For Union goalie Corey Milan, it was his shot at redemption.
For the Dutchmen program, it was their chance to make program history.
Milan helped the third-seeded Dutchmen make the ECAC Hockey tournament semifinals for the first time in 19 years at the Division I level Sunday night, stopping 30 Quinnipiac shots and leading 17th-ranked Union to a 2-1 victory in the deciding game of the best-of-three quarterfinal series at Messa Rink.
After losing Game 1 in five overtimes, 3-2, Friday, the Dutchmen (20-11-6) won the series, 2-1. They will face fifth-seeded St. Lawrence (19-14-7) in the second semifinal game at 7 p.m. Friday at the Times Union Center. The 4 p.m. semifinal pits second-seeded Cornell (19-8-4) against 11th-seeded Brown (12-19-4). Brown upset top-seeded Yale, 1-0, in Sunday’s other Game 3 to take the series, 2-1.
“It’s big,” Union forward Mario Valery-Trabucco said. “It feels good to get those wins this weekend, especially after that five-overtime game we had on Friday. It’s tough to come back from games like that. We refocused, regrouped and we knew we had to win the next two games to get to Albany, and that’s what we did.”
Union becomes the first Capital Region team to make it to the semifinals in the eight years the championship round has been played at the TU Center. And just in time, too, for the tournament moves to Atlantic City, N.J., for a three-year run starting next year.
“I’m really happy for all the teams before this,” said Nate Leaman, who is in his seventh season as Union’s head coach. “Obviously, it has been a little bit of a long time coming. Those are the people who have supported our program, especially that first team, the1991-92 team. They kind of started our booster club, and have been some of the people that helped us achieve.
“I’m happy for our school. I’m happy for our alumni. I’m happy for our players.”
Milan, who made 27 saves in Union’s 3-1 win Saturday, has never forgotten what happened in Game 3 of last year’s ECAC Hockey tournament quarterfinals against Princeton, when he gave three goals in the first 6:34 of the opening period. The Tigers went onto a 3-1 victory, eliminating the Dutchmen.
A year later, Milan redeemed himself with a stellar performance.
“That’s certainly in the back of my head,” the junior goalie said. “At the same time, I take one game at a time. I try to put my best performance out there every night. I can’t be thinking about past games. I have to think of the task at hand.”
But when asked how long it took him to forget last year’s game, Milan said, “I don’t know if I’ll ever forget it. Just the feeling in that locker room last year, we felt like we could win that series. We felt like we let it slip away. You don’t forget about things like that.”
Milan can let go of that now, thanks to his effort against the seventh-seeded Bobcats (20-18-2).
He was particularly sharp with 6:03 left in the second period, when he stopped a flurry of Quinnipiac shots.
“The thing about Corey is, with him winning [Saturday] night, the only thing I kept thinking of is how he played that [season-opening] Maine weekend,” said Leaman, whose Dutchmen beat the Black Bears twice with Milan in goal. “When he gets hot one night, he usually comes back hot the next night. And he did. He came back, and he played spectacular.”
For the third time in the series, the Dutchmen scored the game’s first goal. Freshman forward Wayne Simpson fired a shot from the slot over goalie Dan Clarke’s blocker 2:01 into the game.
The score remained 1-0 until 1:04 into the third, when another freshman forward, Jeremy Welsh, swatted a loose puck in the crease past Clarke.
“Me and [Luke] Cain got in on the forecheck, and we both took the body, so the puck popped out,” Welsh said. “I tried to hit [Kelly] Zajac in the slot. I kind of got hooked, so I didn’t make that pass. But Cain found it again, and backhanded it on net. I got a lucky bounce, and it went up and over [Clarke]. I just shoved it in the net.”
The Bobcats made it interesting when Reese Rolheiser scored with 4:29 left in the game. But Quinnipiac never got a good opportunity to get the tying goal.
And now, the Dutchmen are off to Albany.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Simpson said. “Everyone’s just ecstatic.”
Quinnipiac 001 — 1
Union 101 — 2
First Period — 1, Union, W. Simpson 6 (Schreiber), 2:01. Penalties — Holt, Qui (cross-checking), 1:48; Coburn, Uni (cross-checking), 1:48; Lampe, Qui (contact to head-roughing), 5:40; Walters, Uni (slashing), 5:40; Wong, Qui (goalie interference), 11:42.
Second Period — None. Penalties — None.
Third Period — 2, Union, Welsh 10 (Cain, Zajac), 1:04. 3, Quinnipiac, Rolheiser 4 (Langlois, Currie), 15:31. Penalties — Atkinson, Qui (holding), 3:03; Holt, Qui (slashing), 6:57.
Shots on Goal — Quinnipiac 14-12-5 — 31. Union 10-14-11 — 35.
Power-play opportunities — Quinnipiac 0 of 0; Union 0 of 3.
Goalies — Quinnipiac, Clarke 15-15-2 (35 shots-33 saves). Union, Milan 9-4-3 (31-30).
A — 1,976. T — 2:07.
Referees — Bryan Hicks, Derek Wahl. Linesmen — Mike Emanatian, Chris Piti.