PITTSBURGH, PA -- When defenceman Colin Dueck was playing for the Camrose Kodiaks, Yale was about the furthest thing from his mind.
After all, the logical stepping stone from the AJHL would be the WHL or, a few years down the road, the AHL. But the Calgary, AB product was swayed to New Haven, CT when Yale recruiters sold him on the benefits of playing for the Bulldogs and attending an Ivy League school.
"Growing up, I wasn't really planning on NCAA hockey," he told CalgaryFlames.com after Yale's practice on Friday. "But I met with some of the coaches from Yale, they were out scouting, recruiting me and came down for a visit. I loved it and the timing worked out.
"I ended up here and I couldn't be happier."
Academic standards are, unsurprisingly, high at an Ivy League school but Dueck has always been a strong student so the rigors of a Yale education weren't all that daunting for the rearguard. The Psychology major has spent the last four years balancing academics with athletics, honing his skills on the ice while making sure he is set for life after hockey.
"Education is big," he said of his decision to move out to the east coast. "The chance to play on a good hockey team at a great school was too hard to pass up."
Now, after four years of hard work and dedication, Dueck and the Bulldogs are set to play the biggest game in Yale's recent history. The school hasn't made it to the Frozen Four in 61 years despite earning NCAA tournament berths in four of the last five years so the chance to cap off an already-incredible season with a national championship is a dream come true for Dueck.
"It's a big game and I feel like we're ready," he said of Saturday's tilt with Quinnipiac. "At this point, I think we need to keep doing what we've been doing. I think we're playing our best hockey of the year right now. As long as we stay focused, keep structures and keep playing like we can, I think we're going to be really successful."
Not only will have the support of hundreds of Yale fans who have congregated in Pittsburgh this week but he will also have his parents, Weldon and Pauline, in the stands at the Consol Energy Center during the championship game.
The pair traveled from Calgary on Wednesday but due to thunderstorms in Pennsylvania, their flight was grounded in Toronto. Not wanting to risk having another flight waylaid by Mother Nature, the duo rented a car in Toronto and made the five hour drive down to the Pittsburgh.
"It's great to have them here," Dueck smiled. "I saw them a bit after the game last night and hopefully I'll get a chance to see them today."
Win or lose, Saturday's Frozen Four Final marks the end of Dueck's collegiate career and no matter where his path leads him, his time at Yale will always hold a special place in his heart.
"It's been an amazing experience."