For two periods, Union couldn’t solve Harvard sophomore goalie Raphael Girard. And then in the third period, the Dutchmen found themselves trailing, 1-0.
But championship teams find ways to win. For the first time in the 21-year history of the Union hockey’s Division I life, the Dutchmen are ECAC Hockey tournament champions.
Tournament most outstanding player Jeremy Welsh tied the game 37 seconds after Alex Killorn scored, Daniel Carr got the game-winner a few minutes later and Josh Jooris sealed it with an empty-net goal as the top-seeded Dutchmen won its first Whitelaw Cup with a 3-1 victory over the third-seeded Crimson Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall.
Union (24-7-7), ranked sixth in the country, clinched an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament, which starts Friday. The Dutchmen will be one of the four regional top seeds, and most likely will make a return trip to Bridgeport, Conn., for the East Regional. They could be a No. 2 seed overall, and could face Western Michigan, a team they played to a pair of ties at Messa Rink in October. The 16-team field will be announced at noon today on ESPNU.
Back in 1991, many wondered if the Dutchmen would ever succeed when they moved from Division III to the Division I level. The school wouldn’t award athletic scholarships, and there were lean years in the late 1990s.
But the program has been on the rise for the last several years, starting with coach Kevin Sneddon. Nate Leaman took over the program in 2003 when Sneddon became Vermont’s head coach, and he guided the Dutchmen to their first Cleary Cup title last season. Leaman left last April 22 to become head coach at Providence College. Rick Bennett, who was Leaman’s assistant the last six years, was immediately promoted to head coach.
Winning the championship certainly is special to everyone in the program.
“It means we get to walk around like champions,” Bennett said as tears were welling up in his eyes. “It’s something that we’ll always remember. . . . It’s a team award.”
Union’s road to winning the title against Harvard (13-10-11) wasn’t easy.
Girard, who played in just two games last season and had been sitting behind freshman goalie Steve Michalek for most of this year, was outstanding. He robbed Carr on several occasions in the first period. Girard made a great glove save on a Carr wrister from the left circle with 13:08 left in the second period. A few minutes later, Girard made two pad saves on Carr.
“Hats off to their goalie,” Union goalie Troy Grosenick said. “I thought he was the story of the game. He was the reason they were in it in the third period.”
Harvard, which only had 10 shots through two periods, scored the game’s first goal at 4:52 of the third period when Killorn converted a pass from Alex Fallstrom on a two-on-one rush. That appeared to give Harvard momentum.
The Dutchmen weren’t fazed.
“The whole attitude on the bench was, ‘We’re good here. Let’s keep going,’ ” Carr said. “Good things will keep happening if we keep doing the things we need to do in order to be successful.”
Welsh seemed to be on a mission, because he didn’t let Harvard have the lead too long. He beat Girard between the pads with a wrist shot from the right circle at 5:29.
“We were trying [to score],” said Welsh, who has 25 goals on the season. “We didn’t get too down. Against Harvard in my career at Union, it’s been the same kind of game. No matter who’s in net for them, they seem to stand on their head. We expect that.
“Once they got that goal, you ratchet it up a notch. It gets a little more intense. You don’t want to wait until the final five minutes. They’re a good defensive team.”
Carr finally got one past Girard at 9:34. After a Jooris shot hit the post, the puck came to Shayne Gostisbehere at the left point. Gostisbehere’s shot was stopped by Girard, but Carr pushed home the rebound to snap the tie.
Union played smothering defense. But Harvard almost tied it. David Valek hit the crossbar with a shot with 2:35 left.
Girard was pulled for an extra attacker with 1:28 left. The Dutchmen didn’t give the Crimson any opportunities, and Jooris sealed the deal with his empty-net goal with 21.3 seconds remaining.
All that was left was to play out the rest of the game. As the final buzzer sounded, 21 years of frustration disappeared. It was time to celebrate.
“It was surreal,” Grosenick said. “That’s the only way to describe it. It’s a big accomplishment for the team and, obviously, good for the program. I couldn’t be prouder of the boys.”
Welsh, Carr, Grosenick and Gostisbehere were named to the all-tournament team. . . .
Union will be traveling when the NCAA tournament field is announced, so it won’t have a get-together like it did last year. . . .
The announced attendance was 4,131.
Harvard 001 — 1
Union 003 — 3
First Period — None. Penalties — Stuart, Uni (charging), 4:37; Hatch, Uni (hooking), 6:45; Everson, Har (hitting from behind), 11:48; Gostisbehere, Uni (hooking), 13:59.
Second Period — None. Penalties — Valek, Har (tripping), 7:20; Moore, Har (hitting from behind), 10:18.
Third Period — 1, Harvard, Killorn 23 (Fallstrom, Everson), 4:52. 2, Union, Welsh 25 (Sullivan, Forgaard), 5:29. 3, Union, Carr 19 (Gostisbehere, Jooris), 9:34. 4, Union, Jooris 7 (Carr), 19:38 (en). Penalties — Greiner, Har (goalie interference), 6:58; Coburn, Uni (hitting after whistle), 6:58.
Shots on Goal — Harvard 6-4-7 — 17. Union 15-12-7 — 34.
Power-play opportunities — Harvard
0 of 3; Union 0 of 3.
Goalies — Harvard, Girard 6-3-3 (33 shots-31 saves). Union, Grosenick 20-5-3 (17-16).
A — 4,131. T — 2:25.
Referees — Tim Kotyra, Chip McDonald. Linesmen — Justin Prusak, Dave Brown.