The most underappreciated team in college hockey all-season long showed the nation why they are now a national power as the Union Dutchmen beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers 7-4 Saturday night in Philadelphia to capture their program’s first national title.
“I said earlier this week that we never looked at ourselves as a Cinderella,” Gostisbehere said. “We looked at ourselves as Union College. We’re just a team trying to win the national title and I guess we proved all those people wrong.”
Gostisbehere finished the game with one goal, two assists and was plus-seven.
It was the Gophers though that drew first blood scoring at 2:37 of the first period courtesy of freshman forward Justin Kloos. Union goaltender Colin Stevens had trouble with the initial Minnesota shot from Nate Condon. Kloos crashed the net and pounced on the lose puck to give Minnesota a 1-0 lead. Kloos is a former winner the the prestigious Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award.
The Dutchmen would tie the game at one thanks to some nifty stick work from Gostisbehere. He skated through the entire Minnesota defense, crossed the blueline, and snapped a deadly wrist shot past Adam Wilcox at 9:26 of the first. Matt Wilkins and Jeff Taylor assisted on Gostisbehere’s goal. Flyers fans will see Gostisbehere do that 41 times a year at the Wells Fargo Center in the near future.
Not to be outdone, Minnesota’s Sam Warning would respond just 37 seconds later from a severe angle along the goal line to retake the 2-1 lead. Kyle Rau (FLA) and Jake Parenteau collected assists on the goal.
After a mad scramble in front which produced seven shots on net, Mike Vecchione finally got one by Wilcox as Union evened the score at two apiece with 4:51 left in the first period. Vecchione had two chances to score on the play and finally on his third shot he found the back of the net. Daniel Carr and Daniel Ciampini drew assists on the goal.
Union head coach Rick Bennett had high praise for Vecchione.
“He's a humble guy and a team guy, “ Bennett said. “I know the recruiting process was kind of a whirlwind, but we are one lucky program to have him. He was one of the guys after the game to say thank you very much. I just want to say to him, thank you very much.”
Fifty-seven seconds after Vecchione tied the game, the Dutchmen would take their first lead of the game thanks to Eli Lichtenwald’s ninth goal of the season at 16:06 of the first. Gostisbehere had the lone assist on the play.
Yes, the goals would keep on coming as Ciampini would give Union a two-goal lead 57 seconds after Lichtenwald’s goal. It was Ciampini’s fourth goal of the Frozen Four. Max Novak and Matt Hatch picked up assists on the goal. The Dutchmen scored three goals on the Minnesota defense in a span of 1:54.
“I'm not sure the mental part of our game matched the physical part,” Minnesota head coach Don Lucia said after the game. “We made a few mistakes tonight that we don't normally make. The game probably got away from us in that little three or four-minute stretch in the end of the first period where they scored the three goals.”
You could have made a case for Gophers head coach Don Lucia to use his timeout after Union’s fourth goal. However, he opted not. Wilcox hasn’t given up more than four goals in a game since Minnesota lost on March 15 to Michigan, where Minnesota was resting a few regulars.
In all, six goals and 35 combined shots after the first period. The six first period goals were the most in an NCAA title game since 1963 where seven were scored between North Dakota and Denver. Gostisbehere was a plus-four after the opening stanza.
“He's a special player,” Lucia said referring to Gostisbehere. “I helped out with the World Juniors two years ago out in Lake Placid. I had heard he was a pretty good player, but I hadn't seen him. Boy, when we were out there, it was like this guy is a serious talent. He's a special player, and he kind of controlled the game back there. In my opinion, he was the best player on the ice tonight.”
The goals would keep on coming in the second period as Taylor Cammarata (NYI) tallied his tenth of the season just a 1:13 into the second period to cut the Union lead to 4-3. Kloos and Parenteau drew assists on former Shattuck-St. Mary’s standout’s goal.
After one goal was scored in the second, New Jersey native and Hill School graduate (Pottstown) Max Novak would extend Union’s lead to 5-3 just 5:31 into the third period. Novak re-directed a Kevin Sullivan past Wilcox.
Minnesota made things interesting with 3:40 left in the third. With Charlie Vasaturo in the box for roughing, Hudson Fasching (BUF) cashed in to make a 5-4 game. Travis Boyd and Mike Reilly (CLB) with the assists on Fasching’s 14th goal of the year.
“I definitely thought if I got to a 6 on 5 situation I was confident we could put something in in the last minute,” Boyd said. “Once again, I think we made a mistake there. We had a turnover at their blue line. They [Union] came down, guy [Sullivan] made a nice one-on-one play and ended up scoring. So once again, we made a lot of mental mistakes tonight.”
The aforementioned Sullivan would give the Dutchmen a 6-4 lead with 1:22 remaining in the game and Mat Bodie’s empty-netter would seal the deal and clinch the national title for Union.
The Gophers were uncharacteristically undisciplined tonight. In total, the Gophers took seven minor penalties, including a back-breaker too many men on the ice with less than eight minutes remaining in the game. Union was 0-7 on the power-play. Minnesota was 1-4 with the man advantage.
The ECAC conference becomes first conference to win back to back titles since Hockey East did with Boston College, BU and BC in 2008, 2009, and 2010 respectively. Minnesota is now 0-3 in national title games against ECAC teams.
“Everybody in that locker room is a winner,” said Bennett.
Coach Bennett couldn’t be more correct. I tip my hat to Union College and see you next year in Boston.