The way things were looking over a month ago for the Union hockey team, repeating as ECAC Hockey tournament champions seemed like it would be difficult.
But the 18th-ranked Dutchmen have found their game at the right time, and it has resulted in another championship.
New Jersey native Max Novak scored twice, and tournament Most Outstanding Player Troy Grosenick made 32 saves to help the fourth-seeded Dutchmen repeat as ECACH tournament champions with a 3-1 victory over seventh-seeded Brown Saturday night at Boardwalk Hall.
The Dutchmen (21-12-5) not only clinched their third straight NCAA tournament berth, but they also became the first team to win consecutive ECACH tournament titles since St. Lawrence did it in 2000 and 2001.
The Dutchmen will find out who they will play and where when ESPNU televises the NCAA Hockey tournament draw tonight at 9. The regionals are in Providence (East), Manchester, N.H. (Northeast), Toledo, Ohio (Midwest) and Grand Rapids, Mich. (Midwest). Most likely, Union will be a third seed.
Union had been playing inconsistent hockey for a couple of months. Between wasting third-period leads or getting off to slow starts in games, the Dutchmen were struggling to find their game. And it was being mentioned a lot.
“I’d like to thank everyone that’s here in the media for giving us a lot of bulletin-board material,” said the junior Grosenick, who was named to the all-tournament team. “We used that as motivation. We never really thought that we were ever as bad as everyone made us out to be. Just like last year, we didn’t think we were as good as everyone made us out to be.”
The Dutchmen are rolling into the NCAAs on a six-game winning streak.
In a game where the loser would have had their season end because of numerous upsets of top-seeded teams in Atlantic Hockey, the CCHA and the WCHA, the Dutchmen looked sluggish in the early going. But they grabbed the lead with under 10 minutes left in the first. Sebastien Gingras fired a shot from the high slot. Josh Jooris appeared to deflect it at the front of the net. The puck caromed to Daniel Carr on the right side, and he put a backhander past goalie Anthony Borelli.
With 13.2 seconds left in the first and traffic in front of the net,
Novak settled a bouncing puck in the slot and ripped a wrist shot past Borelli’s right side and under the crossbar.
“I just tried to stay above the scrum,” said Novak, who was named to the all-tournament team. “I put it past the guys in front of the net. Luckily, it found the back of the net.”
Novak got his second goal 2:20 into the second period. He dove after a rebound of a Greg Coburn shot and put it past Borelli.
“Kevin Sullivan made a good
cycle,” Novak said. “He rolled up and was able to throw it on net. Greg Coburn was there to hammer it. The rebound popped up just past Matt Hatch. As soon as I caught it, I was able to throw it on net and beat [Borelli] through the five-hole.”
To score those two goals in his home state was special for Novak, who is from Oak Ridge, N.J.
“It’s nice to get it done in my home state with all my family here,” Novak said. “I haven’t had too many multigoal games, but it’s definitely nice to get one in the championship game.”
Falling behind, 3-0, was tough for Brown.
“Just like any team, we’re much better with a lead,” Brown coach Brendan Whittet said. “I thought we were buzzing pretty good, and then [Union] created their chances and buried them. What it does is, maybe, puts a little doubt in our head.”
The Bears got on the board when Dennis Robertson scored a power-play goal midway through the second. His shot from the slot trickled through goalie Grosenick’s pads.
The Dutchmen put on a defensive clinic in the third period. Brown was credited with 11 shots on goal in the final stanza, but they didn’t get many great chances until late in the game, when Borelli was pulled for an extra attacker.
“We made a little adjustment between the second and third, and it paid off,” said Union coach Rick Bennett, who joins Cornell’s Mike Schafer and Boston University’s Jack Parker as the only coaches to win two straight ECACH tournament titles in their first two seasons as head coach. “We just felt by changing up a few things, it would recircuit the wires upstairs with the boys and just get them to refocus, and that’s what they did. They really stuck to the game plan.”
As the final buzzer sounded, the Dutchmen celebrated in the same right-wing corner that they did last year, when the beat Harvard, 3-1, in the final.
“Last year was really special,” Bennett said. “But I guess going through some ups and downs makes it as special. I don’t want to take away from last season, but this season, with these guys, it’s been phenomenal.”
Carr and Coburn were also named to the all-tournament team. The other members were defenseman Robertson and left winger Matt Lorito of Brown. . . .
Top-seeded Quinnipiac beat third-seeded Yale, 3-0, in the third-place game. Quinnipiac will likely be the No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.
Brown 0 1 0 — 1
Union 2 1 0 — 3
First Period — 1, Union, Carr 16 (Jooris, Gingras), 10:18. 2, Union, Novak 8 (Hatch, Sullivan), 19:46. Penalties — Carr, Uni (roughing), 12:53; Hathaway, Bro (interference), 15:19.
Second Period — 3, Union, Novak 9 (Coburn), 2:20. 4, Brown, Robertson 3 (Naclerio, Pfeil), 7:57 (pp). Penalties — K. Bodie, Uni (slashing), 6:18; Crowley, Bro (checking from behind), 9:50.
Third Period — None. Penalty — Novak, Uni (tripping), 5:28.
Shots on Goal — Brown 10-12-11 — 33. Union 7-14-1 — 22.
Power-play opportunities — Brown 1 of 2; Union 0 of 2.
Goalies — Brown, Borelli 14-9-5 (22 shots-19 saves). Union, Grosenick 16-9-5 (33-32).
A — 4,017. T — 2:17.
Referees — Robert St. Lawrence, Scott Whittemore. Linesmen — Dave Brown, Jim Briggs.