Last year, the Union College hockey team left Webster Bank Arena contemplating what went wrong in its 2-0 loss to Minnesota Duluth in the NCAA hockey tournament East Regional semifinal.
This year, the ride back to Schenectady will be much sweeter because the Dutchmen are going to the Frozen Four.
The top-seeded Dutchmen punched their ticket to the Tampa, Fla., site of the this year’s Frozen Four, by beating UMass Lowell, 4-2, in the East Regional final Saturday in the same arena where they lost a year ago.
It’s the first Frozen Four for the third-ranked Dutchmen (26-7-7) in their 21-year Division I history. The program appeared in the Division III final four in 1984 and 1985.
Union, which beat Michigan State, 3-1, in Friday’s semifinal, becomes the first ECAC Hockey team to reach the Frozen Four since Cornell in 2003. Their road to becoming the first ECACH team to win an NCAA title since Harvard in 1989 begins April 5 in the semifinal against the Midwest Regional champion, Ferris State, which defeated Cornell, 2-1. The NCAA championship game is April 7. The Frozen Four will be played in the St. Pete Times Forum, home of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
“It means a lot, especially for the program,” said Union sophomore forward Josh Jooris, whose late second-period power-play goal proved to be the game-winner. “All the steps we’ve taken over the past few years, it’s a huge testament to our coaching staff, and the players and all the support staff around. It’s definitely a great feeling.”
Dutchmen junior center Jeremy Welsh echoed Jooris’ thoughts.
“We’re all pretty happy, but we were expecting to do this,” said Welsh, who scored his 27th goal of the season at 7:12 of the second period and was named the regional’s Most Outstanding Player. “We are staying pretty mellow. We’re excited to get going, [and] excited to get to Tampa.
“We’re just really happy to do this for the program. It’s going to be exciting to put our school on the national stage. A small liberal arts college, it’s exciting to see it get some national attention.”
The third-seeded River Hawks (24-13-1) almost scored 2:32 into the game. Joseph Pendenza had a shot from close range. The puck bounced around the goal crease, but was cleared away.
A few seconds later, the Dutchmen scored the game’s first goal. Junior center Kyle Bodie was in the left-wing corner when he spotted freshman right winger Daniel Ciampini alone in the slot. Ciampini, who was playing in just his 14th game of the season, fired the puck past goalie Doug Carr for his third goal of the season.
“That’s what it takes to win,” Welsh said. “Any team that’s
going far at any level of hockey, you need everyone. The playoffs is all about different guys stepping up. Max Novak had a big one last night, and Ciampini had one tonight.”
Welsh’s 27th goal of the season made it 2-0. Jooris started the play by skating down the left wing, and sending a pass in the slot to Daniel Carr, who fired a one-timer. Doug Carr made the save, but Welsh, like he did against Michigan State, put the rebound home.
Terrence Wallin got the River Hawks to within a goal with 5:54 left in the second when he drove the net from the left wing. He put the puck to the net, and it hit Union defenseman Mat Bodie and skipped past goalie Troy Grosenick.
But Jooris got that one back on the power play. He put a backhander from the slot over Doug Carr’s glove. Jooris said he was taking some ribbing from his teammates about the goal.
“It was a great play by ‘Ghost’ [Shayne Gostisbehere],” Jooris said. “He tried to make the move. Usually, eight times out of 10, it works. The guy got his stick on it. It ended up on my stick, and I kind of closed my eyes and backhanded it in. The [backhand] shot is usually not my greatest asset.”
After two periods, Union had a 30-13 shot advantage.
“They definitely got some jump to their step,” Doug Carr said. “They were getting a lot of pucks to the net.”
But a rare gaffe by Welsh made things very tight early in the third period.
Welsh was going behind the Union net. As he got there, he lost control of the puck. It came out in front to Matt Ferreira, who put it past Grosenick at 5:40. Suddenly, it was a one-goal game.
“I don’t really remember what happened,” Welsh said. “Coach will have to show me that on Monday.”
Grosenick was surprised by the play.
“I turned my head to communicate to ‘Welshie’ that he had some time,” Grosenick said. “It just seemed like, at the perfect moment, when I turned my head is when he lost the puck. The guys kind of shouted to me. It was a quick play, but that happens.”
No one got down after that play.
“We didn’t think we were going to come here all weekend long and not face any type of adversity,” Bennett said. “All year, we’ve used adversity as our friend. I don’t know if Jeremy was trying to make it interesting, but we talk about the stickhandling wizardry he tries. That’s just one of those things.
“You just go down to the end of the bench. We’ve all made mistakes. You go down, and say you wipe it clean. We reload, and we worry about the next shift, because that is all you can control.”
The Dutchmen continued to keep the River Hawks at bay. Doug Carr was pulled for an extra attacker late in the game, but Kyle Bodie sealed it with an empty-net goal with 40.6 seconds left.
Asked what it meant to become the first Union Division I team to reach the Frozen Four, Bennett gave the same answer as he did last Saturday, when the Dutchmen won their first ECACH tournament title.
“It just means you’re the first,” Bennett said. “We’ve got to keep building on that.”
Welsh, Jooris, Grosenick, Mat Bodie and defenseman Nolan Julseth-White were named to the regional all-tournament team.
Welsh is one point away from 100 for his career.
UMass Lowell 0 1 1 — 2
Union 1 2 1 — 4
First Period — 1, Union, Ciampini 3 (K. Bodie), 3:03. Penalties — Jooris, Uni (hooking), 4:189; Wallin, UML (boarding), 7:33; Da. Carr, Uni (interference), 8:20.
Second Period — 2, Union, Welsh 27 (Da. Carr, Jooris), 7:12. 3, UMass Lowell, Wallin 8 (Vallorani, Eiserman), 14:06. 4, Union, Jooris 8 (Gostisbehere), 17:23 (pp). Penalties — Pendenza, UML (roughing), 8:51; Sullivan, Uni (facemasking), 8:51; Welsh, Uni (boarding), 9:42; Wetmore, UML (holding), 16:26; Ciampini, Uni (tripping), 18:37.
Third Period — 5, UMass Lowell, Ferreira 14, 5:40. 6, Union, K. Bodie 6, 19:19 (en). Penalties — None.
Shots on Goal — UMass Lowell 9-4-8 — 21. Union 18-12-9 — 39.
Power-play opportunities — UMass Lowell 0 of 4; Union 1 of 2.
Goalies — UMass Lowell, Do. Carr 22-10-1 (38 shots-35 saves). Union, Grosenick 22-5-3 (21-19).
A — 5,328. T — 2:42.
Referees — Derek Shepherd, Marco Hunt. Linesmen — Anthony Czech, Jeff Schultz.