conference postseason conference championship for the first time in school history, Hamilton’s men’s hockey team faces Wesleyan, the eighth seed, in today’s quarterfinal.
Seconds into the first period, fans explode when Continental senior captain Joe Buicko scores on a power play. Rowdy spectators at one end pound the Plexiglass, just as generations past heckled opponents from the wooden risers of “the Pit.”
When Albany native Buicko was a freshman, the team won just five games. “It wasn’t a joke,” he says, “but guys kind of expected to lose.” Under Coach Norm Bazin, in his third and final year at the helm, the team now expects to win. Last season Hamilton made it to the NESCAC semis, and in January the team set the tone for an exceptional season by trouncing D-III first seed SUNY Oswego on its own ice.
In fact, this year’s squad earned the nickname “Road Warriors” as it persevered through a grueling road schedule to a 14-6-4 record. Buicko credits five other seniors — Tom Chiappetta, Scott Hefferman, Ryan Guerin, Dan Roberts and Nick Wiggins — for motivating the team. “We have a mentality that only through team success will individual success follow,” Buicko says.
But as the game winds down, Sage’s scoreboard favors Wesleyan: Hamilton 2, Guest 5. When the final buzzer sounds, a slapshot of disappointment hits both the crowd and the players. Nevertheless, for Buicko and the other seniors, the season has been a great run filled with strides of improvement. For Hamilton fans and the younger players, the passion will live on, just as it has since Sage Rink opened in 1922.