Union shoved another college hockey power name to the side on Saturday night to claim its first national championship with a 7-4 victory over the No. 1-seeded Gophers at the Wells Fargo Center.
Four consecutive years of NCAA tournament berths, two Frozen Four appearances, and a national championship confirm there is a new elite program in the mix.
“It’s unbelievable the growth this program has taken over probably the past eight years. I’ve only been here for four of them, but those championships are for anyone that’s ever had a hand in Union hockey,” said senior defenseman Mat Bodie, who finished with two points, including the Dutchmen’s seventh goal.
Bodie’s empty-net goal in the final minute was just extra insurance. Union ended any real hope the Gophers had at a comeback when Kevin Sullivan broke away and beat Adam Wilcox through the five-hole with 1 minute, 22 seconds left in the game.
The goal extended the Dutchmen’s lead to 6-4, just two minutes after Gophers freshman Hudson Fasching pulled his team within a goal.
Six Union players finished with multiple points, led by Shayne Gostisbehere’s three on a goal and two assists. Goaltender Colin Stevens had 36 saves.
Taylor Cammarata and Justin Kloos each had a goal and assist, and Jake Parenteau had two assists for the Gophers. Wilcox finished with 41 saves.
“Union beat Boston College and Minnesota back-to-back,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said. “They certainly earned their national championship. Outstanding team. I thought we had great energy. I’m not sure the mental part of our game matched the physical part.”
Penalties were a problem for the Gophers (28-7-6). Brady Skjei was called for roughing 19 seconds into the game, and the normally disciplined team ended with eight penalties. They killed all of Union’s power plays but were never able to build momentum with their regular lines.
Lucia has said all year that penalty-filled games don’t favor his team. He thought the group was trying to do too much, and Union’s strong play forced the Gophers to make several mistakes. The Dutchmen (32-6-4) established themselves as the stronger team in the first period, and it was tough for the Gophers to hold their ground near the crease.
“They were hungry in front of the net. … It’s tough [taking that many penalties], obviously it takes momentum out of you, but I thought we did good keeping up energy and flowing throughout the game, giving it our all,” Gophers senior forward Tom Serratore said. “It hurts right now, it’s hard to take it all in right now, but we have a great group of guys. One of the best core group of teammates I’ve ever had in my life. It was a good run.”
The Dutchmen scored 12 goals in the Frozen Four, highlighted by a four-goal first period on Saturday night. Mike Vecchione, Eli Lichtenwald and Daniel Ciampini scored three goals in 1:54 late in the first period. Wilcox’s shock and frustration were obvious after the surge of offense. He returned in the second period more aggressive and smothered everything near him.
Union remained relentless and eventually left Wilcox slumped over with his mask in the ice after Sullivan’s goal late in the third period. There was no recovering from the sixth blow.
The Dutchmen didn’t panic when the Gophers cut the margin to one goal in the final stretch. They survived a similar surge by Boston College in the semifinals.
Union coach Rick Bennett said his players appeared to calm down when Fasching scored. The back-to-back goals from the Dutchmen corroborated his statement.
“They have a good offense and a good net presence, and that’s why they got as many goals as they did. They were strong and got good bounces,” Wilcox said. “We knew we’d come back, we got within one, and a couple bounces didn’t go our way. We took a little bit extra penalties, and that had a little bit of an effect there. … They had four in the first, and our first period killed us there.”
The Gophers’ magic number all season had been three. At least three goals translated to a victory because their defense consistently gave up two goals or fewer. The defense hadn’t seen anything like Union’s offense, though.
The Gophers hadn’t lost this season when scoring first. That stat couldn’t hold up against the high-powered offense of Union.
Union’s senior class and the Gophers seniors shared similar stories. Four years ago they were building toward something. A year later, both teams lost in the Frozen Four semifinals. As juniors, they fell short in their respective regionals. Their final year of college hockey included a trip to the national championship.
Union’s seniors distinguished themselves by ending their careers as national champs.