Nate Sunday was a standout defenseman during one of the most successful eras of the SUNY Potsdam men's ice hockey program. However, Sunday nearly wasn't a part of it.
After attending the Northwood School in Lake Placid, Sunday was offered a scholarship to play Division I college hockey for Kent State. So, he decided to head for Ohio.
“I was out there for a little bit, planning on doing it, but decided I didn't like it,” said Sunday. “So I came home and played juniors in Cornwall.”
Luckily for the Bears, Sunday, who will be inducted into the Bears Hall of Fame this Saturday, chose to come to Potsdam.
“I liked that it was close by and a smaller college,” said the Hogansburg, N.Y. native. “Some of my friends and former classmates were going there at the time. I didn't think I was going to play hockey at first, but a Northwood teammate of mine was playing so I decided to try out.”
Sunday made an immediate impact on the Potsdam blue line during the 1994-95 campaign. He scored two goals and assisted on 16 others in 26 games for a Bears team that posted a winning record for the first time in three seasons. Then Potsdam coach and fellow Bears Hall of Famer Ed Seney was immediately impressed.
“He was a five-tool player,” said Seney who won his 300th game with St. Anselm this past season. “Nate was a very smart player. He could play physical. He could shoot, pass and had a very hard shot. The teams we played against were very reluctant to come out to the point to block shots when Nate was on the ice. He was always very respectful and never complained. Nate was easy to coach.”
As a sophomore, Sunday had a career year, earning first team All-SUNYAC honors for the 1995-96 season. He scored six goals, recorded 24 assists and helped the Bears to a then school record 18 wins. Potsdam also garnered its only conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance to date. It was a season Sunday and his coach will never forget.
“I remember the way the team jelled together,” said Sunday. “It was different from all the other teams I played on. We had good leaders and it was a really skilled, hardworking team.”
“We had all the parts: good goaltending, offense and defense,” said the Bears former coach. “Our five best players were as good as anyone in the country and Nate was one of them.”
The Bears fought through the regular season with a 17-7 overall mark and went 11-3 in the SUNYAC to earn the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. In the first round of the playoffs against Oswego, Potsdam staved off elimination with a dramatic come-from-behind victory in game two followed by a series-clinching mini game triumph. The victory put them on a collision course with perennial nemesis Plattsburgh in the finals.
“Plattsburgh was an easy place to get intimidated,” Seney said. “The place was always packed and loud. But our guys weren't intimidated and we always played them tough.”
“That series was pretty exciting,” said Sunday. “You could feel the electricity in the air.”
The Bears rallied to tie the Cardinals 4-4 in the first game and never trailed in a 3-3 draw in game two, setting up another dramatic mini game finish.
“I knew we were going to win, it was just a matter of when and how” Sunday said. “Usually in a big game like that, somebody comes out of nowhere and scores.”
Andrew Schofield played that part for Potsdam. The freshman defenseman, who only played one season with the Bears and had only one goal in 27 games, lifted Potsdam to the title and the NCAA Tournament with the second and final goal of his career.
The final two seasons of Sunday's Potsdam career were just as successful, if not as dramatic. As a junior, he earned second team all-conference honors with five goals and 16 assists. In his senior season Sunday was back on the All-SUNYAC first team, registering three goals and 12 assists. The 1997-98 Bears squad finished just a mini game loss away from its second conference championship in three seasons.
In four years, Sunday played in 108 games for the Bears and totaled 84 points (16 goals, 68 assists). His class of 1998 recorded 58 wins and remains the only Bears hockey class to post winning records in all four of its seasons.
During his time at Potsdam, Sunday enjoyed his time off the ice as well.
“I learned a lot and met a lot of nice people. I enjoyed my professors and got a good education,” Sunday said. “It was a lot of fun.”
After graduation, Sunday chose to work with young people and help them take advantage of the opportunities that higher education had created for him. He spent a few years working as an attendance officer and tutor at the St. Regis Mohawk School. Sunday then moved to SUNY Canton where he was one of the directors of the Upward Bound program as well as an academic advisor for seven years. He left Canton to become a case supervisor at the MCA Adolescent Treatment Center in Akwesasne, Ontario, where he counseled young people recovering from alcohol and drug abuse. Currently, Sunday is a career development officer with the Akwesasne Area Development Board. He advises young people on career decisions and helps them get funding for training or college.
“I never thought I'd go to college, to be honest with you,” said Sunday. “Growing up, I thought I would graduate from high school, get a job and do whatever. But, I was fortunate enough to have parents that really pushed me. Where I come from not everybody goes to college, but they have the opportunity. I'm just trying to help the younger generation see what it's like in college and hopefully be successful.”
Sunday was working in his office in December, when he got the call from Seney to announce his selection for the Hall of Fame. At first he thought it was a prank call from one of his friends and was shocked to hear his coach's voice on the line. Once he realized the call was genuine, he was very honored.
“It means a lot and I'm very proud of it,” Sunday said. “My wife and family are proud of me and my friends are always congratulating me. I really didn't expect it.”
Seney is proud of his defenseman as well.
“As a coach you take pride in it,” said Seney. “Nate's the third guy from that championship team to be inducted. It's nice to see individual recognition for players like Nate that were 'team guys'. He was well liked by his teammates and played hard. Nate is a good person.”
Sunday has played and coached hockey on many different levels, but his on-ice experience at Potsdam stands alone.
“It was the most fun I ever had playing hockey.”