A year after missing out on a trip the ECAC Hockey tournament championship round, the Union Dutchmen are headed to Atlantic City, N.J., next weekend.
The top-seeded Dutchmen completed a sweep of 10th-seeded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Saturday at Messa Rink. Kevin Sullivan scored twice to help snap a 2-2 tie and give the Dutchmen a 4-2 victory in Game 2 of the best-of-three series.
Union (22-7-7) will play a semifinal game Friday at 4:30 or 7 p.m. at Boardwalk Hall against either fourth-seeded Colgate, fifth-seeded Quinnipiac or sixth-seeded Yale. Colgate and Quinnipiac are tied, 1-1, in their series. Yale is tied, 1-1, in its series with Harvard. Next Saturday, the championship game is at 7 p.m., following the third-place game at 4:30.
“I’m just happy for our players,” first-year Union coach Rick Bennett said. “They fought hard. It was a hard-fought series. My hat’s off to RPI. I thought they played great this weekend.”
It’s the second time in three years the Dutchmen have reached the championship round. Union, as the third seed, reached the final in 2010, losing to Cornell. Last year, the Dutchmen were the top seed and had a 1-0 series lead against 12th-seeded Colgate in the quarterfinals. But the Raiders fought back to win the series.
There was never any mention of last year’s disappointment in not making it to Atlantic City.
“I don’t know if it makes up for last year, but it definitely feels good,” said Union center Kyle Bodie, who had a goal and two assists. “We had a pretty strong regular season, and came up short last year. We had a strong regular season this year, and, now, we’re one step closer to our goal.”
Much like Friday’s 3-2 win in Game 1, the eighth-ranked Dutchmen struggled against a very game Engineers’ squad. RPI (12-24-3) nearly took the lead when Alex Angers-Goulet got a breakaway with 13:21 left in the first period. But he shot wide.
Union did take a 2-0 lead on first-period goals by Bodie and Jeremy Welsh. But the Engineers kept up the pressure. And it paid off when they tied the score with goals by Brock Higgs and Matt Neal 1:33 apart late in the second.
But 1:01 after Neal’s goal, Bodie won a faceoff in the RPI left circle. He sent the puck back to Shawn Stuart at the left point. Stuart fired a shot that goalie Bryce Merriam stopped. But Sullivan got the rebound at the right of the net, and the sophomore left winger backhanded it past Merriam to give Union a 3-2 lead.
“It was a pretty big goal, but I have to give a lot of credit to my linemate, Kyle Bodie,” Sullivan said. “It was a big faceoff play. We’ve been practicing on that play for a while.”
While it gave Union the lead, RPI coach Seth Appert believed his teams was still in control of the game after Sullivan’s tiebreaking goal.
“I think it changed the outcome,” Appert said. “It didn’t change the momentum. The momentum stayed clearly on our side.”
The Engineers had the Dutchmen running around the first five minutes of the third period. But they couldn’t get a puck past goalie Troy Grosenick, who made 28 saves.
“I thought Grosenick was outstanding,” Appert said. “I thought Grosenick was probably the difference tonight.”
Sullivan gave Union some big insurance with 5:58 gone in the third. He made a pass to Bodie in the left circle, and then broke for the net. Bodie’s shot was partially stopped by Merriam, and then hit the right post. Sullivan was there to put it into the net.
“It didn’t make us win it or anything,” Sullivan said. “We still had to stay in the game and play hard.”
But having a two-goal lead again made playing the final 14:02 of the game a bit better. But Bennett wasn’t relaxing until the final buzzer sounded.
“Getting that two-goal lead back was really big for us,” Bennett said. “You don’t really want to play with a one-goal lead. You want that breathing room. As RPI showed, even with a two-goal [lead] that we had, they still came back. It wasn’t safe, even with the 4-2 lead.”
Union is offering a bus and ticket package for the games in Atlantic City. The cost is $100. The bus will depart Union at 8 a.m. Friday and return following the championship game the next night.
Lodging is not provided. The league has two hotel options — the Trump Plaza and the Tropicana Casino Resort. To reserve a room at the Trump, call (800) 677-7378, use option 2 and reference ECAC Hockey Fan Block. The reference code is AECAF12.
The Tropicana phone number is (800) 247-8767. Use reference code HECACF.
RPI 0 2 0 — 2
Union 2 1 1 — 4
First Period — 1, Union, K. Bodie 5 (Gostisbehere, Simpson), 10:14 (pp). 2, Union, Welsh 23 (Carr, Jooris), 14:03. Penalties — Dolan, RPI (tripping), 10:02; Forgaard, Uni (tripping), 11:47; Grosenick, Uni, served by Gostisbehere (hooking), 16:47.
Second Period — 3, RPI, Higgs 3 (Cullen, Bergin), 15:03. 4, RPI, Neal 2 (Laliberte, Bergin), 16:36 (pp). 5, Union, Sullivan 5 (Stuart, K. Bodie), 17:37. Penalties — Leboeuf, RPI (cross-checking), 3:04; Zajac, Uni (hitting from behind), 15:21.
Third Period — 6, Union, Sullivan 6 (K. Bodie, Coburn), 5:58. Penalties — None.
Shots on Goal — RPI 7-9-14 — 30. Union 7-11-6 — 24.
Power-play opportunities — RPI 1 of 3; Union 1 of 2.
Goalies — RPI, Merriam 10-19-2 (24 shots-20 saves). Union, Grosenick 18-5-3 (30-28).
A — 2,350. T — 2:23.
Referees — Scott Whittemore, Bob Ritchie. Linesmen — Joe Testa, Brad Leblanc.